Simple test will play key role in helping keep schools safe
As schools, pupils and parents get ready for the return to class after the mid-term break, the Public Health Agency (PHA) and Education Authority (EA) are highlighting the importance of regular asymptomatic testing in schools in reducing the spread of COVID-19.
All pupils in years 8-14, and all staff in pre-schools, primary schools and post-primary schools who do not have any symptoms of COVID-19, are strongly urged to take part in the asymptomatic testing programme.
Dr Louise Herron, Consultant in Public Health Medicine at the PHA, said: “It’s estimated that around one third of people with COVID-19 don’t have any symptoms, so they could be spreading the infection without even realising they are infected.
“Asymptomatic testing is an extremely important and effective way of helping ensure that those who may have the virus without knowing can take the appropriate actions to reduce the spread of coronavirus and keep others safe. For it to work, we need as many people as possible to participate.
“Cases of COVID-19 amongst school-aged children were increasing throughout the summer before schools started back in September. The increased transmissibility of the Delta variant, and the fact that many children are unvaccinated, means that this was not unexpected, and we have continued to see cases in this group. The latest COVID-19 bulletin (published 28 Oct) shows that there were 12,470 confirmed cases notified to the PHA Contact Tracing Service (CTS) in the last four weeks where the case, parent or guardian advised that the person attended or worked in a school – 92% of these cases were aged 19 years or under.
“The PHA is asking that the school community continues to focus on the range of measures they already have in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. These include cleaning, ventilation, face coverings and regular asymptomatic testing using lateral flow devices, also known as LFDs, for all staff and post-primary pupils.
“Regular asymptomatic testing is a very effective additional tool to help us reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools and beyond and is particularly important this year. Society has opened up, most restrictions have been lifted and therefore many of us will be interacting with more people in ways we haven’t done for almost 18 months.
“LFD tests are available from the school for all school staff, as well as pupils in years 8-14, and can be carried out at home. This rapid test can provide results after just half an hour and is simple to do.
“The person then records their test result online. People with a positive LFD result need to self-isolate and book a PCR test as soon as possible at one of the COVID-19 test sites to confirm their result.”
A negative result still does not mean that we should let our guard down, so we should not change our behaviours. We still need to carry out all the appropriate public health measures of keeping our distance, washing hands regularly and wearing a face covering where required, as well as keeping areas as well-ventilated as possible, in order to help stop the virus spreading.
LFD testing for school staff and pupils is twice weekly, three to four days apart.
The regular testing programme is for people without symptoms only. If a person has symptoms, they need to follow the existing public health advice, isolate with their household, book a PCR test in the normal way and engage with Contact Tracing Service when required.
Vaccination is available to all staff and most post-primary pupils, and should be encouraged. Even if vaccinated, staff and eligible students should continue with regular LFD testing.
Jim Dunbar from the COVID-19 Response Team at the Education Authority said: “The best place for children and young people is in school, learning, socialising with their friends, and getting the best start in life. There is no doubt that young people have been greatly impacted throughout the pandemic and have experienced significant disruption to their learning.
“High rates of participation in the asymptomatic testing programme, alongside the other measures within schools, will help us all to make sure that we’re not just protecting each other from the virus, but will also help to keep our children and young people and staff safe and in school.
“Older students in years 8-14 are participating in the testing as prevalence of COVID-19 tends to be higher among this group, so we would encourage as many eligible pupils as possible to participate and keep themselves, their friends and the entire school community safe.
“We would again thank all of schools leaders and wider school communities for their support, commitment and determination to keeping children and young people safe and in school and keeping COVID-19 out of schools.”
For more information on the testing programme please go to www.eani.org.uk/covid-19-testing-in-ni-schools
- Participation in the LFD schools testing programme is voluntary.
- LFD testing for school staff and pupils is carried out twice weekly three to four days apart.
- Results are logged via a portal on the DHSC website.
- A negative LFD test result does not enable an individual to drop their guard and people should not change their behaviours.
- If a positive LFD test result is detected then the individual must book a PCR test as soon as possible to confirm the result and they and their household must self-isolate.
- If the PCR test result is positive the individual must complete a full 10 days of self-isolation. The Public Health Agency’s (PHA) Contact Tracing Service (CTS) will speak to each positive case and identify close contacts and provide advice and guidance on next steps.
- If the PCR test is negative, the individual can return to school as normal providing they are feeling well.
- The LFD testing programme is for asymptomatic individuals only. If a person has symptoms, they need to follow the existing public health advice, isolate with their household, book a PCR test in the normal way and engage with contact tracing service when required