A new system to speed up contact tracing and help schools with their response to cases of Covid-19 will be in place when they return after the mid-term break.

Dedicated School Teams will be put in place and resourced in each HSE area, made up of public health specialists, who will assist schools where a positive case has been detected.

They will be backed up by support from the Department of Education in helping school principals to find substitute teachers or special needs assistants where absences arise as a result of Covid-19.

A spokesperson for Minister Norma Foley said the public health response to schools will be "further enhanced" with the new measures. 

The spokesperson said the Department has been "working intensively" with public health authorities to streamline procedures and information flows to ease the administrative burden on schools.

She said Covid-19 tests are already issued as a priority for school-based close contacts through a specific schools referral process within the HSE.

Swabs for school groups are sent to labs and "red flagged" to be processed as a priority. They are also given a specific school reference number to allow batch reporting of results for a particular school setting. 

"The procedures set out by the public health specialists have been tested across the country as confirmed cases arise among staff and students or in the families or close contacts of staff and students," the spokesperson said.

"Cases cannot be eliminated completely. Priority is to provide as much information and support as possible for school leaders, staff and parents."