Minister for Education Norma Foley TD and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD have today confirmed arrangements for a new system of antigen testing of asymptomatic close contacts in primary schools put in place by the HSE.
The Department of Education and the HSE, working in collaboration with the Department of Health, have developed a programme in which antigen tests will be made available to the children in a primary school pod, where a child in the pod has had a PCR test that detected COVID-19.
Where two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 occur in a class, within a seven day period, outside of a single pod, antigen testing will be offered to the full class.
The tests will be sent to the children’s parents by the HSE.
Parents/Guardians of a primary school child, who has been confirmed as having COVID-19 following a PCR test, are asked to inform their school’s principal. The school principal will then inform the parents of other children in the pod of a confirmed case. No personal details of the child will be shared. These parents will be provided with the option to receive free antigen tests for their child, which they will be able to order for delivery to their home.
It is not mandatory for children to participate in antigen testing. Children who are in a pod where a child has tested positive for COVID-19 can continue to attend school, whether they participate in antigen testing or not, provided that they are not experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
If a child displays any symptoms of COVID-19 they should self-isolate immediately and a parent or guardian should arrange a PCR test.
School principals will not be required to gather evidence of participation or of antigen test results.
Information materials for parents will be shared with schools and publicised directly to parents early next week. The HSE will immediately commence preparation for this programme to be made available. The programme will commence on or before 29 November.
Minister Donnelly said: “Antigen testing is an additional layer in our public health advice. I welcome this move today, but I am keen to stress the public health message remains –anyone who has any respiratory symptoms should self-isolate at home and get a COVID-19 PCR test as soon as possible.”
Minister Foley said: “School communities continue to do exceptional work in minimising the spread of COVID-19. I welcome the HSE’s introduction of this choice for parents and children to undertake antigen testing where there is a known case of COVID-19 in a child’s pod.
“It is important that everyone continues to follow all the public health advice in using this new programme. In particular, I urge parents to take the opportunity to inform principals quickly if a child receives a positive result from a PCR test for COVID-19. By doing this, the choice to participate in antigen testing can be offered to other parents.
“We all need to continue to follow all the advice we know so well now, including hand-washing, staying at home if we have any symptoms, and reducing our contacts where possible.
“I want to thank everyone in our school communities for their continued efforts, and ongoing work with the education partners to keep our schools operational for the benefit of the entire school community.”
How the programme will work:
When a parent receives a ‘detected’/positive PCR COVID-19 test result on their child, they should notify the school principal immediately.
The school principal will inform the parents of the children in the case’s pod that they are close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case. The name of the case or any other details will not be shared.
The school principal will identify the children in the case’s pod, and inform their parents, offering the opportunity to order antigen tests from the distribution company.
The antigen tests will be posted to the parents of the children in the pod.
Parents carry out the antigen test on the day that they receive it and every second day until 3 tests have been done.
The children in the pod can continue to attend school as long as they remain asymptomatic and their antigen test results remain not detected.
If a child’s antigen test indicates a positive result:
If an antigen test is positive, the child isolates at home and the child’s parent/guardian logs onto the HSE to request a PCR test.
The antigen test distribution company will record the numbers of antigen tests distributed, batch numbers and the names of the relevant schools.
If a child develops symptoms of COVID-19:
If at any stage a child becomes symptomatic they should isolate at home and organise a COVID-19 PCR test if indicated. A not–detected antigen test holds no value in this situation of a symptomatic child.
If 2 or more cases arise in a class, outside a single pod:
In a case where two or more cases arise in a class, within a seven-day period, outside of a single pod, antigen testing will be offered to the full class.
Notes to Editors
Public Health advice remains that asymptomatic children are at low risk for transmission. Schools are controlled settings and the approach to contact tracing is risk-based in relation to the setting, age–group and the existence of other preventive measures. The on the ground experience of Public Health doctors has been and remains that schools are relatively low risk environments and have not been a driver of transmission in children over the course of the pandemic.
A 'not detected' COVID-19 test in a symptomatic person indicates that they may have influenza or another respiratory viral infection and there would be a clinical risk related to introduction of those viral infections into the school setting if that symptomatic child continues to attend school.
The household setting is the highest risk for transmission. Unvaccinated people of all ages who are household contacts of a case must restrict movements (and stay out of work or school) for 10 days and have a PCR test at day 0 and day 10.