Fórsa has welcomed the confirmation of arrangements for antigen testing of asymptomatic close contacts in primary schools from Monday (29th November).
The union’s head of education Andy Pike said the new HSE approach to antigen tests for primary school students was “a long overdue step” towards improving Covid protection in education.
Andy also confirmed this week that SNAs are to be given access to antigen testing in primary and special schools, following a meeting with the Department of Education on Wednesday (24th November). Where a student has a positive PCR result, students in the same pod and the SNA will be offered testing.
“If there is a second case in the same class within seven days, all students and SNAs working in that class will be offered testing. The department is to issue guidance documents this week, with a view to testing being available from next Monday,” he said.
The new arrangements mean that parents will be contacted and informed of a positive case in the pod and offered the opportunity to avail of antigen testing, with three tests to be taken. Students will be able to attend school whilst antigen testing is being carried out, provided they do not have any symptoms of Covid-19.
Andy added: “It’s not appropriate to use antigen tests if an SNA has any Covid symptoms, in which case a PCR test should be booked instead. Special leave and remote working with pay are available to ensure that no one attends school if they have Covid symptoms or are waiting for PCR test results.
“We welcome the decision to provide antigen testing in primary schools. While this is not a full return to the previous contact tracing protocol, these new measures will increase protections for students and staff.
“The new protocol specifically allows schools to inform parents of positive cases, bringing months of confusion to an end, and will ensure that staff and parents are aware of positive cases, enabling appropriate steps to be taken.
“However, ministers and their departments should be under no illusions. School staff expect more timely interventions in other areas where the Covid response plans in schools require revision and updating.
“Simple practical steps must be taken. These include the provision of air filtration devices to improve air quality, and a campaign to encourage the use of face coverings. Both measures, if implemented, would further increase the effectiveness of the Covid response in our schools. Unions had been requesting antigen testing for more than a year. We urge Ministers to act far more quickly to implement the other necessary measures.”
Fórsa trade union represents more than 16,000 education staff in schools and early education, as well as clerical, administrative, management staff in institutes of technology and education and training boards.
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