Nursing homes visits to resume as rate of staff testing positive for Covid-19 falls

Tens of thousands of tests carried out since July under fortnightly mass testing programme

New  rules coming into effect will permit one visit to nursing home residents per week by one person under the Government’s Level 3 restrictions currently in place. Photograph: iStock

New rules coming into effect will permit one visit to nursing home residents per week by one person under the Government’s Level 3 restrictions currently in place. Photograph: iStock

 

Public visits are resuming at nursing homes on Monday as figures show a drop in the rate of nursing home staff testing positive for Covid-19.

New health guidance rules coming into effect will permit one visit to nursing home residents per week by one person under the Government’s Level 3 restrictions currently in place.

This measure would remain in place under Level 4, while under Level 5 visiting would be restricted to one visit every two weeks by one person.

Tadhg Daly, chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland, the representative body for private nursing homes that make up 80 per cent of the sector, said the easing of visiting restrictions were welcome but he urged caution.

“There is a high degree of vigilance required. We would be saying to people who are visiting: there is a big degree of personal responsibility there to limit your own contacts before you decide to go to a nursing home. This is a shared responsibility,” he said.

New figures show that the rate of nursing home staff testing positive for Covid-19 under the HSE’s serial testing programme has fallen back to around levels recorded in early October.

Tens of thousands of tests have been carried out under the fortnightly mass testing of nursing home workers introduced in July that aims to catch the virus before outbreaks occur.

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
296 65

Worst affected

In a further sign of declining infection rates within nursing homes, the new figures from the HSE show that in the current fifth cycle of testing being undertaken, there has been a positivity rate of 0.33 per cent, or 163 cases detected among 46,732 swabs from nursing home staff so far.

The positivity rate in the fourth cycle, which started in mid-October and continued through the start of the six-week Level 5 lockdown, rose to 0.53 per cent of swabs taken from staff.

The rate in the third cycle of testing, which ran through the month of September and into the first half October, was 0.3 per cent. The rate was as low as 0.13 per cent during the summer.

Serial testing is considered to have been effective in reducing the number of infections, outbreaks and fatalities in nursing homes during the second wave of the virus.

Nursing homes were the worst affected during the first wave of the pandemic between March and May, accounting for more than half of the deaths associated with the coronavirus disease. The share of Covid-related deaths among nursing home residents has fallen in the second wave.

If a member of staff at a nursing home tests positive, the HSE usually directs testing of residents within the nursing home, though not in all cases. This led the State’s health service regulator Hiqa to ask the HSE for greater consistency on testing in a letter in October.

Private homes concern

The HSE said on Thursday that three private nursing homes which are in receipt of pandemic support from the State’s health service remain in the highest risk category of concern.

The HSE confirmed it was providing specific support to 146 nursing homes around the State.

While the majority were being helped with the likes of personal protective equipment (PPE), three remain in the so-called “red category” where “there continues to be a significant risk”.

The number in the worst-hit category dropped from seven last week.

The HSE said last week there were 102 open outbreaks of Covid-19 across all long term residential care facilities – some 5 per cent of all such facilities.

More than half (53) are older people’s homes and centres.

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