I haven’t posted in quite a while. In what was already the most challenging return to school I have experienced, my school was hit with a large Covid-19 outbreak in the last 2 weeks and I have literally not had a minute spare until now. The effects of this outbreak on the whole school community have been profound. I hope that all of those who are currently ill will make a full recovery, and I am hopeful (but not optimistic) that this won’t happen again in our school, or in any other school.
What started as our school’s first positive first Covid-19 case quickly escalated to a situation where multiple staff and students contracted the virus, and over a hundred families have had their Christmas ruined as a member of their family from our school now has to self-isolate due to contracting Covid-19, or restrict their movements for 14 days due to being a close contact.
Covid-19 spread like wildfire through our school, despite staff following the Government’s Guidelines on the return to school such as ventilation, face coverings, hand hygiene, class bubbles and pods etc. The reason why Covid-19 spread so widely and quickly in our school was obvious to those of us on the ground trying to deal with it. When we got our first positive case, their close contacts were told to restrict their movements while awaiting testing, however other family members of these close contacts were told by the HSE that it was safe for them to come to school as normal. When the inevitable happened, and the initial close contacts tested positive, their family members in the school then in turn became close contacts who needed to be tested. Some of these family members then also tested positive, then their classes became close contacts, and so on, until Covid-19 had spread throughout the school and the wider community.
Last Thursday 17th December I heard the Minister for Education Norma Foley again deliver the narrative that schools are “safe” as they are “controlled environments”. This was the same day, that my school had 7 confirmed cases in a single day, and both myself and my school’s principal spent almost 6 hours AFTER school speaking to the public health doctors and making calls and sending messages to give people the news to staff and parents that they or their children were now close contacts.
The minister argued that “the positivity rate in schools is at 3% compared with 10-12% in the outside community”. I would seriously question the way in which the contribution that schools are making to overall positive case numbers are being counted. What started as one case in our school, spread to a number of others in the same class. Then most of the family members of those who caught Covid-19 at school also contracted the virus. Siblings who attend other schools, brought it in to those schools. The families affected were kind enough to inform us when their child had a positive case so we knew which families it was. Within days we would see that a confirmed case would be found in other schools in which we knew the siblings of our positive cases attended. Let me make one thing clear here; I am not blaming the families. The clear advice that they were given from the HSE was that family members of close contacts were to continue to attend school!
Covid-19 ripples out from a school to the entire community, and yet the impact of schools remining open at all costs is not being accurately reflected in the HSE figures. Despite the massive spread caused by one initial case in our school, only the cases of the actual children and staff who contracted it in the school will be counted as school cases. The families and wider community who contract if from the student/ staff member will all be deemed household or community transmission even though they clearly caught the virus because of the school remaining open during an outbreak.
Having witnessed a school Covid-19 outbreak from the inside, I have seen how it can spread very easily and quickly in schools despite adherence to government guidelines. The government seem hell bent on keeping schools open at all costs, regardless of how widespread Covid-19 is in the community. This route is reckless in and of itself, but it looks like it is to continue, and so lot more needs to be done to reduce the risk of transmission.
Realistically, measures such as reducing class sizes or providing adequately ventilated classrooms aren’t going to happen any time soon. However, one measure that could be implemented straight away, for free, is that family members of close contacts should not be allowed to attend school until the close contact tests negative for Covid-19. If this had been the case in our school, covid-19 would have not spread anywhere near as widely as it did. Allowing siblings of close contacts to attend school needlessly puts a huge number of other children and staff at risk. I would call upon the HSE and the Department of Education and Skills to immediately bring this measure into place upon our return to school in January. Concerned parents, staff and members of the public should do likewise. Contact details of the Department are available on their website.
Every school day is a day in which pupils and school staff are exposed to 27+ individuals without masks, in a room for almost 6 hours. How anyone could describe this as a “safe” and “controlled environment” is beyond me. School staff on the ground know that this is a highly risky environment, and we need to take whatever measures we can to try and protect students and staff. Keeping family members of known close contacts at home until a negative test result is obtained is one measure that would have saved scores of families in my school a lot of heartache in the past 2 weeks. I can only hope that this simple common sense measure will be adopted in schools with immediate effect.