#schoolsafety | How to keep schools open after Easter

Almost half of Irish households have school-age children, and there is no greater concern than keeping schools open and everyone safe. The pandemic disruption has affected all children, and some have suffered deprivation and neglect.

Governments shut down education in a pandemic because it works; it has been shown that closing schools and universities is the most worthwhile of all interventions, estimated to reduce the effective reproduction number (Rt) by 38 per cent. It follows, therefore, that opening schools increases the risk substantially, and that this requires additional precautions.

With more than a million children attending preschool, primary and secondary schools, preventing infection is also a very significant part of the Government’s suppression strategy. Just one extra infection in each of Ireland’s 4,000 schools would more than double the national case count this week. So, the progress of this pandemic will be significantly determined by what is done in schools.

Orla Hegarty is assistant professor at the School of Architecture UCD

While the data in Ireland is limited, UK government analysis shows a pattern of increasing spread of the virus among children when schools are open. More recently, concerns about increased transmissibility of variant B117 in children are supported by data from the UK, Germany, Italy and Israel. This variant, which is up to 70 per cent more transmissible, is now dominant, making up 90 per cent of cases in Ireland, up from 25 per cent in January.

Infection pattern

In the Netherlands, when 40 per cent of children were infected in a school outbreak, it prompted community testing of thousands of people. Initial findings showed that 80 per cent of cases with the B117 variant in the region were linked back to the school.

This pattern of children bringing infection home is repeated elsewhere: a UK government survey found that 12-16 year-olds are seven times more likely to be the first case in their households compared with those over 17 years, and they are twice as likely to pass it on.

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