The head of one of the country’s largest contact tracing centres has said it is vital test results for coronavirus are turned around within 48 hours by the time people return to work next week.
Professor Mary Codd, an epidemiologist at University College Dublin (UCD), also said there is ample capacity for contact tracing but more needs to be done at an earlier stage in confirming positive cases.
A five-step process of sampling, testing, communicating results, contact tracing and quarantine is key to controlling the spread of the virus. It is considered increasingly important as the country heads towards a reduction in lockdown restrictions from next week.
The speed of processing tests has improved but, according to HSE chief executive Paul Reid, the average time to get a result is now 2.4 days.
In Ireland, about 1,700 contact tracers have been trained but demand for the service has been subdued.
Prof Codd, whose centre has up to 300 available volunteers, said they have between 10 and 50 working at any one time depending on demand.
“We can scale that up or scale it back depending on, frankly, how many phone calls we have to make,” she said, and explained that the time between when a swab is taken and when the results are received is “where the work is required”.
While there have been recent improvements, Prof Codd said the entire testing process must come to within 48 hours, or certainly no longer than 72, in order to cut out the spread of the virus in the population.
“Otherwise actually we are likely to be looking at these sporadic outbreaks that may not be able to be contained.”
On Monday, the president of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) Dr Mary Favier said last month test turnaround times were often over two weeks.
“There are GPs there [today] who are saying it’s seven days,” she said, adding that an email service is being set up this week for GPs to help identify problems.
“There is very little delay in the actual test time so we seem to have capacity there. It’s then taking three, four, five days to get that test result back and another one to two days to get contact tracing done. So there can be a week in that,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
“There is evidence that the later it goes before you actually start to chase up those positive results the less effective that is and the less valuable it is in terms of how useful you are to stop the spread of the disease and that’s what needs to be addressed.”
Dr Darach O’Ciardha of GPBuddy, an online service for doctors currently compiling daily diagnoses of symptoms by about 300 GPs around the country, said the data has shown the level of testing is broadly keeping pace with the level of suspected new cases.