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Covid surge could close schools


INTO rep fears staffing issues in January

Anton McNulty

The Mayo representative for the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) fears that some schools may have serious staffing issues in January, if cases of Covid continue to rise in the community.
Vincent Duffy, the principal of Breaffy National School in Ballina, and Mayo representative of the INTO, expressed his concerns following comments by the HSE Chief Executive Officer, Paul Reid, that the Omicron variant is ‘running rife’ in Ireland and has not yet reached a peak in cases ‘at any stretch’.
Nationally positivity rates for Covid PCR tests are currently at 50 percent and a record number of people have been seeking to avail of PCR tests over the Christmas period. The MacHale Park testing centre in Castlebar is booked out on a daily basis with reports of people having to wait a number of days for a test.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Mr Duffy said that while he believes schools will be told to reopen as scheduled on January 6, he has concerns over staffing numbers given the spread of Covid in the community.
“I get a sense from what the Taoiseach has been saying that they [Department of Education] will try to open the schools come hell or high water. But one of the biggest problems will be around the provisions currently in place for close contacts and restricted movements. I think there will be a serious problem where there will be so many teachers or SNAs in schools testing positive or close contacts and you could have a serious issue of staffing going into January,” he said.

Numbers increase
“We haven’t seen the real figures coming from Christmas yet and if there is an increase in numbers you will have a lot of close contacts in January. My gut feeling is the Taoiseach will be determined to open schools but if Omicron is running through society like wildfire, it will be hard to know how workable it will be, especially if so many kids test positive and staff test positive and there are so many close contacts. It is up in the air at the moment. I hope the schools do open and the vast majority of people want them open but we want to open them safely and the next week will tell the story.”
At the beginning of December, funding was made available to schools for hepa-filters to address ventilation issues and Mr Duffy said he expects principals will be trying to get them installed in schools as soon as possible, to help mitigate against the spread of Covid.
Yesterday (Tuesday), the HSE confirmed an additional 9,006 cases of Covid-19 and speaking on Morning Ireland yesterday morning, Mr Reid said that the simple message to listeners was that if they think they have Covid, ‘it’s most likely that you have it’.
“If you are going into gatherings of people, particularly indoors, the high chances are that a significant number of people in those gatherings may be transmitting,” he said.
He added that 250,000 PCR tests took place over the last week and testing capacity will be increased further and urged the public to ‘stick with us’ as the HSE work to address this.

Vaccine distribution update
The HSE also announced that children aged between five and eleven years old who have a high-risk health condition can now be registered by a parent or guardian to receive a Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.
Children in this age group who live with a person considered higher risk, but are not necessarily high-risk themselves, can also be registered for a vaccine, according to the HSE. The vaccines will be given at HSE vaccination centres from later this week.
The booster vaccine is also being offered to people aged 30 to 39 and to people aged 16 to 29 who got the Janssen single-dose vaccine during the first round of Covid-19 vaccination. All remaining age groups will be open to receiving their booster from Monday, January 10 but you will need to wait at least 90 days after your first round of Covid-19 vaccination before you can get a booster. Anyone who received a positive test for Covid-19 will have to wait three months before they can receive the booster.
The Breaffy House Resort in Castlebar is the main HSE vaccination centre in Mayo and appointments can be booked through HSE.ie.