Drop in Covid-19 outbreaks at nursing homes and hospitals

‘It shows just how effective vaccines are,’ says consultant, though HSE advises caution over data

In a sign of declining infections and the potential benefit from vaccinations, the number of new Covid-19 cases linked to hospital and nursing home outbreaks has declined for the fifth week in a row.

Figures from the Health Service Executive show there were just 12 new cases linked to hospital outbreaks in the week to February 13th, down from 116 a month earlier, while the number of new cases linked to nursing home outbreaks stood at 115, down from 737 in a month.

The number of new nursing home outbreaks has continued to fall, according to the new data on Covid-19 outbreaks, with just five reported during the sixth reporting week of the year. This is down from 47 five weeks earlier and from 12 a week earlier.

Total doses distributed to Ireland Total doses administered in Ireland
9,452,860 7,856,558

Potential benefit

Paddy Mallon, infectious diseases consultant at St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin and a professor of microbial diseases at University College Dublin, said that the decline in hospital outbreaks and new cases offers "compelling data" showing the potential benefit from vaccinations over the past six weeks.

Hospitals were still dealing with a more transmissible variant of the virus and the only significant change in recent weeks has been the vaccination of healthcare workers, he said.

“It shows just how effective the vaccines are as this is happening in the space of a few weeks of the vaccines being rolled out,” he said.

Striking a more cautious note, however, HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said he believed the decline in infections in healthcare workers - falling from almost 1,000 in mid-January to about 100 last week – has been very closely correlated to the decline in infections in the wider population.

“It is much more likely that that fall is due to the fall in community transmission. It would be nice to say it is attributable to the vaccine because we have seen a huge uptake in frontline healthcare workers,” he said at the Thursday evening Nphet briefing.

Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said declines in infections in healthcare workers had been directly linked to the decline in the number of Covid-19 hospitalisations.

“It is going to be some time yet - and only a matter of weeks - before we see any impact of vaccination on either healthcare worker or older people’s morbidity, infection and mortality,” he said.

Anne O’Connor, chief operations officer at the HSE, said at its weekly briefing there were still a significant number of outbreaks across hospitals and care facilities with 19 reported in one day in the past week but overall numbers were coming down, which was “a very positive sign”. She said that the number of hospital staff testing positive for Covid-19 had fallen to just more than 170 from about 500 the week before.

Ms O’Connor said that it would be interesting to see “once we hit the month after vaccinations” what effect the vaccination programme has on outbreaks.

Third-wave data

The number of deaths linked to nursing home outbreaks in the third wave of the pandemic has reached 709. The overall number of cases in third-wave nursing home outbreaks stood at 6,485.

There were 179 open outbreaks in nursing homes on February 13th. There have been a total of 211 outbreaks in nursing homes during the third wave.

An outbreak is defined as two cases or more of Covid-19 and is not declared closed until 28 days have passed without a new case of the disease being detected.

There were 200 new outbreaks of Covid-19 reported across all settings, including 91 in family households, the highest number of any category – an increase of 21 on the previous week.

There has been no reduction in the number of infections and outbreaks with the Traveller community: there were 22 new outbreaks reported in the community, the same number as the previous week, while the number of new cases linked to outbreaks rose from 78 cases to 82 cases.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent