The Department of Health published its Test, Trace and Protect Transition Plan on 24 March 2022. This Plan details the changing purpose of test and trace at this point in the pandemic and the changes across society from 22 April 2022 in areas such as the use of LFD/PCR testing and the approach to contact tracing. The Department of Health’s Plan states that from 22 April 2022, there will be a reduction in the availability of PCR and LFD tests for the general population including the ceasing of the advice for the general public to undertake routine asymptomatic testing. After these changes take effect, the approach to the management of COVID in schools will align with other aspects of society by primarily focusing on responding to symptoms rather than use of asymptomatic testing.
The EA and Public Health Agency will continue to work closely together and there may still be occasions when schools will need support with complex and multiple cases, however, the majority of schools have extensive experience in responding to confirmed cases and so not every case needs to be notified by the school to EA or the PHA. Where a school is confident in managing a case or series of cases themselves through usual sickness and absence processes for staff and children then they should do so. Where further advice is required the EA confirmed cases portal remains available.
The Department of Health’s Test, Trace and Protect Transition Plan details that the routine asymptomatic testing programmes in mainstream schools, early years settings and childcare would cease on 22 April 2022.
Asymptomatic testing in special schools only will continue after 22 April 2022 and will be kept under review. It may continue until the end of June 2022. Information for special schools can be accessed on the EA website.
Parents, children and young people should remain vigilant for the main identified symptoms of COVID. If they identify that a child or young person has any of the symptoms, they should follow the self-isolation procedures for any individual who is symptomatic or has been identified as a positive case.
All members of the educational establishment, including staff and pupils, should be continually supported to understand the symptoms to look for.
If anyone displays any of the main identified symptoms of COVID in school, the school should consider whether it is appropriate for the pupil to go home or to remain in school.
Other than when a child or young person has any of the main identified COVID symptoms or a positive test, they should attend school if they are deemed well enough to do so.
If a child should become symptomatic, schools should seek to ensure that the child is moved away from other pupils to a well ventilated area until they are able to be taken home, ensuring appropriate supervision at all times. If a member of staff has helped someone with symptoms, they do not need to go home unless they develop symptoms themselves.
Further information on the management of a confirmed case remains available on the C2K exchange.
The Department of Health’s Test, Trace and Protect Transition Plan details that routine population level contact tracing will be phased out between 22 April 2022 and the end of June 2022. During this period PHA Contact Tracing will also continue to manage complex cases, high risk settings and complex outbreaks.
PHA remains responsible for identifying and communicating with household close contacts of a positive case.
The guidance to be followed by all children and young people who are identified as close contacts of a positive case is available on NI Direct.
Non-Compliance with NI Direct Guidance
There may be some staff members and/or pupils, who do not comply with the public health guidance on COVID. Equally, some SEN pupils may be unable to take a COVID test.
Where it is clear to a Principal that such an individual has been:
- a close contact of a confirmed case, based on the appropriate PHA definition of a close contact; or,
- displaying clear main identified COVID symptoms;
in line with their general duty of care for all pupils and staff, the Principal should inform them that they cannot attend the school until the processes for self-isolation have been completed. Where such an individual attends school, they should be moved away from other pupils and be sent home from the school until they can confirm that the relevant PHA protocols have been followed.
Where an individual is displaying symptoms of COVID but will not or cannot have a test, the Principal should contact the EA for further advice.
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