Exams won't go ahead in their traditional format says Deputy Alan Kelly
Midlands public health doctors who have been at the coalface of fighting Covid-19 in Laois and other counties have urged the public to protect Leaving Cert students from infection with the exams just over a week away.
The head of public health in the region has gone as far as saying that families should cocoon if there is a Leaving Cert student living in the household.
The HSE's public health also had a message for primary schools as the country opens up after a challenging and prolonged period of lockdown restrictions.
A statement said the number of cases of COVID-19 in the Midlands (Longford, Westmeath, Laois, Offaly) is steady at approximately 20 cases per day. While the rate of COVID-19 does not appear to be increasing, the public health doctors said there is a risk that lifting restrictions too quickly will cause an increase in numbers.
The Public Health Department said half of adults have had one dose of vaccine and 20% have had two. It said this means that most Irish people are still vulnerable to infection and can still be potentially harmed by the virus.
The HSE doctors said there is no guarantee of safety, even for a young person. It added that young people can still become severely unwell and may require hospitalisation or ICU treatment. They say they are not quite sure yet whether COVID variants of concern (VOCs) are going to be a problem in Ireland.
Dr Una Fallon is the Director of Public health in the Midlands.
"As the HSE copes with the recent cyber-attack, we are asking the community to do everything they can to prevent preventable illnesses such as COVID. This does not mean we cannot enjoy getting out and about again. But please do so carefully. Please do not have big social gatherings INSIDE and please be incredibly careful outside – where you should still keep your distance," she said.
There are still a few unvaccinated groups that need to be protected. Against this reality, the Public Health Department said Leaving Cert exams start on June 9 and any student who becomes a case or a close contact, from now on, is at risk of missing an exam and relying on predicted grades. They will have to isolate or restrict their movements for at least 10 days and may miss more than one exam.
"It is really important for students who want to sit exams and their families to cocoon themselves and not expose themselves to any possibility of COVID infection," said Dr Fallon.
"Leaving Cert students should not meet up in the 14 days before exams and avoid in-person study groups. In particular, they should avoid ‘super-spreading events’ such as parties," she said.
The advice to Leaving Cert students and everyone around them need to practice basic prevention measures; keep a 2-metre distance, wear a face-covering, keep all indoor spaces well ventilated and practice good hand hygiene. This will help prevent becoming a case or a close contact.
Dr Abigail Collins, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, HSE Schools lead, has been working closely with the Department of Education.
"While only 3.4% of school-going children have had COVID, 100% of children have had their education significantly interrupted. Primary school children and some children with special education needs will continue to go to school until the end of June. It is important they do not miss any more of the school year," she said.
She said all schools have been advised not to have school tours unless they can walk to an outdoor venue. If classes are going out, please stick to pods and do not mix classes.
"We do not recommend that photographers attend schools to take school photographs. Persons attending schools should be limited to those required for education purposes, inspections, health and safety/welfare requirements.,
"Right now, it is important that we protect opportunities for children and keep schools open and as low-risk an environment as possible. Parents, students, and all school staff, please keep following public health guidelines, minimise your exposures to COVID and stay at home if you have symptoms," concluded Dr Collins.
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