Coronavirus: Care-home visitors advised to again wear masks

Health services in west and northwest move to issue caution on back of rising infections

Rising Covid-19 case numbers have prompted health services in the west and northwest to urge visitors to nursing homes to wear masks again.

Recently relaxed health advice does not require people visiting nursing homes to wear a mask when alone with loved ones, though they are required to do so in shared areas.

Now the Health Service Executive in the two regions is urging greater vigilance in light of the increase in virus cases and higher hospital attendances.

HSE West has written to nursing homes stressing the need to prevent infectious staff or other people entering, and to ensure cases are detected promptly and Personal Protective Equipment and other precautions are used to reduce the risk of spread when caring for infectious residents.


“Residential care facilities must have systems in place to ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, residents with Covid-19 are rapidly identified and are cared for with appropriate transmission-based infection protection and control precautions,” according to the HSE memo, seen by The Irish Times.

Residents’ vital signs must be monitored at least twice daily, and staff should be monitored for wellness at the start of their shift, according to the HSE.

Owners have been told to “encourage” uptake of vaccines by providing “relevant factual information” and to “proactively manage and risk assess visitors for symptoms, with no more than two visitors allowed per visit”.

Hospitals have also urged visitors to show greater vigilance. Tony Canavan, chief executive of the Saolta hospital group, said hospitals in the west and northwest were dealing with record attendances in emergency departments.

“All the while, the number of Covid-19 infections in our communities is growing and resulting in greater numbers of hospitalisations. We must stay vigilant and keep up our guard against Covid-19 if we are to protect the most vulnerable.”

Mr Canavan urged people to be particularly vigilant if attending any of the hospitals across the group for appointments or as a visitor.

“When visiting hospitals washing hands, keeping social distance and wearing a mask make a difference. If you have symptoms stay at home. This will not only keep our hospital safe but will benefit the wider community.”

He also urged anyone aged 16 and over who hasn’t yet registered to get a Covid-19 vaccine. “I would also encourage parents to sign up all younger age groups as the portal opens.”

Heart-muscle inflammation

Meanwhile, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) has updated its information on the rare reports of heart-related inflammation (myocarditis and pericarditis) among people who have received the Covid-19 vaccine.

Myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, has been reported in about 1 in 1,000,000 cases, according to the European Medicines Agency, it says. The reporting rate for pericarditis, inflammation of the lining of the heart, is similar. The cases occurred more often in younger adult men.

Most cases have been self-limiting, meaning they resolve with rest or some treatment, but some have required short hospital stays, according to Niac.

“We don’t know if there are any long-term problems because of these side effects,” it says.

European Union and United States experts have concluded the benefits of Covid-19 vaccines clearly outweigh the risks. The US Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices estimated that in females aged 12-17 years, for each million second doses of vaccine administered, eight to 10 cases of myocarditis might be anticipated, but 8,500 cases of Covid-19, 183 hospitalisations, 38 intensive care admissions and one death would be prevented.

In males aged 12-17 years, for each million second doses of vaccine administered, 56-69 cases of myocarditis might be anticipated, but 5,700 cases of Covid-19, 215 hospitalisations, 71 intensive care admissions and two deaths would be prevented.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.