There has been a sharp rise in the number of weekly Covid-19 outbreaks being detected in schools for a second week running, according to the latest public health data.
Figures published by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre show that there were 46 outbreaks detected in primary and secondary schools last week.
This compares to 25 recorded in the previous week and just 12 in the week before.
An outbreak is when two or more linked cases of the virus are identified.
The total number of outbreaks in schools so far is 118.
In a statement the Health Service Executive acknowledged that a swifter reaction is needed from the public health sector in dealing with schools.
It said it aimed to have its processes strengthened by the time schools return after next week’s midterm break and that teams of support people were being put in place to be direct points of contact for schools.
The HSE said that the rise in cases in the community and in the positivity rate had challenged public health teams considerably over the last weeks and that this had had an impact on response times in schools.
However, it said that it was reassuring that the positivity rate for schools – at 2.3% - was considerably lower than the national positivity rate which is in excess of 7%.
It said that while the increase of Covid-19 cases in the community was leading to more cases in schools, it is important to note that "these cases are not amplified within schools themselves".
The HSE added that mass testing has taken place in a total of 414 schools following public health risk assessments, with more than 10,500 students and staff tested and 246 cases of Covid-19 identified.
It has not provided a breakdown as to how many cases have been identified in students and how many in school staff.