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14 deaths in September, 77,000 tests, a rising 14-day incidence rate: Here's where Ireland stands as winter approaches

We’ve put together the latest statistics – and how to find them – on how Covid-19 is spreading in Ireland and what that means.
Sep 17th 2020, 12:05 AM 45,472 64

20200916_210242 Source: Department of Health

THE HSE WILL today provide an update on its ‘Winter Plan’ for Ireland’s health service approaching November and through to early next year. 

Health officials have been preparing for months as flu season approaches. They are tasked with the resumption of hospital services, increasing bed capacity, and ensuring Covid-19 has as minimal an impact on Ireland’s health service this winter as possible. 

Meanwhile, Dublin – described by Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn last week in a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly as a “disease reservoir” – faces new restrictions on visitor numbers and travel as cases rise. 

NPHET last night said that deaths from Covid-19 and hospitalisations will see an “exponential growth” if the virus continues spreading at its current rate after health officials confirmed 254 cases and three deaths. 

“I am more concerned than I have been at any point since late April,” said Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of NPHET’s Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group at this evening’s briefing. 

We’ve put together the latest statistics – and how to find them – on how Covid-19 is spreading in Ireland and what that means. 

‘Test & Tracing’

A key pillar of Ireland’s strategy to stem Covid-19′s spread is an efficient Test & Trace system. 

There is anecdotal evidence that our system has experienced delays and setbacks over recent months amid calls for rapid testing strategies to be rolled out. 

Ireland has capacity for 100,000 tests per week. Public Health teams have utilised this capacity to focus on serial testing in nursing homes, meat factories and Direct Provision centres – Based on case definition, carrying out 100,000 tests per week is not required at present, the HSE has said. This capacity is instead used to for strategic focus, serial testing. 

The reopening of schools has placed further pressure on our Test & Trace system which could come under strain as flu season approaches. 

20200916_164341 Source: HSE.ie

Last week, 77,000 tests were carried out with 12,241 tests carried out in the past 24 hours with a positivity rate of 2.1%, according to The Department of Health. 

The latest HSE data shows that on Monday and Tuesday, 9.2% of people tested waited more than 48 hours for an appointment. 

Over the past seven days in total, that figure stood at 6.2% and 4.8% for the past 3 days. 

This figure increases and decreases depending on required testing by Public Health teams on a particular day or in a particular area. 

Contact Tracing data has remained relatively steady over the past week. 

According to HSE data, the median time to complete all contact tracing calls for positive Covid-19 cases yesterday was 1.1 days. The mean time to complete all calls was 1.5 days. 

Over the past seven days the median time varied between 1.0 and 1.1 while the mean time varied between 1.2 and 1.5.

As winter approaches, HSE is directly targeting public health-trained students and recent graduates in a bid to quickly ramp up Contact Tracing capacity. 

The decision comes following HSE CEO Paul Reid’s call for the public to apply for a range of testing, swabbing and contact tracing positions over the coming weeks. 

The organisation is aiming to hire 550 contact tracers, largely through direct contacts with colleges in Ireland and by tapping the long list of people who signed up for the ‘Be on Call for Ireland’ initiative launched at the start of the pandemic. 

The reasoning behind this, a HSE spokesperson told TheJournal.ie was for “expediency”. 

’14-Day Incidence’

Rather than focusing on daily Covid-19 figures, Public Health Officials and Government are increasingly focusing on Ireland’s 14-day incidence per 100,000 of our population to get an accurate picture of how Covid-19 is spreading. 

Ireland’s 14-day incidence rate of Covid-19 is currently 53, with Dublin’s rate almost double that at 104 per 100,000.

The latest data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) shows a county-by-county breakdown of Ireland’s 14-day incidence rate. 

Dublin – which has seen a spike in cases since late August – is highest at 104.0 while Sligo is the lowest at 9.2 per 100,000. 

Louth has the second highest 14-day incidence rate (76.8) and Leitrim is third (71.8). 

Following Sligo, Cork (10.5) and Cavan (17.1) have the lowest rate in the country over the past 14 days. 

Of the 2,525 cases of Covid-19 cases reported since 1 September up to midnight 14 September, 65 have resulted in hospitalisation and 3 cases were admitted to ICU. 

The median age of cases in the past 14 days is 33 with 21.99% of cases between the ages of 15 and 24. 

Of 2,525 cases reported since 1 September, more than half (1,401) are located in Dublin. 

A full county-by-county breakdown is available here: 

20200916_155300 Source: HPSC

Ireland’s 14-day incidence rate is currently higher than Italy (32.8) and more than double that of Germany (22.7), according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). 

Ireland’s rate, however, remains lower than Spain (281.6), France (162.8) and the UK (55.6).  

w35_36_COVID_subnational_Last_2week Source: ECDC

Taken in isolation, Ireland’s 14-day incidence does not paint a full picture.

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However, the latest data from the HPSC shows Ireland’s 14-incidence rate rising in recent weeks. 

Up to midnight on Saturday, our rate stood at 46.83. By midnight Sunday it had risen 50.4. 

Though not publicly available, members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) also keep a close eye on Ireland’s five-day average incidence. 

If case incidence declines, this decrease will be seen more quickly on our five-day average than in our 14-day incidence rate. 

‘Hospital & ICU’ 

Approaching winter, Covid-19 hospital admissions and ICU cases could detrimentally affect Ireland’s health service. 

As cases in Dublin increased from late August, so too have hospital admissions and ICU cases. 

The number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 in Ireland reached its highest point since mid-June on Tuesday, according to data released by the Department of Health.

There are currently 65 confirmed Covid-19 cases in hospital, including 8 admissions and 7 discharges in the last 24 hours. 

There are currently 14 confirmed Covid-19 cases in ICU in Irish hospitals, including one admission in the past 24 hours.

20200916_170906 Source: Department of Health

For Health Officials, individual behaviour is key to reducing a rise in cases and of Covid-19 infecting vulnerable populations. 

In August, there were four deaths from Covid-19 in Ireland. As of yesterday – 16 September – 14 deaths had been reported. 

Meanwhile, data from HPSC also shows there have been 2,018 outbreaks of Covid-19 in private households – including 122 new outbreaks reported in one week up to 9 September. 

An outbreak is defined by the HSE as either two or more confirmed cases of Covid-19 in a particular setting or two or more cases of illness with symptoms consistent with Covid-19 where at least one person is a confirmed case.

Of 2,018 outbreaks, 4,281 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed.

Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of NPHET’s Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said last night that if Ireland’s Reproductive Rate rises to 1.4 – and “if people do nothing” – the country could see 500 – 600 cases per day by 14 October.

He stressed that the R-number must be brought to below 1 “by the actions of every person in the country”. 

“Hospitalisations are increasing and we’re sadly seeing people die,” he said. 

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Cónal Thomas

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