Education Minister Dr Alex Allinson says there has to be an element of trust with home lateral flow tests, but that he expects parents will be sensible and report positive results.
Speaking to Gef before a teacher at St Ninian’s tested positive for Covid and six of their colleagues went into isolation, Dr Allinson said that 436 of the tests were taken home last week when they became available in high schools.
Lateral flow tests (LFT) are nothing new and they have been used for detecting various illnesses, but since the start of the pandemic, they have been modified to be used to detect Covid. The ones in the island’s schools require a nasal swab, they are then mixed with a reacting agent and dripped onto a pad which gives a result in about 15 minutes.
Dr Allinson said that sensitivity of these tests is ‘around 91%’ but added that this is dependent on the swab being taken properly. He added: ‘If you get a negative, it is very likely that you don’t have it, but if it turns out to be positive, we then say, and this has gone out in the letter to parents, is to stay at home, dial 111 and we then do a PCR test using swabs to the throat and the nose and see if that is positive as well. If that is positive then you definitely have it and we go through contact tracing and everything else that normally follows on, if that is negative then the LFT was almost certainly a false positive and then you get your get out of jail free card.’
Naturally one of the concerns of some parents who have spoken to our reporter is that some people may choose not to confirm a positive LFT test because of pressures like having to go to work and being unable to work from home. Dr Allinson said that it is a matter of trust but also ‘asking people to do the right thing by their family’. He said: ‘If your kid tests positive, do you really want them to be near their grandparents? Even if they have been vaccinated there is still a small element of risk of onward transmissions, so do you want to look after your family and do you want to look after your community?
‘So yes we are basing this on trust but what the gov has said right from the start is that we wouldn’t have compulsory testing, we wouldn’t compulsory masks, apart from on the buses when it got really quite bad with the outbreaks and we wouldn’t have compulsory vaccination, so it is a tool we’re offering to people who might be concerned about the spread of coronavirus in schools, or other areas, and I know certain companies with open plan offices are thinking about bringing them in as well just to have that resilience so that if we do have another outbreak then we can test and clamp down on it relatively quickly.’
There have been 8,000 tests delivered to schools and while 436 went out last week, given the events of this weekend where six members of staff at St Ninian’s are isolating, it is probable that more people will take the tests this week.
After the Summer
Turning to after the summer hols, Dr Allinson said it is likely that tests will still be available in schools, again on a voluntary basis. He said: ‘We get viruses going through schools every year, the big question with coronavirus is whether it will be a seasonal virus that could lay dormant over the summer and then reoccur with outbreaks in the winter and there are various projections that say that might be the case.’
The other big change from now is that by September, the vast majority of adults will have been double jabbed against the virus. But a great unknown is whether under 18s will be vaccinated too. Dr Allinson said there is an ‘ongoing debate’ between the risks and benefits of vaccinating children as the virus doesn’t have the same effect on children as it does on adults and the risk of serious illness is very low.
Another concern of parents has been access to homeschooling materials and work to ensure that children who need to isolate can do so without missing out on their school work. Dr Allinson said that when schools have had to close because of the pandemic, teachers have ‘done an amazing job to ensure children didn’t significantly miss out on their education’. He particularly praised those at Bunscoill Rhumsaa where one whole class was taught remotely when they ended up in isolation and their teacher switched to running virtual classes.
Dr Allinson added: ‘It becomes more of an issue when its entire year group or an entire school but we now have a resilience to switch very quickly to remote learning. We have learnt the lessons and have the tools to do that and so I think if we were to have a couple of individuals or a class or year group out for say 10 days then we can switch to remote learning so when they come back, they can go straight back into their work and pick up where they left off.’