Nursing homes see small but ‘concerning’ rise in Covid-19 cases

Mixing of vaccines authorised and booster shot rollout being worked on

The latest HSE serial testing data for nursing homes also shows a small but significant increase in the positivity rate. Photograph: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP via Getty

The latest HSE serial testing data for nursing homes also shows a small but significant increase in the positivity rate. Photograph: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP via Getty

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A small but “concerning” increase in Covid-19 cases in nursing homes has been detected over the past number of weeks, an industry body has warned.

While immunisation levels across the sector are among the highest in the State, with workers and residents first to be targeted in the rollout earlier this year, Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) estimated on Tuesday there were currently 15-20 outbreaks.

Tadhg Daly, NHI chief executive, said the ransomware hack of the HSE meant there were no publicly available numbers on open outbreaks, but he believed there were up to 20 across public and private units around the country.

It is understood a number of outbreaks have been detected in recent days by HSE contact-tracing teams.

“It’s a concerning development and one we need to monitor,” Mr Daly said. “To the best of my knowledge it’s both staff and residents, both vaccinated and unvaccinated.”

People are not becoming gravely ill at levels previously seen, but the development is having operational impacts on nursing homes, he said.

The latest HSE serial testing data for nursing homes also shows a small but significant increase in the positivity rate.

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
464 86

In the latest round of testing, 0.49 per cent of cases were positive, up from 0.10 per cent in the previous cycle, with 36 cases detected.

Serial testing has been massively cut back in recent months and is intended only for unvaccinated staff members, although it is thought some nursing homes are testing vaccinated staff as well to guard against breakthrough infections.

Some 4,900 staff are being tested twice as part of the current cycle.

Proposed reforms

It comes as NHI accused the Government of stalling on implementing key structural reforms recommended a year ago by an expert panel on the sector.

NHI said it was disappointed that proposed structural reforms to ensure lessons were learned from the Covid-19 pandemic had not been advanced by Government.

It accused the Government of “apathy in bringing into effect proper support structures for nursing home residents and staff after the Covid crisis had been brought under control and of diverting its focus away from nursing home care”.

NHI said calls from nursing home providers for the necessary resources to implement recommendations had been largely ignored to date.

The Department of Health did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Earlier, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly revealed the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) had authorised the mixing of vaccines.

People who had received one dose of AstraZeneca and had a preference for an mRNA vaccine for their second dose could now proceed with this course of action, he told RTÉ News.

This was good news, he said, which had been passed on to him by chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

His department would be working closely with the HSE and the vaccine taskforce on plans for a booster shot rollout, and timelines for this were being worked on.

Advice from Niac was for Covid booster vaccines to be given around the same time as the flu shot, Mr Donnelly added.

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