Coronavirus Northern Ireland: Parents will be asked to help with school contact tracing say PHA

By Maurice Fitzmaurice

The Public Health Agency last night issued further details on how the new track and trace set-up for schools will work, saying parents will be asked to help out.

PHA contact tracers “will speak to parents or guardians of positive cases and ask for their support in identifying their child’s close contacts”, the agency said.

But how quickly the new system will be up and running remains unclear.

They said the aim of the new set-up “is to reduce the potential for large numbers of pupils being required to self-isolate and reduce the amount of time spent by schools on contact tracing”.

Dr Elizabeth Mitchell, Director of Contact Tracing at the PHA, said: “In recent weeks the high community prevalence of COVID-19 in Northern Ireland has led to a large number of cases being reported by schools. This has caused disruption for many, as the new school term starts.

“We know that Covid-19 is still a threat and we are still experiencing relatively large numbers of positive cases daily. It is important that children stay in school as much as possible but there is a balance to be struck in terms of risk. We also need to ensure that we do what we can to stop the spread of the virus and reduce the number of positive cases by identifying individuals who have had the closest contact with a case and are at highest risk of getting Covid-19.

“The new arrangements will require some operational changes to the Contact Tracing Service model and may also require some changes to close contact definitions for children in a school setting. Time is needed to fully embed this service but from today the PHA contact tracers will speak to parents or guardians of positive cases and ask for their support in identifying their child’s close contacts.

"Parents and guardians will be primarily responsible for informing the school principal of their child’s positive result. Parents can help by familiarising themselves with the process; if their child tests positive for Covid-19 – expect to be contacted by the CTC, recognise our number (028 9536 8888) by adding it to your phone’s contacts, and please answer when we do call.

Michelle McIlveen during her first engagement as Northern Ireland Minister for Education visiting Ballysillan Primary School and Nursery in North Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

"School leaders will no longer be required to respond to every case and identify contacts. The PHA will undertake the work and will contact the school principal for assistance in certain circumstances. This proposed model is in line with the approach being taken to schools in England, Scotland and Wales and should see fewer pupils being asked to isolate and test, keeping more children in school."

The Education Minister revealed on Thursday the PHA will take the lead on tracing contacts the contacts of schoolchildren following concerns about the growing pressure on school leaders to track rising numbers of cases.

It was claimed schools were on the "verge of collapse" as a result of the strain.

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen said involving the Public Health Agency "will address the pressures in schools identified by PHA in recent days".

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