At yesterday evening's Covid-19 briefing by the National Public Health Emergency Team, a number of speakers outlined why they believe schools are relatively safe environments, while concern was expressed over the general trends in the virus.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the briefing.
'Little evidence of any improvement'
"Over the last week to ten days we've seen little evidence of any improvement in the trajectory of the disease," Prof Philip Nolan says, adding that "the epidemic has accelerated further in the last week" | #Covid19 | https://t.co/bXHSGf30fT pic.twitter.com/1TuKYyMlZm— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 15, 2020
At the beginning of the briefing, Prof Philip Nolan, Chair of NPHET's Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, set out a sombre warning that the trends have not been positive.
After his initial summary that the epidemic is worsening rather than improving in Ireland, Prof Nolan gave a detailed breakdown of the trends, warning that we could see 2,500 cases a day by the end of the month if current rates of infection continue.
"If we fail to reduce transmission now, we're on track to see 1,800-2,500 cases a day and over 400 people in hospital by the end of this month" Prof Philip Nolan sets out some data on #Covid19 trends | https://t.co/bXHSGf30fT pic.twitter.com/GNkw8GvkxF— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 15, 2020
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said community transmission is widespread and it is no longer possible to trace all infections and contacts.
"The reality is we simply don't know who all the cases and the contacts are any longer," @CMOIreland Dr Tony Holohan says, adding "to map those things reliably at the point of infection that we have at the moment can no longer be regarded as an objective" #Covid19 pic.twitter.com/LV997wrBJc— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 15, 2020
Reduce discretionary contacts
The Chief Medical Officer reiterated the advice that people should reduce their socialising as much as possible.
"Now is the time for people to act, to take that individual responsibility, and to cut out in as much as people possibly can, non-essential social contact with other people," @CMOIreland says | https://t.co/bXHSGf30fT pic.twitter.com/kFF5h6npdR— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 15, 2020
Work from home
Dr Tony Holohan, @CMOIreland, said that people should work from home as much as possible, and that employers should facilitate their employees to do so whenever possible | https://t.co/yro2bXPnFk #Covid19 pic.twitter.com/4KRhJgKUsV— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 15, 2020
Asked about reports of employers trying to bring more people back into workplaces, Dr Holohan said that just as individuals should take responsibility for reducing their social interactions as much as possible, employers should take responsibility for facilitating their workers to do so.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said they were hearing concerning reports that many employees were still going to work despite experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.
He said now more than ever it is unacceptable to go to work when you are sick.
"It's simply not acceptable this winter to be coming to work with cold and flu like symptoms," Deputy CMO Dr @ronan_glynn says, adding "Don't take the chance, self-isolate and call your GP." | https://t.co/bXHSGf30fT pic.twitter.com/j1oRzP0flV— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 15, 2020
HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry (@CcoHse) says there is very little evidence of onward transmission of #Covid19 in schools. He says community transmission is a threat to schools, but schools do not appear to be a threat to the community. | https://t.co/bXHSGf30fT pic.twitter.com/6ihU19vpac— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 15, 2020
HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry said there was a lot of anxiety when schools were reopening, but international evidence at the time suggested that communities were more likely to pose a risk to schools rather than the other way around.
This appears to have been borne out here too, with little evidence of onward transmission of Covid-19 in schools, and lower positivity rates in school communities than the general population.
Dr Henry said it appears widespread community transmission is a threat to schools but that schools are not a threat to communities.
Responding to a suggestion that schools could be a source of unexplained household outbreaks, Prof Nolan said that it was very unlikely.
"There's really no significant chance both from the statistics and public health investigation that there is a link between schools and that number of [unexplained] household outbreaks," Prof Philip Nolan says | https://t.co/bXHSGf30fT pic.twitter.com/C74Ydbhyd4— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 15, 2020
Dr Glynn observed that while there has been an increase in the number of cases in school-aged children, the rate of increase in this group is lower than in the wider community.
On schools, Deputy CMO Dr @ronan_glynn says "As we've seen an increase in cases across all age groups, we've seen an increase in younger children as well ... but the increase is less in overall terms than for the population as a whole | #Covid19 | https://t.co/bXHSGf30fT pic.twitter.com/DjPW1zP7ga— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 15, 2020
'Let it rip merchants' criticised
Criticising the "pseudoscience" of "let it rip merchants" calling for herd immunity, @CMOIreland said many of the young people who would pick up #Covid19 in such a plan are essential health workers | https://t.co/a2PV4SZqL2 pic.twitter.com/v3whYqSgGb— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 15, 2020