Students not wearing masks in a class with a special needs assistant (SNA) who later tested positive for Covid-19 have not been deemed as close contacts by the HSE.
The SNA at a Cork secondary school tested positive two weeks ago but had been teaching vulnerable students the week prior to contracting the virus, according to the Irish Examiner.
The school informed the HSE and other staff at the school of the positive case on Monday, after the SNA informed the school the day before, last Sunday week.
However, the school principal contacted the HSE again that afternoon when there was no call back from contact tracers.
An SNA who is positive worked side by side, hand-feeding, and toileting, at an intimate care level with some of these students.
The school was then told that due to compliance with social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines, there was “zero risk of transmission” of the virus.
When the HSE was informed that the vulnerable students in the class were not wearing masks, they were still not deemed to be close contacts. The SNA in question was wearing a mask.
A staff member who spoke to the Irish Examiner said that the students not wearing masks were given intimate care and it “beggars belief” that they were not considered as close contacts.
“An SNA who is positive worked side by side, hand-feeding, and toileting, at an intimate care level with some of these students,” the staff member said.
How can we not tell parents that someone who works with their child has Covid? It breaks my sense of ethics.
“My biggest concern is the students. It’s deeply worrying, I’ve agonised over even talking about it.
“My concern is if this is replicated, it will end in disaster. There’s something not adding up. I’m trying to protect the most vulnerable.”
The school could not make any of the parents aware of the positive case under Covid-19 guidelines, with the staff member who contacted the Irish Examiner describing the situation as unethical.
“How can we not tell parents that someone who works with their child has Covid? It breaks my sense of ethics,” the staff member said.
We have had concerns expressed to us in relation to students who have not required masks and why guidelines are not different in relation to these students.
An ASTI spokesperson said: “While we do not comment on individual cases and individual schools, we have had concerns expressed to us in relation to students who have not required masks and why guidelines are not different in relation to these students.
“We are also concerned about the extent of contact tracing in relation to cases in schools and the time taken for this contact tracing.”
In a statement, the HSE said: “It is important to note that controlled school/work settings may have fewer close contacts identified because of the nature of compliance with social distancing, hand hygiene etc. compared to social contacts/settings.
“In any instance where a case of Covid-19 is linked to an educational facility, public health professionals speak directly with the person, or family as appropriate, and ask them about their contacts.
“Children who are not identified as a close contact do not need a test, and can continue to attend school. Likewise with staff.”