Guidance has been issued to schools ahead of the roll-out of the antigen testing programme on Monday.
Primary school principals have been assured that schools remain a “relatively low risk environment” for the spread of Covid.
Guidance on the antigen testing programme due to start next week, insists schools “have not been a driver of transmission of infection in children”, because of the infection prevention and control measures in place
Department of Education advice also stated that the “HSE confirms that asymptomatic (well) children are low risk for transmission of Covid-19”.
The assurance comes amid concerns that Covid, which is currently at very high levels across the community, is spreading in schools.
The Department has issued guidance for principals and parents/guardians - the latter is being circulated by schools - ahead of the roll-out of the antigen testing programme on Monday.
A video has also been developed for parents to assist with administering antigen tests.
The advice is clear that children who have symptoms should not use antigen tests, but they should stay at home and organise a PCR test for Covid-19.
If a child has a positive PCR test, parents are being asked to inform the principal immediately, which is a change from the current policy, where there was no obligation on parents of a confirmed case to inform the school.
The parents of other pupils in the classroom ‘pod’ – who will be regarded as close contacts – will be offered free antigen tests to conduct on their children.
Antigen tests will also be available to teachers and special needs assistants (SNA) on the same basis.
The programme is voluntary and it is up to parents to decide whether to carry out antigen testing on children who have been identified as school close contacts.
All close contacts can continue to attend school as long as they remain asymptomatic and they do not have a positive Covid-19 antigen or PCR test result.
Importantly, there is different advice if a child is a close contact in a household setting, rather than a school setting, because households are seen as the highest risk for transmission.
Unvaccinated people of all ages, including children aged three months to 13, who are household close contacts, must restrict their movements, regardless of whether they have symptoms or not, and get PCR test on day zero and day 10.
This means that a primary-aged sibling – an unvaccinated household contact of a confirmed case - must restrict movements and get a PCR test.
Meanwhile a pupil sharing a pod with the same confirmed case will be offered antigen tests and does not need to restrict movements unless they develop symptoms or have a positive test.
At school, if one pod is involved, only the children in this pod will be offered antigen tests. If there are two pods with separate confirmed cases, then parents of children in the whole class will be contacted.
The principal will send a text message – followed by an email/letter - to parents of close contacts advising that they can request antigen tests and will also provide the school roll number.
Parents of the close contacts may then ring a supplied Freephone number and provide the child’s name, home address and the school roll number, to order the tests
The tests will be delivered free of charge to parents, who an decide if they want to do the tests.
A box of five antigen tests will be delivered with instructions on how and when to do the tests. A video has been developed to assist parents.
Parents will be asked to carry out one antigen test on the day that they receive the box of tests, a second test two days later and a third test, two days after that.
If they wish, parents can also upload their test result, via a QR code, to inform the HSE.
Parents are not being asked to tell the school of the results of their child’s antigen tests.
Children who are well can continue to go to school whether they participate in antigen testing or not.
If an antigen test is positive parents are told to keep the child at home and book a PCR test online.
Even if the antigen test is negative, if a child develops symptoms, they should isolate at home and a PCR test booked for them.