A reported rise of covid-19 cases in children is because of an increase in covid testing – not the re-opening of schools, according to a senior health expert.

Professor Philip Nolan, who is chairman of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, has said that data indicates schools are a low-risk environment for contracting covid, following a public health investigation into the incidence of covid-19 infection in children. He aid that safety measures by schools and individual teachers had greatly mitigated risks to students.

“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,” Professor Nolan said.

“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 continued, adding that children are more likely to be asymptomatic than adults, and that because of this pause, the number of asymptomatic infections in January declined steeply. Then, once testing resumed in February, the numbers naturally increased.

Another case increase was noted in March, just after the first phase of re-opening schools. However, according to Professor Nolan, the data indicated that this was to do with ramped-up testing around the same time – not the re-opening itself.

“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 said.