A slight rise of Covid-19 cases reported in children is due to an increase in testing and not the reopening of schools, a senior health expert has said.
Professor Philip Nolan, chairman of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said that data shows schools remain a low-risk environment.
Prof Nolan said that a public health investigation looked at incidence of coronavirus infection in children in recent weeks, to assess the impact of the phased return of schoolchildren to the classroom.
He said that schools are low risk because of the mitigation and protection measures put in place by teachers, principals, families, general practitioners and public health doctors.
We have looked carefully at incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in children in recent weeks for any impact of the phased return to the classroom. The data, and thorough public health investigation, confirm that schools remain a low-risk environment. 1/16 pic.twitter.com/E0IMAc5EI8— Professor Philip Nolan (@PhilipNolan_SFI) April 9, 2021
Schools will reopen to all students on Monday, marking the final phase of the Government’s plan to have all pupils back in the classroom.
First to fourth year secondary students will return to school for the first time since the Christmas holidays.
Health experts have been assessing the rate of Covid-19 cases detected in schools, as well as any wider impact of the increased movement of people.
Prof Nolan tweeted: “The data show a moderate and transient increase in cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection reported in children, not directly because of the return to in-person education, but due to increased detection, or case ascertainment, related to an increase in testing.
“During a surge, incidence in children is generally lower than the population average, but towards the end of the surge it converges with the population average.
“There have been two recent increases in incidence in children, in early February and mid-March.
If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, don’t mix with others and self-isolate immediately. Call your GP or GP out-of-hours service as soon as possible to arrange a free COVID-19 consultation. Your COVID-19 test is also free. #HoldFirm #StaySafe pic.twitter.com/teGJpqTgr8— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) April 8, 2021
“Specifically, during a surge, we first see incidence rising in 19-24 year olds, later and simultaneously in adults 25-64 year olds and teenagers, and later again in children, slowly converging on the population average towards the end of the surge.
“So what explains the recent changes in incidence in children? The first increase occurred in early February, just after we resumed testing of asymptomatic close contacts, which had been paused for most of January.”
He said that children are more likely to be asymptomatic and the number of asymptomatic infections detected in children dropped sharply in January.
The resumption of close contact testing in February led to an increase in incidence.
The second increase in incidence rate happened in March, shortly after the first phase of reopening schools.
“While the level of testing increased 5 to 10 fold, the increase in detected infections was much smaller (40-50%), suggesting that the increase in incidence is in significant part due to the increase in testing,” he added.
“We note also that school opening is associated with an increase in attendance at workplaces; this increase in social mixing amongst adults carries a risk of increased viral transmission between households.”
Meanwhile, four new walk-in testing centres are to open this weekend, two in Dublin, one in Waterford and one in Limerick city.
Testing is free for anyone over the age of 16, who lives within 5km of one of the centres, which will operate for seven days.
People are required to bring photographic ID and provide a phone number so they can be contacted with their results.
The four new centres will be located at Cumann Naomh Peregrine in Mulhuddart, Dublin 15, the Ballyfermot Sports Complex in Dublin 10, WIT College Street Campus in Waterford and St Joseph’s Health Campus in Limerick.
Opening hours are from 11am to 7pm, and the public are asked not to attend if they are experiencing any symptoms of Covid-19.
Meanwhile, an unplanned Cabinet meeting was arranged on Friday evening to discuss expanding the number of countries on the mandatory hotel quarantine list.
The issue of including European countries has caused division among Government ministers, however the Cabinet is expected to sign off on the new additions.
#COVID19 cases in Ireland infographic. Containing graphs such as number and cumulative number of confirmed COVID-19 cases notified in Ireland by notification date. Published daily https://t.co/oJMNO6cJ8h pic.twitter.com/o45Vdva1fz— HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) (@hpscireland) April 9, 2021
Friday saw 34 further deaths linked to Covid-19 and an additional 473 confirmed cases, the Department of Health said.
Of the deaths reported on Friday, three occurred in April, four in March, 19 in February, five in January, and three in December or earlier.
It brings the total number of Covid-19 related deaths in Ireland to 4,769.
There were 212 patients in hospital with the disease on Friday, of which 53 are in intensive care units, down two on the previous day.
Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said: “Anyone exposed to Covid-19 over the Easter weekend will now be at their most infectious – please isolate and contact your GP to arrange a test if you have any symptoms of Covid-19.”