Five nursing homes receiving ‘intensive’ State support as they battle serious coronavirus outbreaks

Authorities reviewing the mandatory use of face masks at primary-school level

Some 2.5 per cent of close contacts of Covid-19 cases in schools tested positive, testing data shows, compared to 10 per cent in the wider community

Some 2.5 per cent of close contacts of Covid-19 cases in schools tested positive, testing data shows, compared to 10 per cent in the wider community

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Five nursing homes are receiving “intensive” support from the State as they battle serious coronavirus outbreaks, Health Service Executive officials have confirmed.

The number of care homes requiring significant support to fight outbreaks has increased from just one two weeks ago to five at this point, as the recent sharp increases in Covid-19 cases nationally begins to impact nursing homes.

Paul Reid, HSE chief executive, said supports were being provided to about five nursing homes dealing with category “red” outbreaks, under the health service’s traffic-light alert system.

A further 35 residential care facilities facing category “amber” outbreaks were also being supported by the HSE.

Nursing homes deemed to be on status red of the HSE’s alert system would include those facing significant numbers of positive cases, staffing pressures, personal protective equipment shortages, or where public health teams fear there is insufficient infection-control measures in place.

Nursing homes facing outbreaks of this level were being kept “under very close watch” by health officials, Mr Reid told a briefing on Thursday.

Liam Woods, HSE national director of acute hospitals, said however the majority of residential care facilities in the country “are managing fine” at present.

Overwhelmed

Deaths in nursing homes account for about half of the country’s 1,902 coronavirus-related fatalities, as many facilities were overwhelmed with outbreaks in the early months of the pandemic.

There were six more deaths and a further 866 confirmed Covid-19 cases reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Thursday.

Eight more deaths from coronavirus were reported in Northern Ireland where a further 822 new cases of Covid-19 were also identified.

First Minister Arlene Foster said there were “green shoots of hope” with the R or reproductive number – the number of people each person infected with the virus transmits it to – having “dropped below one for the first time since the early summer”, and it was below one in 10 out of 11 council areas.

Separately, public health authorities are reviewing whether mandatory use of face masks should be extended to children at primary level across the State.

At present, only secondary students are required to wear face coverings in schools.

However, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation has requested a review in light of latest international health guidance aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19.

World Health Organisation guidance states that children aged between six and 11 should wear face masks on a “risk-based approach”, while France announced yesterday that its primary pupils will be required to wear them in order to keep schools open.

Safe to use

Many schools here, meanwhile, are scrambling to secure supplies of hand sanitiser after the Department of Education announced it was withdrawing more than 50 products from schools on the basis that it is unable to guarantee they were safe to use.

Schools are due to reopen after the midterm break on Monday and teachers’ unions and school managers have warned that principals will be under pressure to secure supplies in time.

The department, however, said it was working with suppliers to ensure stock is provided to schools in time for their reopening.

The move follows a wide-ranging review of products after a hand sanitiser – ViraPro – was withdrawn last week due to safety concerns. This led to the closure of some schools who were unable to source alternatives in time.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Thursday again reiterated the Government’s position that schools would definitely open after the mid-term break.

Upbeat assessment

The HSE has meanwhile provided an upbeat assessment of school safety with official data showing very low rates of transmission of Covid-19 in education settings.

Testing data shows 2.5 per cent of close contacts of Covid-19 cases in schools tested positive, compared to 10 per cent in the wider community.

Dr Abigail Collins, a consultant in public health medicine, said the latest figures were very reassuring and show that schools in general are not “incubators” of Covid-19.

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