INTO survey reports 31 recent Covid cases among Offaly school pupils

A 'snapshot survey' carried out by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has found that there were at least 31 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among pupils in primary schools in Offaly during the first half of this month.

The findings of the nationwide survey were released this week.

The survey doesn't give a full picture of the Covid situation in schools, as not all principals responded to it.

However, in Offaly, the principals that did respond were in charge of schools with a combined total of 1,996 pupils.

Of those pupils, 31 (or 1.6%) had tested positive for Covid between November 1 and November 16.

In the schools which responded to the survey nationally, 3.62% of the staff (605 of 16,694) were reported as testing positive for Covid-19 during this period.

The survey was sent by the INTO to 3,100 school principals across the country to assess the level of Covid-19 infection in their school community, and a total of 877 principals responded to the survey.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle commented that the survey showed a primary education system that was 'creaking at the seams.'

"Soaring transmission levels are an indictment of the premature removal of testing and contact tracing from our primary schools, and of the frustrating failure to move quickly to deploy antigen testing.

"The cessation of public health risk assessments following primary school outbreaks, and the resulting unavailability of weekly reports detailing infection levels from 27 September has concealed the escalation of positive case numbers among pupils and staff in primary schools.

"It simply cannot be a coincidence that the number of 5–12-year-old children contracting the virus has trebled since crucial public health supports were removed from the primary sector less than two months ago, abandoning teachers and principals to protect themselves and their unmasked, unvaccinated pupils from the impact of the highest wave of infection in their schools since the pandemic began," he commented.

"The results of the survey indicate that a significant number of school staff (605 staff members in the 877 schools that responded to the survey) contracted Covid-19 in recent weeks.

"This contrasts starkly with the extremely low level of infection among adults in schools that had been reported in official data on schools’ mass testing prior to 27 September and challenges the narrative that Irish primary schools are low-risk environments."

The INTO is calling for an immediate review of the Covid-19 response plans for primary and special schools, as well as a fast-tracking of the booster vaccine programme and the provision of vaccines for children aged under 12.

"The Government must also ensure that HIQA publishes another review of the minimum age for the wearing of face masks, as promised in HIQA’s last report which was submitted to NPHET on the August 24 and released on September 20.

"It is entirely appropriate that the union representing workers who teach the largest cohort of unvaccinated and un-masked individuals in over-crowded and often poorly ventilated settings be consulted by HIQA on the issue.

"The provision of more air quality monitors and air filtration systems to primary and special schools would greatly assist our schools," added Mr Boyle.