Long queues formed outside a Covid test centre last night after all 386 pupils, as well as staff, in a Co Kerry primary school were told they had to be checked for Covid-19.
Gardaí were on site at the test centre in Tralee to deal with the increased volume of traffic.
The mass testing came after a significant outbreak at Scoil Mhuire in Killorglin, where at least 20 cases have been confirmed, many from one classroom. More positive results are expected.
The HSE has closed the school on public health grounds and all pupils have been told to restrict their movements until December 30.
The outbreak at Scoil Mhuire is not an isolated case in the county and a number of schools in Kerry have recorded an increase in the incidence of Covid in recent weeks.
There are confirmed cases among students and staff at the Intermediate School (ISK), a secondary school in Killorglin, as well as in other primary schools in the region.
The majority of students in the ISK did not go to school yesterday due to the outbreak, though the school remains open.
The Scoil Mhuire outbreak has prompted calls from Killorglin councillor John Francis Flynn for all schools in mid-Kerry to be closed.
He said it would be “the responsible thing to do”, arguing that since Covid was in the Killorglin primary school, “it’s in the community and everyone must be careful, not just those who have contacts with pupils in the school”.
However, Education Minister Norma Foley, who also represents the area, ruled out an early closure of schools for Christmas on the back of the Killorglin experience and the rising infection rate generally.
Schools are due to close for Christmas next Tuesday, December 22, with reopening set for January 6.
The minister said she had always followed public health advice, “which has served us well” and there was “no recommendation from public health to do other than what we are doing”.
Meanwhile, HSE CEO Paul Reid has also ruled out an early Christmas break for schools. He said the systems in place since the September reopening were working well.
Mr Reid said the chances of the virus being passed on was four times higher in the community than a school.
Dr Colm Henry, HSE head of clinical care, said it had been remarkable what had been done to keep schools open.
Ireland’s experience is on par with Europe and a child is most likely to have been infected at home rather than at school. He said school outbreaks were relatively uncommon.
The experience of the great majority of schools had been to provide continuous education to children.
The counter risks must also be seen in the impact of closures on children with special needs and those in early education.
“The response of public health staff is not to always press the red button and close a class or school,” he added.
They aim to take a balanced assessment including the need to continue education, he said
“Sadly there have been a number of significant outbreaks but they are uncommon.”