To listen to the Government, one might think that the latest surge in Coronavirus cases was coming from just about everywhere except for schools. Talk to teachers, however, and you’ll find that there is great concern that many of the cases are connected to education, and are not being reported.
Gript spoke to four teachers over the weekend, in different parts of the country. All expressed significant concerns about the level of social distancing in schools, and the way that the Government’s contact tracing system seems specifically geared to avoid linking schools to Coronavirus outbreaks.
One spoke of a situation in her school where a student was diagnosed Covid positive on a Monday:
“Because the Government’s contact tracing only goes back 48 hours, nobody in the school was contact traced as a potential close contact. This is despite the fact that one of my colleagues was in close contact with this particular student on a Friday. But the Government says that doesn’t count, because it is 48 hours. So as far as they’re concerned, he either got the virus at home, or somewhere else, and nobody in the school needs to be tested”.
Another mentioned the fact that asymptomatic children testing positive are not being linked directly to clusters in schools:
“You have this situation where a child is asymptomatic. They could bring the virus home to their parents, who test positive, with symptoms. The child is tested positive as well, and they’re put down as a family contact. When the truth is that they brought it home from school. But the school doesn’t come into it, as far as the HSE are concerned”.
By far the biggest concern, however, was about the level of social distancing in schools, where it was perceived that mask-wearing and social distancing in classrooms was “a nonsense”.
“They come into the class. They wear their masks. And then they leave the classroom, and go out into the yard, and they’re practically licking each other” one teacher said.
“Social distancing was not invented with teaching in mind”, another said. “My colleagues in practical subjects, in particular, are at risk. It’s one thing to teach English – you stand at the top of a classroom and read a book or a poem. But if you’re teaching woodwork and you’re teaching some first year how to use a saw, how do you do that from two metres away? It can’t be done, unless you want blood and fingers everywhere”.
Until recently, it was believed that children played a small role in spreading the virus. However, in recent days, a new study has completely reversed that view:
Children are key coronavirus spreaders, the world’s largest contact tracing study has discovered.
Researchers in India say they have found that more than 70% of people with the virus do not pass it on to anyone, with just 8% responsible for more than half of new cases.
Kids and young people are key in spreading the virus, experts said after studying more than 500,000 people exposed to Covid-19 in the southeast Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Lead researcher Ramanan Laxminarayan, of Princeton Environmental Institute, said: “Kids are very efficient transmitters in this setting, which is something that hasn’t been firmly established in previous studies.
“We found that reported cases and deaths have been more concentrated in younger cohorts than we expected based on observations in higher-income countries.”
Teachers seemed to endorse those findings, talking to Gript:
“There’s no doubt, no doubt at all, in my mind, that the schools are driving this”, one said. “We’re not allowed to say that though, are we, or it’ll just be teachers moaning again”.
“But if you look at the figures, when did this spike start? Is it pure coincidence that it began a few weeks after they opened the schools again?”
Morale amongst the teachers Gript spoke to is very low, and they feel as if they have been blamed for things that are totally beyond their control:
“They shut the schools down in the spring and of course then the whole summer was people moaning about lazy teachers on the radio. Don’t want to work, overpaid, all the rest of it. That has no basis in fact, but it makes a good item on a talk show, doesn’t it? Everyone wants to ring in and have a moan about the teachers.
And then we’re in school all day, hardly able to breathe through a mask, roaring at students to keep theirs on, standing up for eight hours straight with one toilet break if we’re lucky. My school has one staff toilet for over a hundred teachers. You spend half your lunchbreak queuing for it, hoping that one of the thirty who peed before you did don’t have Covid”
“I don’t know how many in our school have Covid”, one teacher said, “because we’re not allowed to know. There’s a huge emphasis on secrecy when it comes to covid cases in schools. Unless the kid who tests positive tells his friends, and then they tell you, we aren’t even told that a child in our classroom on Tuesday tested positive on Friday”.
“Think about that – there’s a covid app to tell the public if they pass by a member of the public who later tests positive. But I could have a child in my class who tests positive forty nine hours later, and it’s against the rules to tell me, and I’m not counted as a close contact.
The whole thing is rubbish”