Principal calls for Larne Covid testing facility after 400 pupils asked to isolate
More than half of the pupils at Larne High School have had to stay at home today (Monday) following a number of Covid cases.
Parents were notified over the weekend of positive cases in years 9, 10, 11 and 12 at the school.
Principal, Dr Stephen Reid confirmed that over 400 pupils had been asked to remain at home - slightly more than half of the school's student population.
In a post on their Facebook page, the school said it would notify those who were close contacts through the Satchel One app, through which pupils who are isolating will be able to access work.
Those identified by the school as close contacts of positive cases were urged to book a PCR test as soon as possible.
While the school has resources in place to notify close contacts in the immediate term, Dr Reid expressed concern about the long term impact on issues such as external examinations and school inspections.
"What we want to hear from the Department of Education is that there are contingency plans in place for these various scenarios; all we have been given are guidelines," he said.
The school and its Board of Governors are in agreement that 12-15 year olds should receive the Covid vaccine when it becomes available to them, Dr Reid added. "While the children themselves are very unlikely to become seriously ill with Covid, it's the circumstances they will be going home to that we have to think about."
Meanwhile, the ready availability of a PCR test in the local area is "key" to getting pupils back in the classroom. "There needs to be a local testing centre in Larne - we're not asking for anything state of the art, just a mobile unit.
"At the minute parents are having to drive to test centres in Carrickfergus, Ballymena or Belfast since close contacts aren't supposed to use public transport. If you've got more than one child at the school that might need multiple testing, that's soon mounting up in terms of petrol costs."
Last month, East Antrim Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson and Larne Lough Alliance councillor Danny Donnelly were among those urging Health Minister Robin Swann to open a Covid testing facility in Larne.
Mr Dickson commented: “At the start of August, I wrote to the Health Minister calling for a Covid-19 test facility in Larne. At present, those residing in Larne have to travel to either Ballymena or Carrickfergus to obtain a test. This is far from ideal as many individuals do not own private cars, and cannot take public transport for fear of spreading the virus."
Outlining that some parents were having "significant difficulties" accessing testing, Mr Dickson added: "It is clear that Larne desperately needs such a facility."
East Antrim DUP MLA, Gordon Lyons, said there has been huge increase in demand for PCR testing locally. "I’m concerned that there is no mobile testing unit in Larne," he added. "I know that many young people in particular have been affected by this, as they have been in close contact with those who have tested positive, and have to self-isolate until they get a negative test.
"Many people will struggle to get to one of the testing centres, and so I have asked the Public Health Agency to set up a testing site in Larne so that it is more accessible for local people and so that our young people can easily get a test and, if negative, get back to school.
"Easy, accessible testing is the key to ensuring that we not only suppress the virus but we ensure that our young people don’t miss out on education."