A ‘TEACHERS’ union has told its members at third level to just ‘walk away’ if they feel unsafe in a lecture hall. With the colleges beginning to start back this week, many have found that new students, and indeed some staff, are unsure about the safety protocols around Covid.
They cited non mask-wearing by some, a lack of sanitising, and staff being unsure of guidelines regarding opening windows and ventilation.
These are the kinds of issues that will face numerous workplaces around the country as the deadline of October 22nd for an almost-full reopening of society looms.
So colleges are a good bellwether for many.
Some might even, worringly, say they are the ‘guinea pigs’ for the wider society.
There was similar confusion last week when the cases of Covid among young children began to emerge as primary and secondary schools settled back into a new term.
Teachers who were close contacts of students were unsure how to react, as some healthcare advice seemed to suggest that no matter how ‘close’ a contact someone was now, once they were vaccinated, they could continue working as normal.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many responsible employers overrode the health advice and urged their staff to stay at home, if a colleague or – in the case of a school – student, had tested positive – at least until they received their test results.
They did not want to encourage the spread of the virus, however ‘protected’ the wider society may now be, due to vaccines.
Last week’s Prime Time investigation into Long Covid made many people sit up and think – this random, but ultimately debilitating disease – is still affecting thousands in Ireland today.
There is no known cure, and no way of knowing who will be affected.
Therefore, caution is still being urged.
But the rampant spread of the disease in the younger population should not be taken lightly.
The lack of mask-wearing and the nature of their interaction means that very young children are at high risk of getting this disease. And parents who ignore the earlier ‘close contact’ protocols are likely to increase the risk of the disease then spreading in an older cohort.
While most of us will be protected, there will still be many ‘breakthrough’ Covid cases – and it is a bit like playing Russian Roulette if we think we will all remain safe.
The HSE needs to issue stronger guidelines to workplaces – including schools and colleges – about return-to-work etiquette and what exactly being a ‘close contact’ means for the public.
From the very beginning the importance of clarity of message was repeatedly hammered home – hence the regular Nphet briefings for press and public, the availability of senior HSE and Department of Health officials to the media, and the expensive but reassuring public information campaigns.
The HSE must not let its guard down now – just as we approach the final furlong. The clear and simple messaging must continue. Businesses must be encouraged to produce and circulate guidelines for return-to-work protocols.
Information vacuums leave space for misinformation, paranoia and conspirary theories to take hold. Let’s fill any voids, and get us all across the finish line, safely and confidently.