'Frightening' Covid-19 outbreak at midlands creche

Gearoid Keegan

Reporter:

Gearoid Keegan

'Frightening' Covid-19 outbreak at Offaly creche

Covid-19 outbreak in Tullamore creche and Montessori school

A COVID-19 outbreak at an Offaly creche and Montessori school has been described as “frightening” by childcare provider groups.

With Offaly battling the highest incidence of Covid-19 in Ireland, it has emerged that twelve children and eight staff have tested positive for Covid-19 at M&A's in Tullamore.

Elaine Dunne, chair and founder of The Federation of Early Childhood Providers, and Denise McCormilla, chief executive of the National Childhood Network, have been in touch with the owner of the Tullamore creche.

The owner is said to be “unsurprisingly, distressed” that despite following all guidance in relation to mask wearing, hand hygiene, containing children within pods, and limiting access to parents and others, the virus has spread rapidly in the childcare facility in the county currently with the highest national incidence of the virus.

The childcare provider groups say the sector needs better protection and more practical support and guidance.

Three areas they have highlighted are that childcare, as an essential service, be made a high priority for vaccinations; that there be subsidised weekly antigen testing in childcare facilities, to protect children and staff; and that additional personal protective equipment grant-aid be provided.

In a statement, Ms Dunne said: “Many creches and childcare facilities are now back to around 90% occupancy and workers are worried about the spread of new variants of the Covid-19 virus.”

“Childcare workers meet the needs of children and families, so that wider services in society, like healthcare, can be provided and the economy can reopen.

There is exceptional difficulty in preventing virus transmission when working with young children.”

Children “do not do social distancing”, pull at masks and seek hugs and comfort and that is the nature of childcare work.

“Vulnerable people work in the childcare sector, including pregnant women and some with underlying health conditions, or they live with a family member that has underlying issues.  They need to be protected while providing an essential service,” said Ms Dunne.

“The Tullamore creche manager is very distressed by finger pointing and unfair media posts and feels the narrative needs to change, whereby people protect and support one another and consider mental health, rather than making assumptions and apportioning blame for something largely unavoidable that is affecting thousands of households and businesses.”

Meanwhile, Offaly Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen has called for more detailed local data to help in the fight against localised Covid-19 spikes.

Deputy Cowen said the HSE and NPHET should release detailed local communications to areas where Covid-19 cases are high. 

Deputy Cowen said he was speaking to HSE chief executive Paul Reid on this issue over the weekend. 

The Offaly TD commented: “There has been consistently high number of cases in Offaly over last number of weeks. Particularly so in the Tullamore electoral area.   

“Local councillors are anxious and keen to help and address the increase in whatever way possible.  They are contemplating holding a special meeting to appeal to the public.” 

He continued: “It is my hope county councillors and constituency TDs could be furnished with relevant statistics and information relating to ongoing high numbers of daily cases in Offaly.  It may be helpful to share such information concerning details of clusters and the contributing factors as interpreted by the considered opinions of public health staff for the area.   

“It may be then that local representatives can use their influence and seek to exert leadership in efforts to assist authorities and communities in reducing these figures.”

Deputy Cowen said he was informed by Mr Reid that “local communication is key” in these situations and that he had been speaking to the Taoiseach on this in recent days with the hope of obtaining such local data to aid the situation. 

The Offaly TD has also requested a regionalised update on the progress of the vaccination rollout.

An Independent councillor in Tullamore, Sean O'Brien, has called on the Government to "provide leadership to resolve the growing Covid crisis".

"People have put their lives on hold for a full year and all they see is the problem getting worse and no end in sight.  We are all simply fed up with the situation and see no end in sight.  The vast majority of people have observed all of the measures to reduce the spread of the virus but they are frustrated at the lack of action by the Government in areas such as international travel."