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Western outbreak linked to 442 Covid-19 cases: The key points you need to know from tonight's NPHET briefing

A round-up of NPHET’s press briefing at the Department of Health this evening.

Dr Breda Smyth, Professor Philip Nolan and Dr Ronan Glynn at the Department of Health this evening.
Dr Breda Smyth, Professor Philip Nolan and Dr Ronan Glynn at the Department of Health this evening.
Image: Rollingnews.ie

PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS this evening confirmed a further 462 cases of Covid-19 and 39 deaths in Ireland.  

This evening’s figures mean that there has now been a total of 221,649 cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, along with 4,396 deaths. 

The deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn led tonight’s NPHET briefing, alongside the chair of the NPHET Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group Professor Philip Nolan, HSE West director of Public Health Dr Breda Smyth, and HIQA’s deputy chief executive and director of Health Technology Assessment Dr Máirín Ryan.

Here’s what was discussed at this evening’s briefing. 

Covid Placentitis 

  • Health officials have been made aware of four preliminary reports of stillbirths potentially associated with a complication of Covid-19. 

Covid Placentitis is an infection of the placenta which leads to stillbirth. Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ronan Glynn said the reports should be interpreted with caution as coroners have not yet concluded their findings.

“The HSE’s National Women and Infants Programme is aware of and is monitoring the situation and has issued a related notice to obstetric departments,” Dr Glynn said.

The four cases involved pregnant women who tested positive for Covid-19. 

Dr Glynn said at the briefing that there has not been a high incidence of the condition internationally and he does not expect to see a high incidence of it in Ireland.

“It’s important again to reiterate that these findings are preliminary, but we felt that there was a duty on us nonetheless to report those findings. And as soon as we have further information we will report it,” he said.

I would say again to women that this doesn’t change what you have to do, if you’re pregnant and listening to this this evening. Ultimately, Covid does pose a potential risk to all of us. And so it’s not that that individual women needs to do anything different, over and above what they have been doing.

Outbreak in the west

  • An outbreak in the west of Ireland resulted in 442 Covid-19 cases largely among young people.

Dr Breda Smyth outlined the details of an outbreak that emerged largely among young adults aged 18-24 in the west of Ireland. There have been 442 Covid-19 cases associated with this outbreak as of yesterday. 

179 of the cases were linked to multiple household clusters involving several different households.

These cases were spread across 20 different household clusters – ranging from two to 42  cases in each cluster. 

145 cases were linked to single household outbreaks – 224 households were affected in total. 

“In addition to this, not alone was there infection among that community was also, as a knock on effect of this, we did see seeding into other settings,” Dr Smyth said.

“So we had associated exposure, and in some cases transmission, in the hospitality sector, in the retail sector, also in some vulnerable settings, and also there was a cluster in another part of the country as a result of this outbreak.”

She said one possible source of transmission was due to the movement of these young people to the region for education. 

“Predominantly, it was inter-household mixing and socialisation, and within this population we did identify some reports of some house parties,” Dr Smyth said. 

Dr Smyth later confirmed there have been no deaths associated with this outbreak. 

Masks in young children

  • The advice on mask wearing among young children will stay the same.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) this evening published its advice on mask wearing in young children.

This advice was submitted to NPHET. It advised that there should be no change to the minimum age recommendation for wearing masks. 

Currently, children over the age of 13 are expected to follow adult guidance around face mask usage.

Younger children can choose to wear a mask, or be requested to do so by a healthcare professional, but are not required to wear them in the same way.

HIQA’s deputy chief executive and director of Health Technology Assessment Dr Máirín Ryan said this evening: “As we know, the evidence points towards face mask use in the community reducing transmission of Covid-19.

“However, in young children, the benefit of face masks is likely small and may be affected by their reduced ability to comply with face mask wearing.”

She said there is evidence that the reduction in transmission associated with wearing a mask is reduced in younger children, which may be due in part to their lessened ability to comply with wearing face masks. 

Dr Ryan said there is also a potential for anxiety and potential negative impacts on the “development of communication and language skills, particularly for very young children”. 

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“Asking them to wear a mask going back to school, and adding another difference to their school experience might potentially add to their anxiety,” she said. 

She added that there could be further anxiety raised from mask wearing as parents representatives say being out of school has had a “negative impact with regard to their social confidence”. 

Decline in incidence in older age groups

  • The incidence rate has dropped below the population average for people aged 65 and older, and there has been a complete change in mortality patterns in the past three weeks. 

Professor Philip Nolan said the previous “very high incidence” in those aged 65 and older has reduced. 

“Just in the last few days, for the first time, the incidence in all of those age groups has dropped to or below the population average. So we’ve seen a very sharp reduction in the number of cases in older people,” he said. 

Professor Nolan also said the pattern of mortality has “changed completely in the last three weeks”. 

He pointed to a graph showing the proportion of deaths of people in the community outside institutional settings, and those in nursing homes. 

“The number of deaths per week in nursing homes has decreased enormously and that’s likely to be an early sign, as we have said before, of the impact of vaccination.”

Double-masking 

  • Evidence has shown that wearing two face masks can further prevent the spread of Covid-19. Dr Ronan Glynn said there is “no harm” in double-masking, once both masks are worn correctly. 

A study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found last month that wearing two masks or a close-fitting one offers significantly better protection against catching and spreading Covid-19.

The study examined fitting a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask, and also knotting the ear loops of a medical mask to improve fit.

“Each modification substantially improved source control and reduced wearer exposure,” the study concluded.

When asked this evening about the benefits of wearing two masks, Dr Ronan Glynn said: “There’s certainly no harm in someone double-masking, as long as they’re wearing both of the masks correctly.

“The key point is that whether you’re wearing one or two masks, that you wear the one or the two correctly.

“So they should be well-fitted, tight, there shouldn’t be room for air escape at the sides.” 

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