Covid-19: Outbreaks reach highest level so far in 2022, new figures show

High numbers may be due to under-reporting over bank holiday weekend

Covid-19 outbreaks rose last week to their highest level so far this year, new figures show.

However, the 201 outbreaks reported over the past seven days may in part be due to under-reporting of outbreaks in the previous week, which included a bank holiday, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

There were big increases in the number of outbreaks reported in hospitals, nursing homes and residential institutions, though the size of outbreaks tended to be smaller than in January.

Hospital Report

No outbreaks in schools or childcare were reported last week, though this may be due to the sector not requiring prioritisation by public health officials for further investigation.

There were 36 outbreaks in hospitals, more than double the previous week’s tally of 15. Hospitals in the east accounted for 22 outbreaks, while seven occurred in the northeast.

Outbreaks in nursing homes rose to 60, from 36 the previous week. The biggest outbreaks involved 61 cases.

Homes in the southeast were disproportionately affected, with 14 outbreaks.

At present 349 of the approximately 600 nursing homes have an open outbreak that is still formally under investigation, according to the HPSC.

The biggest increase was in residential institutions where 76 outbreaks were recorded compared to 43 the previous week.

There were also 55 outbreaks in centres for disability and 15 in mental health units.

On Wednesday the HPSC was notified of a further 5,381 PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19. In addition, 7,127 people registered a positive antigen result through the HSE’s online portal on Tuesday.

The number of patients with the virus who were in hospital as of 8am on Wednesday was 1,610, up from 1,601 the previous day. The number of virus patients in intensive care (ICU) dropped one to 49.

The Mental Health Commission said there are currently 379 suspected or confirmed cases in mental health services, of which more than 260 are staff. Out of a total of 185 services being monitored by the commission, there are 22 services with an open outbreak status, and 63 services reporting active cases.

Half of all cases in the first wave of the pandemic were likely acquired in a healthcare setting, according to a separate report by the HPSC.

“This reflects the unique circumstances in wave one with more serious cases being tested and with limited testing capacity, the majority of testing was done in healthcare settings,” the epidemiological report on the first year of the pandemic states.

The proportion of healthcare-acquired cases fell to 6 per cent in wave two and increased again to 12 per cent in wave three.

About one person in 1,000 died with Covid-19. Two children aged under five and two aged between 13-18 were among the Covid deaths during the year, according to the report. The overall case fatality rate was just over 2 per cent.

The Covid-19 pandemic was unprecedented and a wide range of public health measures eg, mask wearing, hand hygiene, social distancing and vaccination were required to control the pandemic,” according to the report

“The pandemic impacted on the whole population, though some groups/settings were impacted more than others, including healthcare settings especially nursing homes, healthcare workers, workplaces such as meat production and processing plants, schools and some vulnerable groups.

“By the end of the first year of the pandemic, wave three was declining, the Covid-19 vaccine programme was well established and hope was on the horizon.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times