Today in the Dáil I questioned An Taoiseach as to why Public Health doctors will have no roll in ensuring that school children are antigen tested.
The option of antigen testing is ONLY made available to classmates IF parents report a positive case to schools.
But it is questionable if schools can even do this under GDPR without the input of public health, based on the reply below that I received from Minister Donnelly in response to raising this issue with An Taoiseach previously.
Here is the previous response from Minister Donnelly
5th October 2021
Dear Deputy Naughten,
I refer to your recent correspondence to the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD, regarding the management of Covid-19 in school settings, the contents of which have been noted.
The role of testing and contact tracing, as part of the wider public health response, has been under ongoing review throughout the pandemic and will continue to be reviewed and amended in line with the epidemiological profile of the disease, its impact on healthcare utilisation and outcomes, and the vaccination status of the population.
The Minister for Health has approved recommendations from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) focusing on children in childcare and primary education settings to ensure children may continue in education to the greatest extent possible. These recommendations recognise the very significant impact of the previous testing and tracing requirements on children in these settings.
The changes which came into effect on 27 September 2021 are as follows:
-Automatic contact tracing of close contacts in childcare facilities and primary education will be discontinued (not including special education facilities).
-Testing of asymptomatic close contacts in childcare facilities and primary education will be discontinued (not including special education facilities).
-Children aged 12yrs or under, who are identified as close contacts in childcare, educational settings, special education settings or other non-household settings and who are asymptomatic will no longer be required to restrict movements, unless indicated by the local public health team.
-Children aged 12yrs or under who are identified as household close contacts in household settings will still be required to restrict movements and get tested, regardless of symptomatic status.
The changes which came into effect on 27 September 2021 are based on what has been learned throughout the pandemic, primarily:
-Children seem more likely than adults to have no symptoms or to have mild disease
-Investigation of cases identified in school settings suggests that child to child transmission in schools is uncommon and not the primary cause of Sars-CoV-2 infection in children, particularly in pre-school and primary educational settings
-Children are rarely identified as the route of transmission of infection into the household setting
-Children are not more likely than adults to spread infection to other people
On that basis, from a public health perspective, there is no clinical need for information to be routinely shared with contacts of cases and Public Health do not recommend telling parents of other children that there has been a case of COVID 19 within a class or group. Sharing of health data relating to positive cases in the manner envisaged in your correspondence should only be done on the advice of Public Health and according to the provisions of the Infectious Disease Regulations. Since the provisions of the Infectious Disease Regulations no longer apply in this instance, it is important to note the importance of an individual’s confidentiality not being broken by others, in line with normal GDPR requirements.
It is important that families are aware of the need to ensure they do not send children in to school and childcare facilities or to participate in activities if the child has new symptoms consistent with COVID 19. In these circumstances, they should observe their child and contact their GP as appropriate. It is also important to regularly re-enforce the benefit to all of continuing to abide by infection prevention control and mitigation measures in place within school and childcare facilities.
In addition, the new arrangements recognise the negative impact absences from school have on children’s educational, social and emotional well-being. This is a positive change for children, while still making sure there is access to testing for children who clinically need it.
It is important to reiterate that the public health advice remains that any child aged 12yrs or under who displays symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should rapidly self-isolate and not attend school or socialise until 48 hours after they are symptom free.
Further information is available in the Guidance for COVID-19 Contact Tracing for Children (>3 months to under 13 years of age) published by the Health Protection and Surveillance Centre, available at https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/educationguidance/Contact%20tracing%20under%2013s.pdf
The HSE has worked to ensure that the measures in place in schools are robust and prioritise the safety of staff and children. Dedicated multidisciplinary school teams led by public health professionals, working with teams from the Department of Education and school inspectors have been established to support school principals in identifying issues as they emerge and work in a collaborative manner.
There is ongoing consideration given by the Government to policy in relation to the management of Covid-19 in school settings and in the wider community.
I trust this information is of assistance to you.
Private Secretary to the Minister for Health
Minister Donnelly’s office was responding to the issue that I had raised with An Taoiseach:
Wednesday, 29 September 2021
Questions on Promised Legislation
Denis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
As the Chief Medical Officer, CMO, pointed out on Monday in his statement on contact tracing in schools, there is a substantially higher risk of transmission of Covid-19 in households compared to other settings, including schools. As a result, families with somebody who is immunocompromised will not now be told if their child is a close contact, exposing vulnerable people to Covid-19 infection. The CMO said that while a public health risk assessment will be carried out to protect vulnerable children in special schools, no such assessment will be carried out if a child’s brother or sister is a close contact in a mainstream school. How can this be right? The policy must be looked at again, even until the immunocompromised people have received their booster Covid shot.
Micheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
We have to be careful. Some people keep second-guessing public health advice. The bottom line is that the schools have fully reopened safely after the summer break. From the start of the pandemic schools have consistently operated on the basis of public health advice, and it has been a consistent principle that the Minister for Education and the Department of Education operate in accordance with the public health advice that is given at any point in time. Following a review, NPHET has recommended that from 27 September routine contact tracing of asymptomatic close contacts among children in settings such as childcare facilities, primary education and social and sporting groups will no longer take place, with the exception of children in special education settings. That is the advice that has been given and the Department has issued updated guidance to schools on foot of the change. The balance is correct in that decision.