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Health officials concerned by infection rate in over-65s

The rate of infection in nursing homes and among over-65s is a concern despite the overall decrease in new cases.

Image: Shutterstock/GagliardiPhotography

PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS have told the government that the rate of Covid-19 infection among over-65s and outbreaks in nursing homes are a cause for concern.

In a letter to the Minister for Health last week, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said that the incidence of Covid-19 among older people and in nursing homes, despite a decrease in new cases overall, was concerning.

Holohan said that individual and collective efforts to curb the spread of the virus remained necessary to reduce transmission further and continue to decrease the number of new cases.

“Notwithstanding the continued overall decrease in case numbers and incidence rates in the general population, outbreaks in nursing homes and the burden of infection among the older age groups (65 years and older) remain a concern,” Holohan said.

At the time of the letter on 5 November, a higher proportion of cases notified were from the over-65 age category in the days leading up to Holohan’s update to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.
11.9% of cases notified in the previous seven days had been among people over the age of 65, compared to 7.6% of cases notified in the seven day period leading up to 15 October.

However, the 14-day incidence among those aged 65 or older had decreased to 160 per 100,000 on 5 November from 201 per 100,000 on 29 October.

As of 5 November, 56 open clusters of Covid-19 were linked to nursing homes, while 33 were linked to hospitals.

Holohan told the government that current restrictions on movement and social activity have resulted in “reduced mobility” in the population following the implementation of Level Five restrictions.

The average number of close contacts had decreased from around 5 to 6 per confirmed case at the end of September to only 2 to 3.

Holohan said that the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) concluded that the “trends over the last week are broadly positive and should give encouragement that ongoing adherence to the public health measures continues to have a positive impact on case numbers”.

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“However, the NPHET reiterated that these latest data should be interpreted with caution and that it is still not possible to draw substantive conclusions about the trajectory of the disease at this point in time,” Holohan said.

“The NPHET reiterated the need for continued individual and collective efforts to further reduce transmission and bring the number of cases and force of infection to very low levels,” he said.

Holohan told Donnelly that NPHET will consider a number of factors in its considerations over the next few weeks.

“In its deliberations over the coming weeks, the NPHET will have regard for the prevailing epidemiological trends, the importance of the Christmas period to society, the lessons learnt from our experience over the past several months, the need for flexibility and best international practice.”

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