Covid rates too high for schools to reopen, says top health official

ireland
Covid Rates Too High For Schools To Reopen, Says Top Health Official Covid Rates Too High For Schools To Reopen, Says Top Health Official
Dr Colm Henry, HSE chief clinical officer, speaking during a Covid-19 briefing at the Department of Health in Dublin. Photo: PA
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Vivienne Clarke

The HSE’s chief clinical officer has said that Covid-19 transmission levels are too high for schools to reopen at the moment.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Colm Henry said he hoped there would be an approach to reopening which would give priority status to “certain elements of the education sector.”

It was “tragic” to be talking about schools remaining closed, he said. “We learned from the first surge about how much harm was done to children, especially early school children, particularly in special needs environments, when there was a pause in education.”

Nobody wanted to see the schools' closure to be protracted because of what had happened “the first time.”

Transmission levels at the moment are frankly too high, he said. They need to be reduced “to much lower levels” before any additional risk of “mixing crowds or a mixing of people in school settings.”

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It was his hope that “certain elements” of education, especially special needs, could return because of the impact such closures had previously.

The Department of Education is understood to be exploring whether to allow individual special schools to reopen if enough staff are willing to return on a voluntary basis.

However, sources told The Irish Times that there are concerns that such a move would be divisive and antagonise school staff unions.

Most stakeholders feel the fastest pathway towards reopening special education rests on building confidence among staff over the safety measures and seeing a decline in virus transmission rates in the community.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) and Fórsa, the union which represents special needs assistants, resumed talks on Thursday with the Department of Education over reopening schools.

Intensive care

Dr Henry's comments come as the HSE chief executive confirmed that two-thirds of all patients in intensive care are being treated for Covid-19.

Ireland
Two-thirds of intensive care patients have Covid,...
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In a tweet posted on Friday morning, Paul Reid said the health service had never seen such a number of people being treated “for the same illness”.

Some 211 Covid patients (66 per cent) are in intensive care units, Mr Reid said.

He also said there are 300 patients outside of intensive care receiving respiratory support.

“We're battling hard to sustain safe levels of care but it's getting harder,” Mr Reid said.

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