HIQA publishes review of international guidance on the identification and management of symptoms of COVID-19 in schools

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The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has today published two reviews of international guidance to support the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (NPHET’s) response to COVID-19.

A new rapid review summarises the public health guidance from 20 countries and two international public health bodies on the identification and management of symptoms of COVID-19 in schools for children and young people. The review found general agreement across countries that universal health screening, including temperature screening, should not be conducted in schools. There is also agreement that if a child or young person becomes symptomatic, they should be isolated rapidly. It is widely recognised that decisions to close schools should not be taken without input from public health authorities and that such decisions should take account of local levels of community transmission. This reflects the guidance most recently published by the Irish Government on the reopening of schools and the guidance from HSE on the management of COVID-19 in schools.

Dr Máirín Ryan, HIQA’s Deputy CEO and Director of Health Technology Assessment, said: “It is important that Irish guidance is informed by international best practice in the context of rapidly evolving evidence.

“In our review, we found that most guidance documents acknowledged the difficulty of there being no single symptom that is uniquely predictive of a COVID-19 diagnosis and that many of the symptoms are shared with the common cold, which regularly affects children. Additionally, many children who have COVID-19 have no symptoms.

“There has been limited evidence of child-to-child or child-to-adult transmission of COVID-19. While recognising that transmission can occur, international guidance documents identified in our review have highlighted the potential adverse impact of school closures on children’s social, emotional, and behavioural health. Therefore, it was important that schools could re-open safely, following Government guidelines. The best management of COVID-19 in schools is prevention, by ensuring that students and staff who have symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 stay at home, and that everyone practices good respiratory etiquette and performs frequent hand hygiene. Guidelines around physical distancing and face coverings should also be followed, as appropriate. As the current pandemic is evolving, and more evidence emerges, guidance on the management and identification of COVID-19 in schools may need to be updated.”

Also published today is HIQA’s review of guidance for the operation of emergency medical dispatch centres in the context of COVID-19. The review examined high-level international documents focused on managing current difficulties, such as increased call volumes, workforce capacity, and staff health and wellbeing. The guidance identified focused more on current planning rather than medium-term or long-term concerns related to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Ryan continued: “Dispatch centres are the first line of defence against COVID-19. From offering information to the public to dispatching services safely, emergency medical dispatch centres have been a vital component of the ongoing response to COVID-19. The wealth of data they have been able to collect during the crisis will be helpful when planning future coordination of services in epidemics.”

These reviews were developed by HIQA following requests from NPHET’s Clinical Expert Advisory Group.

Read the documents from the link at the top of the page.

Ends.

Further information:
Marty Whelan, Head of Communications & Stakeholder Engagement
085 805 5202, mwhelan@hiqa.ie

Notes to Editor:

  • The Rapid review of public health guidance on identification and management of symptoms in children and young people attending school in the context of COVID-19 found that current international guidance documents are in agreement that universal health screening should not be conducted in schools.
    • The rapid review was conducted in line with HIQA’s Protocol for the identification and review of new and updated relevant public health guidance – COVID-19, available here.
    • Information on protecting your child from coronavirus can be found here.
  • The review of guidance for the operation of emergency medical dispatch centres in the context of COVID-19 was conducted to assist the National Ambulance Service with its current and future planning. It summarises 52 documents from around the world which considered the approaches adopted by emergency medical dispatch centres in the context of SARS-CoV-2 (48 documents) or SARS-CoV (4 documents).
    • The review of guidance was developed following the process outlined in the protocol on Identification of guidance for pre-hospital emergency services and patient transport services in the context of COVID-19 and beyond. Read it here.