Localised approach to Covid needed to keep schools safe, scientists say

ireland
A locked gate at a primary school, © PA Wire/PA Images
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A system to manage schools based on the level of Covid-19 infection in the local area is needed as more students return to the classroom according to a group of scientists.

A discussion paper from the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG) on managing schools during the pandemic has recommended a traffic light system be adopted, with the management of schools being determined by the incidence of the virus in their Local Electoral Area (LEA), according to the Irish Examiner.

Each Thursday, the Government publishes updated incidence rates per 100,000 for each LEA in the country, using data from the Health Protection and Surveillance Centre (HPSC).

The ISAG said extra precautions are needed, given the more infectious nature of the B117 variant, adding not enough is being done to reduce the risk of infection in schools.

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The group recommend all pupils over the age of six should be required to wear face masks and the school should monitor ventilation and CO2 levels in each classroom using mobile CO2 monitoring units, which they describe as a "relatively small investment".

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The ISAG, which was founded by UCC scientist, Gerry Killeen, public health expert from DCU Anthony Staines, and TCD scientist Tomás Ryan, feel schools should only remain open when the R number is below 1.0, and when the LEA's 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 is falling and below 100.

The scientists recommend that each LEA be given a colour rating based on these factors, which would indicate whether schools should reopen or remain closed. Schools in LEA's with a green or amber rating would be open for in-person classes, while school's in red LEA's would be closed.

Applying the ISAG's recommendations to the latest LEA data would see schools in approximately three quarters of the country remain closed according to the Examiner.

The group is also calling for the definition of close contacts in a school setting to be expanded from the current pod system to include the whole class and for rapid testing to be carried out when a case is confirmed.

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