A healthcare professional in Clare is among the latest group of people to test positive for the coronavirus, The Irish Times understands.
The person worked a shift in a hospital emergency department since returning from northern Italy, it is also understood. They were one of four people, two males and two females from the same family, who tested positive for the disease on Wednesday evening.
Students nurses who worked at the hospital on the day the person worked the shift have been advised to self-isolate.
In a text message, the student nurses were told to isolate until Thursday, March 12th if they were in the ED on that day and were told to “await further instructions” via an in-house messaging system, and that “there is currently an emergency hospital meeting regarding same”.
It is believed the group had returned from Italy for a substantial number of days before they experienced symptoms and required testing.
The process of tracing the contacts of the four people is under way, but it is likely to provide arduous given the number of people involved and their work and educational routines.
The cases, the first cluster of positive tests in the Republic, has forced the closure of three schools on Thursday as a precautionary measure.
Authorities at the three schools in Clare decided to close the schools following the confirmation of the four new cases of coronavirus by the Department of Health on Wednesday. Two of the schools – a primary school and a secondary school – are closed for two weeks until March 18th. The third school is closed for one day pending advice from the Health Service Executive (HSE).
Parents of children attending the national school were advised of the two-week precautionary closure on Wednesday night. In a text to parents, management at the school said: “A child in our school has tested positive for Covid-19 and as a precaution, school is closed from tomorrow (Thursday) for 14 days. Re-opening 18th March. Public health doctors will contact you individually from tomorrow on.”
The text also stated that a confirmation ceremony for the school has been cancelled as a result.
One parent of a child attending the school said: “We (parents) all got a text tonight confirming that a child in the school had been confirmed as testing positive for the virus. We really don’t know what to do now. There’s been a lot of talk on the parent’s WhatsApp group and we haven’t a clue what will happen next.”
She added: “My child is off school for the next two weeks which means I’ll have to stay at home and take time off my job. That’s going to be very very tough. I can’t really ask someone else to mind him in case he has picked it up. I don’t know what do.”
Parents at the secondary school received a similar text last night and overnight, parents attending another secondary school in the same area were advised that the school would remain closed today. The text said: “(School) will remained closed Thurs 5th March pending advice from HSE re Covid-19 (coronavirus) cases in locality. Will advise further tomorrow.”
Paul Reid, the director general of the HSE, on Thursday described the coronavirus as “an unprecedented situation” and called on the public to “keep focused.”
Mr Reid told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show that he was urging the public to do everything asked of them by the HSE and public health officials. People should not create a sense of panic nor should there be a sense of complacency, he said.
He said €20 million is being spent to bring 25 new ICU beds into operation, with recruitment taking place to staff them. A further €20 million has also been spent on protective equipment for staff.
Mr Reid said he understood the frustration after the HSE declined to name schools involved, but said that it was a challenge for the HSE to “get the right balance” for the appropriate actions for the benefit of “everyone across the country.”
He encouraged everyone to go to the HSE website for detailed advice and said that the contact traceability process is ongoing in Clare and that where schools were involved they have been informed. “We have to ensure we don’t have areas stigmatised or panic. It is not good practice to identify anyone in this process,” he said.
Hand hygiene and coughing/sneezing etiquette were important to keep the virus in the containment phase, he said. “We are following WHO and ECDC advice. We are monitoring the situation on an hourly basis,” said Mr Reid.
A longer containment phase meant that the health service can build capacity, he said.
Mr Reid declined to predict the numbers that could be infected by the virus. The aim is to prevent a surge of people going to hospital which was why home testing by the ambulance service have been introduced, he said.
Part of the HSE’s escalation plan is to contain the surge, to increase ICU beds and for hospitals to plan “a pathway” of where cases will be brought.
The HSE will do what is required and resources will be provided to contain the virus for as long as possible, he said. If staff get sick themselves, agency nurses will be brought in.
Mr Reid said the HSE has gotten the fullest support from the Government. He went on to thank the staff in the public health service for their “very inspiring response which has been phenomenal”.
He said: “There is a need for the public to take this seriously, if they do we will contain this for as long as possible. But we have to prepare for the next scenario.”