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One couple, 30 cases: Here's what the statistics tell us about where Ireland is right now with Covid-19

Examples of how socialising with a number of groups led to large outbreaks of Covid-19 were outlined last night.

Public health officials at a press briefing
Public health officials at a press briefing
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

IN RECENT WEEKS, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has attempted to use tangible examples to back up its core messaging for people to reduce the number of contacts they have to help prevent further spread of Covid-19.

At last night’s press briefing, HSE West director of public health Dr Breda Smyth outlined how socialising emanating from one couple led to 30 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

The couple – aged 25 to 35 – went on a trip away and, when they returned, they attended a house party with eight people in attendance. Six of these people were later confirmed to have Covid-19. The couple then stayed overnight with a family and a further three people caught the virus.

On the next day, one of the couple met another group of friends for a dinner party in the town centre. All four people at that party subsequently tested positive for the virus. Six people at a table adjacent to them also got Covid-19. Four members of staff at the bar/restaurant got Covid-19. 

The person later attended drinks with another four friends, all of whom later tested positive.

30 cases

In another example cited, 15 students in a university tested positive after mingling during a break time. Another outbreak of 24 cases began in a small rural area and led to three family clusters, and three schools and one workplace being affected. 

“This virus is very unpredictable,” said Dr Smyth, adding that measures in the restaurant from the first example were adhered to. “It’s very hard to define how it passes from one person to another.”

NPHET meets today and as Dublin and Donegal are currently at Level 3 of virus restrictions, and other counties are edging toward that possibility, let’s take a look at where the figures are at in Ireland right now.

Cases

The headline figure announced each day by the Department of Health is the number of new cases in Ireland.

Last night, a further 429 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Ireland

The number of total confirmed cases in Ireland now stands at 36,155.

After cases in June and July had been relatively low, the spread of Covid-19 began to increase again in August before rising sharply in September. 

Comparing figures from the end of September to the start of it shows how rapidly the situation has changed. 

In that month alone, over 7,000 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed.

daily cases september Source: Government of Ireland

In the past fortnight to midnight on 29 September, there were 4,384 new cases of the virus. In the previous two weeks, there had only been 2,524 new cases of the virus. And at the start of September, there’d only been 1,577 cases in the previous 14 days. 

This gives us a national 14-day incidence rate of 92.06 per 100,000 population in Ireland. This almost tripled since 1 September, when this figure was 33.12 per 100,000 population. 

Nearly half of the cases in the last two weeks – 2,083 – are associated with clusters or outbreaks such as the case of the couple mentioned above. Just over half – 1,169 cases – have been identified as community transmission – where it cannot be identified precisely where someone got the virus. Public health officials have urged people to reduce their contacts to help mitigate this spread.

A quarter – 1,077 people – of the cases in the last fortnight have been in people aged 15-24.

There’s been a further 790 cases (18%) in people aged 25-34 and 644 cases (14%) in people aged 35-44.

Almost one in every 10 – a total of 423 people – confirmed to have Covid-19 in the past two weeks are aged 65 or over.

In 2,626 of the cases (59.9%), the person had no underlying clinical conditions. In 1,178 (26.87%) of the cases, however, they did have an underlying condition. In a further 580 cases, it was not known whether the person had an underlying condition. 

At last night’s NPHET briefing, Professor Philip Nolan said that positive signs had been observed last week but this was now being undermined by the high number of cases this week.

He said: “That means that a very large number of cases, close to 400 each day, reported over the last four days is bringing up the average [and this] is a cause of particular concern. So that optimism that I had in my mind towards the end of last week – I’m so much less optimistic today.”

Alongside the rise in cases, the number of deaths in people with Covid-19 has also increased in the past month with 27 more people confirmed in September to have died with Covid-19. Public health authorities will be hoping that that this number can be kept as low as possible in the coming months. 

Where are these cases?

Unsurprisingly, given they are both at Level 3 of restrictions, it is Donegal and Dublin seeing the most worrying numbers at this time when it comes to Covid-19.

In the past two weeks, 2,147 cases in Dublin has brought the 14-day incidence to 100,000 population to 159.3. This has tripled in the space of a month. 

Donegal has the highest incidence per 100,000 in the country with 211.1. To put that in context, this figure was just 20.1 on 1 September.

incidence 14 day Source: HPSC

The next highest incidence rate is in Monaghan, which has had a 14-day incidence rate of 133.6. Roscommon is next on 102.3.

A number of counties have incidence rates in the 70s and 80s, such as Cork (81.2), Galway (73.2), Kildare (84.9), Longford (73.4), Louth (76.8) and Wicklow (72.3).

Leitrim (12.5), Kerry (19.6), Tipperary (24.4), Carlow (28.1) and Sligo (29) are seeing the lowest rates at present but, as demonstrating by the sharp rise in Donegal, it doesn’t take long for cases to spike significantly and cause new restrictions to be introduced.

Data last week had hinted at some stability in the figures, but further increases this week remain a cause of concern, particularly for Dublin according to Professor Nolan. 

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He said last night: “There’s a very precarious situation in Dublin, where we thought we were beginning to see stability, and about two or three days of higher than expected case counts. And there’s a continuing increase across the rest of the country.

I’m not going to single out any counties on this. The picture is much more general, that very broadly across the country, in most counties, we are seeing increasing incidence. And in some other counties, we’ve seen increasing incidence which has been brought back under control by the actions of the people in those counties and by the actions of the public health departments supporting them.

Testing

Alongside the increase in the number of cases, we’re also testing people a lot more than we had been. 

In the last seven days, there have been 88,365 tests completed. In the past week, 3% of all tests have been positive. The total number completed in the last day is 13,247.

This has risen significantly since August when the government was criticised for the slowdown in its testing and tracing system. On 19 August, 55,129 tests had been completed in the previous seven days with 4,339 in the past 24 hours.

The HSE has sought to recruit more testers and contact tracers to try to prevent a testing backlog building up. 

According to HSE data, the average turnaround time from your referral to your appointment is 0.6 days. It also takes a further average of 1.4 days from having your swab taken to a test result being delivered from a lab. It means a person waits for two days on average from their first referral to getting a test result. 

It’s also taking an average of 2.3 days to complete all the calls when it comes to contact tracing. 

Hospitals

hsopt Hospital admissions are rising Source: HPSC

After remaining low even when cases started to significantly rise again in August, the number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 has begun to rise again. 

As of this morning, there were 122 people with Covid-19 in Irish hospitals. 

According to HSE figures, the five hospitals with the most cases were all located in Dublin with the Mater (22), Beaumont (15), St James’s (15), Tallaght (11) and Connolly (9).

Earlier today, there were 20 people with Covid-19 in an intensive care unit. Again this is rising when the number was consistently in single figures until September. 

Yesterday, there were 274 adult critical care beds open and staffed in Irish hospitals. 236 of them were occupied and a further 22 beds were reserved for patients. It means that any further Covid-19 surge is likely to put huge pressure on hospitals, although it will be hoped this can be offset with the extra beds promised under the Winter Plan

NPHET is meeting today to discuss all the latest developments with Covid-19, and consider if any fresh restrictions are needed as they monitor data from around the country. 

The data points to worrying trends that NPHET must try to tackle. 

Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn summed it up last night: “I would liken it to a forest fire where we’re seeing lots of embers, lots of small issues arising in different places around the country. If this continues, we’re going to have a national issue. And I’m really, really appealing to people to pay heed to the public health advice.”

About the author:

Sean Murray

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