Another 21,926 Covid cases confirmed, with 936 virus patients in hospital

HSE advises nursing home staff to wear respirator masks when caring for residents

Another 21,926 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the State by the Department of Health on Friday.

The department also said there were now 936 Covid-19 patients in the State’s hospitals, 84 of them in ICU.

Healthcare workers caring for residents of nursing homes and other care centres have been advised to wear respirator masks, under new advice from the Health Service Executive.

Hospital Report

New guidelines to take effect from January 17th say healthcare workers should wear a respirator mask such as an FFP2 mask, rather than a disposable surgical mask for all resident-care activity.

They can wear surgical masks when interacting with colleagues in settings other than caring for residents, according to the advice from the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).

Under a separate change recommended by the HPSC, nursing home or care centre residents who contract Covid and are fully vaccinated, including a booster, will have to self-isolate for 10 days, down from 14 days.

The self-isolation period for vaccinated members of the general public was reduced from 14 days to 10 days last year, but the longer period was kept for residential settings. With the self-isolation period for the public cut further to seven days in the last month, it has now been decided to reduce the period to 10 days in residential settings.

The change also applies to residents who are vaccinated but unable to get a booster shot due to recent infection.

The revised guidelines remove the presumption of protection as a result of previous infection in the absence of a person being vaccinated.

They suggest the use of carbon dioxide monitors to identify areas of poor ventilation. Hepa filters can be effective in reducing concentrations of infectious aerosols in a single space but have not been shown to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection, the guidelines state.

Antigen tests

Earlier on Friday, the director general of the HSE warnedthat supply lines for antigen tests are “not elastic”, but there are sufficient supplies for the remainder of January and into February.

The portal to register positive antigen tests on the HSE system is hoped to be ready by the end of next week, if not sooner, Paul Reid said, adding that the system for testing and tracing was “very complex” and to modify it to include antigen test results was taking time.

How that information was utilised would be decided by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), he said. The HSE was relying on the modelling from Nphet in its planning for rising figures, but it did not feel “like we’re at the peak yet”, Mr Reid added.

Speaking on RTÉ radio's Today with Claire Byrne show, the health service chief executive said that in October 20,000 antigen tests were being sent out per week by the HSE, but that was now up to 350,000 per week – with 60,000 being sent every day to people who were symptomatic or close contacts.

His comments came shortly after the chief clinical officer of the HSE said the health service would be in “serious trouble” without the derogation measures allowing asymptomatic, vaccinated staff who are close contacts to return to work.

The scale of disruption being experienced by the health service was "unprecedented" and the HSE is trying to protect its services, Dr Colm Henry told Newstalk Breakfast on Friday.

Under the derogation measures, healthcare workers essential to critical services who are identified as close contacts can return to work, with approval from management, if they are asymptomatic and have received a booster vaccine or recovered from Covid infection within three months.

Asymptomatic staff who are fully vaccinated but have not received a booster can return under exceptional circumstances, with approval from the Office of the National Director of Acute Operations or the Office of the National Director of Community Operations.

The situation “from a HSE perspective” was very difficult, Dr Henry said, with a 60 per cent community positivity rate and the fact that 25 per cent of the Covid cases in 2021 were between Christmas and New Year.

Children’s vaccines

Mr Reid also said that issues with high-risk children not getting appointments for their vaccination have been addressed and he apologised for the delay.

Children’s hospitals had begun vaccinating some of these children in December and then the portal to register for all children had opened on December 28th. At this stage the remaining high-risk children had been grouped with those not at risk, he said.

Specific lists have since been drawn up of high-risk children and appointments are being made, Mr Reid added, and he said he is happy with the pace at which children were being registered for the vaccine.

To date 73,000 of the 480,000 eligible had registered. He wanted the campaign for children to roll out in a calm manner, he said, and he fully respected parental concerns and wanted them to avail of all the information available.

On staff shortages in the HSE, chief operating officer Anne O’Connor said staff could not just be redeployed to other areas, but efforts were being made to send them where they were needed most.

The latest official figures, from December 31st, showed that 8,000 health services staff were not at work because they had either tested positive for Covid or were a close contact. That figure was more likely to be 14,000 to 15,000, she told RTÉ radio's Morning Ireland.

This was “very challenging” for the health service – not just hospitals, but also general practices, community services and disability services, Ms O’Connor added.