The HSE published data on its website today which revealed that the current positivity rate among primary school age children is significantly higher than that of last May, before the Delta variant became the dominant one.

It is 5.8%, compared to around 2% recorded before schools broke for the summer.

But additional data obtained by RTÉ News from the HSE this evening shows that the rate was even higher still four weeks ago when schools first reopened.

Encouragingly, this additional data shows that the rate has been falling steadily since then.

These new figures show that in the last week of August, the positivity rate among primary school age children was a whopping 14.5%. In the first week of September, it had fallen to 10%. By the week of 6 September to 12 September, it had fallen again to 6.8%. And, according to this data, by last week it was at 5.2%.

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This information is based on the total number of swabs taken from children during the weeks in question, so it is comprehensive. It is broken down into three categories, which are 0-3 years, 4-12 years, and 13-17 years.

At first glance the numbers in the different categories seem slightly out of kilter with the other data published online today by the HSE. But that is probably because the age categories are slightly different.

Today's online HSE figures - in contrast to the above - are 0-4, 5-12, and 13-18.

Over the past four weeks, the positivity rate for pre-school children and for teenagers has also fallen progressively. For under four-year-olds, it was 7.7% in the last week of August, last week it was 3.4%.

In the last week of August, the rate of infection among 13 to 17-year-olds tested was an extremely high 18%. Then it fell to 14%, then to 8.8%, and last week it was at 6.6%.

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This clear and positive trend goes some way towards explaining today’s decision to relax close contact rules, although to my knowledge it has not been cited as a reason for the decision. Without this information the decision seems at odds with the picture painted by the HSE's own figures.

The infection rate is certainly high compared to last May, but this additional information shows that since schools reopened, the proportion of children and teenagers being infected has been falling steadily.

Why has it been falling steadily? Is it because of external factors, or is it because since school reopened a much wider pool of children – including asymptomatic children – are being tested?

In the last week of August, just 12,254 primary school age children were tested. By last week the number being tested had more than trebled, to 45,090.

It is great to have data, but interpreting it is not always straightforward.

The big question of course is whether this fall will continue. With the current warm weather ventilation has not been a problem for schools, but that will change as the cold weather draws in.

That will present an additional challenge for schools.

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