Covid-19: Nursing home deaths fall in second wave of pandemic

New figures show proportion of care home deaths about a third lower than in first wave

Covid-19 screening of nursing home staff has been ‘hugely important’

Covid-19 deaths among nursing home residents as a share of overall deaths have been about a third lower during the second wave of the pandemic.

Data released by the Department of Health shows there were 277 confirmed and possible Covid-19 deaths between July 1st and November 24th and that 115, or 41 per cent of overall fatalities during that period, were nursing home residents.

At the end of June, the National Public Health Emergency Team reported 61 per cent of deaths related to coronavirus infections were nursing home residents at that point.

New figures based on date of death show of the 115 nursing home resident deaths since July, 107 were associated with nursing home outbreaks, while eight were not linked to outbreaks.


Just one of these 115 deaths was a possible Covid-19 case; the remainder were confirmed cases.

The majority of the nursing home resident deaths occurred within the care facilities. Some 28 of the 115 deaths, all confirmed to be Covid-19 cases, were reported to be hospital i-patients.

Overall, since the beginning of the pandemic, more than half of the 2,053 coronavirus deaths recorded in the State from the virus have been nursing home residents.

Fortnightly serial testing of nursing home staff since July has been effective in detecting the virus early and reducing the number and scale of outbreaks during the second wave.

Younger people have accounted for the majority of infections in the second surge of the virus.

Based on date of deaths, fatalities related to Covid-19 reached double figures in mid-September before increasing again a month later to more than 30 in the second half of October.

In the first three weeks of November, there were 34, 24 and 36 deaths respectively.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said on Monday that there were 12 deaths linked to nursing home outbreaks in September, 48 in October and 38 recorded so far in November.

There are 35 open outbreaks in nursing homes with 908 cases of Covid-19 linked to these clusters of infection.

Overall, there were 37 deaths related to Covid-19 in September, 119 in October and 119 so far in November, Dr Glynn said.

Prof Dermot Power, a consultant geriatrician at the Mater Hospital in Dublin, attributed the reduction in nursing home deaths to "proactive" serial testing in nursing homes, increased mask-wearing reducing the amount of virus shed and inhaled, and more residents taking vitamin D.

Covid-19 screening of nursing home staff has been “hugely important,” he said.

“The right people have been cohorted or isolated within the nursing homes so that the virus has not had a chance to gain traction and grow within nursing homes,” said Prof Power.

He said nursing home residents acquiring the virus in the second wave may also be “more resilient” than older people who caught the disease in the first wave in the spring.

Nursing Homes Ireland, which represents privately owned nursing homes, has welcomed new guidelines on nursing home visits permitting up to one visit every week by one person under Level 3 and 4 restrictions, and one visit every two weeks by one person under Level 5.

Tadhg Daly, chief executive of NHI, said that the guidelines would help nursing home residents and their families enjoy "meaningful connection" with their families over Christmas.

“It remains an incredibly difficult time for residents in our nursing homes and their loved ones, and nursing homes and their staff are cognisant of this,” he said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times