Tuesday, 5 October 2021
Department of Health
The role of testing and contact tracing, as part of the wider public health response, has been under ongoing review throughout the pandemic and will continue to be reviewed and amended in line with the epidemiological profile of the disease, its impact on healthcare utilisation and outcomes, and the vaccination status of the population.
I have approved recommendations from NPHET focusing on children in childcare and primary education settings to ensure children may continue in education to the greatest extent possible. These recommendations recognise the very significant impact of the previous testing and tracing requirements on children in these settings. The changes which came into effect on 27 September 2021 are as follows:
- Automatic contact tracing of close contacts in childcare facilities and primary education will be discontinued (not including special education facilities).
- Testing of asymptomatic close contacts in childcare facilities and primary education will be discontinued (not including special education facilities).
- Children aged 12 yrs or under, who are identified as close contacts in childcare, educational settings, special education settings or other non-household settings and who are asymptomatic will no longer be required to restrict movements, unless indicated by the local public health team.
- Children aged 12 yrs or under who are identified as household close contacts in household settings will still be required to restrict movements and get tested, regardless of symptomatic status.
It is important to reiterate that the public health advice remains that any child aged 12 yrs or under who displays symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should rapidly self-isolate and not attend school or socialise until 48 hours after they are symptom free.
Further information is available in the Guidance for COVID-19 Contact Tracing for Children (>3 months to under 13 years of age) published by the Health Protection and Surveillance Centre, available at www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/educationguidance/Contact%20tracing%20under%2013s.pdf
The recommendations which have come into effect are based on what has been learned throughout the pandemic, primarily
- Children seem more likely than adults to have no symptoms or to have mild disease
- Investigation of cases identified in school settings suggests that child to child transmission in schools is uncommon and not the primary cause of Sars-CoV-2 infection in children, particularly in pre-school and primary educational settings
- Children are rarely identified as the route of transmission of infection into the household setting
- Children are not more likely than adults to spread infection to other people.
On that basis, from a public health perspective there is no clinical need for information to be routinely shared with contacts of cases and Public Health do not recommend telling parents of other children that there has been a case of COVID 19 within a class or group. Sharing of health data relating to positive cases in the manner envisaged in the question should only be done on the advice of Public Health and according to the provisions of the Infectious Disease Regulations. Since the provisions of the Infectious Disease Regulations no longer apply in this instance, it is important to note the importance of an individual’s confidentiality not being broken by others, in line with normal GDPR requirements. It is important that families are aware of the need to ensure they do not send children in to school and childcare facilities or to participate in activities if the child has new symptoms consistent with COVID 19. In these circumstances they should observe their child and contact their GP as appropriate. It is also important to regularly re-enforce the benefit to all of continuing to abide by infection prevention control and mitigation measures in place within school and childcare facilities.
The Deputy may wish to note that the changes in guidance outlined above do not apply to special educational needs (SEN) schools or SEN-specific classes or children attending respite care. In these circumstances close contacts amongst children may well still be identified and asked to restrict their movements, following a Public Health Risk Assessment conducted by a public health doctor. However, close contacts will generally be requested only to restrict their movements for 5 days and be referred for one COVID-19 test. This is to balance the observation period required for children for signs of infection, with testing at the most relevant time, whilst not prolonging restricted movements and the harms to children from these restrictions.