How will the new antigen testing regime operate in schools?

Will my child be taking antigen tests soon?

It depends. Under the new system of rapid antigen testing at primary level, which comes into effect from Monday, November 29th, tests will be made available to children where a child in their pod or table has had a positive PCR test that detected Covid-19.

Where two or more confirmed cases of Covid-19 occur in a class, within a seven-day period, outside of a single pod, antigen testing will be offered to the full class.

So, who will administer these antigen tests?

The antigen tests will be posted to the parents of the children in the pod or class.

Parents will carry out the antigen test on the day that they receive it and every second day until three tests have been done.

Significantly, the children in the pod can continue to attend school as long as they remain asymptomatic and their antigen test results are negative.

How will antigen test results be read or conveyed?

Most antigen testing kits provide a response within about 15 minutes – so it will be clear from the test whether the result is positive or negative.

What happens if my child tests positive from an antigen test?

If an antigen test is positive, the child isolates at home and the child’s parent logs on to the Health Service Executive online portal to request a PCR test.

If my child tests positive from a PCR test, what do I do?

Parents of a primary school child who has been confirmed as having Covid-19 following a PCR test are asked to inform their school principal.

Until now, that was done on a voluntary basis in some schools.

The school principal will then inform the parents of other children in the pod of a confirmed case.

No personal details of the child will be shared. These parents will be provided with the option to receive free antigen tests for their child, which they will be able to order for delivery to their home.

And what happens if my child develops symptoms of Covid-19?

If at any stage a child becomes symptomatic – high temperature, dry cough, etc – they should isolate at home and organise a PCR test.

Health authorities say a “not-detected” antigen test holds no value if the child is symptomatic.

What happens if there are multiple cases in my child’s class?

In a case where two or more cases arise in a class, within a seven-day period, outside of a single pod, antigen testing will be offered to the full class.

Who identifies and contacts children that need to get antigen tests?

The school principal will identify the children in the case’s pod and inform their parents, offering the opportunity to order antigen tests from the distribution company.

Education authorities say school principals will not be required to gather evidence of participation or of antigen test results.

Will antigen tests be mandatory?

No. Antigen testing will be on a voluntary basis – as is the case with PCR testing.

Why isn’t this system being introduced at second level?

The incidence of Covid-19 is significantly lower at post-primary. This is likely as a result of high rates of vaccination.

Additional mitigation measures at post-primary level are also in place such as mandatory face masks.

What do the latest figures for Covid-19 among primary school-aged children show?

The incidence of the disease among primary school-aged children has continued to surge upwards.

The rate of infection among children aged five to 12 climbed to 767 per 100,000 last week (November 7th to 13th), according to a weekly report compiled by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

This is up from 618 per 100,000 the previous week and 432 per 100,000 the week before.

It is estimated that about 8,600 primary school children are out of school after becoming infected over the past fortnight, based on this data.

However, many more children are also out of school on the basis that they are household contacts or are symptomatic and waiting on PCR tests.

Are schools still “low-risk” settings, despite the scale of virus among primary school-aged pupils?

Public health advice remains that asymptomatic children are at low risk for transmission.

They say the fact that schools are controlled settings and the on-the-ground experience of public health doctors has been, and remains, that schools are relatively low-risk environments and have not been a driver of transmission in children over the course of the pandemic.

The public health advice remains that any child who is symptomatic should restrict their movement and get a PCR test. Any sibling of this child should also restrict their movement and avoid school.

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