The Minister for Education has confirmed the increased resourcing of dedicated school teams in each Health Service Executive area to assist schools where a Covid-19 case is identified.

In a statement, Norma Foley said these teams are led by public health professionals and supported by the Department of Education.

Earlier, Ms Foley told RTÉ's News at One that the system would "be broadened and strengthened" after the mid-term break, which starts next week, and would be deployed "as necessary."

She said it is a "shared objective of everybody within the sector" to keep schools open, in order to "continue our children's education safely".

Dr Heather Burns, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said schools are "not key drivers" of Covid-19 in the community, and the data supports the position that schools are not high risk places.

Speaking at a NPHET briefing this evening, she said public health doctors who have seen children and adults who have become symptomatic in school have quite often been exposed out in the community.

There has been testing of close contacts across 519 schools and childcare facilities, she said, with a total of 12,658 adults and children tested, as well as 352 additional cases over and above the index.

Dr Burns said this gives a positivity rate of close contact in the school setting of 2.8%, while the current national positivity rate is running about 7.2%.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said the data in relation to school-age children does not cause them to believe we are experiencing accelerated transmission by attendance at school.

He said he does not agree with the call from some teachers' unions to keep schools closed after the mid-term break until contact tracing can be increased.

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Read more:
INTO calls for data on Covid-19 incidence in schools
Schools and childcare facilities to remain open under Level 5


Meanwhile, teacher trade union representatives met National Public Health Emergency Team officials today to discuss their concerns around shortfalls in the State's contact tracing and testing systems.

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation said it outlined its key concerns to both department officials and the public health experts and reiterated its demands.

They include the publication of details of confirmed Covid-19 cases in schools, a clear explanation of the difference between a close and casual contact in the school setting, an urgent review of the policy of wearing face coverings by pupils and school staff, an additional suite of protective measures for primary and special schools in light of the national movement to Level 5 restrictions, and an evidence-based public health decision on schools following consultation and engagement with stakeholders.

The union said NPHET representatives admitted that the system had been overwhelmed in the last two weeks, but assured the union that its queries and concerns would be dealt with in the coming week.

INTO general secretary John Boyle, who described the testing and tracing process as "shambolic", said he welcomed the dedicated Covid-19 school teams, describing them as a "little bit of progress".

But speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, he said "a fit for purpose system for schools" is needed to manage Covid-19 and if the Government wants to keep schools open, it needs to resource the HSE to make sure staff are protected.

The General Secretary of the Teachers' Union of Ireland agreed with Mr Boyle's comments regarding the testing and tracing process, and said his members want assurance that adequate public health supports will be in place.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, Michael Gillespie called for an audit of resources that are available, and said rapid testing in schools is needed.

Schools are "overcrowded and understaffed", he said, and teachers feel "unsupported and as though they are second class citizens".

Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland General Secretary Kieran Christie said the "laxity" around contact tracing in secondary schools is "very worrying" and must be addressed.

He said the union wants to keep schools open safely, but they need to be reassured there are adequate public health measures to enable that.

Bernie Kiernan, an outreach support worker with Meath Women's Refuge, said it is "crucial" that schools remain open.

Schools offer children much needed respite from abusive relationships in their hope, she said, and it's important that parents know their children "are in a safe place" for a certain number of hours each day.

"Their partners are at home for long periods of time and they are locked in", Ms Kiernan said.

"They are unable to get out and get their children out to visit other family members."