"Brutal!" Vera Finlay exclaims when asked how the latest ban on nursing home visits, imposed by the Government with the latest coronavirus Level 3 restrictions this week, are affecting her.
The change means no more visits from her daughter or other family in the Perspex "pod" set up to keep the virus out of her home of three years, Droimnín Nursing Home in Stradbally, Co Laois.
Ms Finlay loves her home – “it is a lovely, lovely nursing home” – and the staff – “they are absolutely brilliant” – but the restrictions make life difficult for an 80-year-old who had a very active social life in her home community before the coronavirus pandemic changed life dramatically.
“It is a bit like a caged-in monkey,” she tells The Irish Times during a call on Thursday.
Before coronavirus, Ms Finlay went out every week with a friend. She would go shopping, get her hair and nails done, stop by her daughter’s for tea and visit her former home to pick flowers in her garden and bring them back to the nursing home. All that had to stop because of the virus.
“I haven’t been home. I hate to think of my lovely flowers,” she said.
Ms Finlay’s grand-daughter works in the nursing home so she stays in close contact with her family and there are regular WhatsApp, phone and video calls for all the home’s 70 residents.
"It is not easy for them," said Liz Devoy, a senior healthcare assistant at the nursing home.
“Everyone likes to see the family face to face, even though it is in the pod. It is hard for them but we try to explain to them that it is in their own interests to keep them safe.”
The Co Laois nursing home has managed to keep the virus out. There are strict infection and prevention controls in force and regular deep cleans, while staff work on separate floors. They are trained to take Covid swabs which speeds up the turnaround time for testing.
There is an isolation ward for hospital transfers of residents, regular support from local HSE staff and a liaison support team to help with fast-tracked visits to the Midlands Regional Hospital in nearby Portlaoise that avoids residents sitting for long periods of time for an X-ray or scan.
"We are a Covid-free centre since February. We are very thankful and grateful every day that we can say that. We know it is not easy. We know community transmission is up," said Deirdre O'Callaghan, the director of nursing at Droimnín, part of the Brookhaven Group.
She is concerned about the HSE poaching nursing home staff during the pandemic.
The rise in infections since the summer has meant that coronavirus cases have slowly risen among nursing home staff. Many have been caught by the HSE’s fortnightly serial testing programme, aimed at preventing outbreaks among residents, the older people most vulnerable to the disease.
Susan Cliffe, deputy chief inspector at nursing home watchdog, the Health Information and Quality Authority, said the sector knows more now about the virus and its asymptomatic spread.
“Am I confident it is in a better place than in March and April? Yes I am, absolutely. The reality is when you look back, Covid was in nursing homes before we knew it had arrived. That lack of knowledge is not there now,” she said.
Ms Cliffe said that there is still a large part of the nursing home sector that has not experienced the virus “so their contingency plans are on paper and have been untested”.
Despite the serial testing, the increase in cases has meant the virus has crept in among residents in some homes. So far, most infected nursing home residents are asymptomatic and “largely well”, said Ms Cliffe.
HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry said on Friday there were 10 outbreaks in nursing homes in the past week with 68 cases. This compares with five outbreaks in the week to September 26th.
This week Brindley Manor Nursing Home in Co Donegal reported 30 cases, while Kilminchy Lodge, just 10km from Droimnín, reported 31 cases in its outbreak.
“We have sent them a bunch of flowers to say we are thinking of them,” said Ms O’Callaghan.
“Any nursing home across the country that has an outbreak, everyone within the community is getting behind them, to try to support them and to show our love to them. It is not easy.”
Ms Finlay says she is not looking forward to the winter but has had her flu vaccine already.
“It is going to continue to get worse as far as I can see,” she said.
She watches the news every night, including the Taoiseach's remarks this week about the new restrictions and the National Public Health Emergency Team briefing with Dr Tony Holohan.
“We talk about Covid every day, what happened, how many got it and how many died. We talk about it every day so they are aware of the fact,” said Ms Devoy.
“I think Dr Holohan is doing his best. What more can he do?” added Ms Finlay.
And what about the public?
“Oh they could be doing more,” she said.