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Covid-19: HSE to open a third contact tracing centre

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A third HSE contact tracing centre to identify people newly infected with coronavirus is to open as the public health response to Covid-19 is ramped up for a potential surge in cases.

The increase in the number of cases in the past month led the HSE to establish a second tracing centre in UCD in addition to the health service’s national centre in Galway.

There are talks ongoing to establish a third HSE centre at UCC in the coming days to deploy enough public health officials to respond to any possible increase in the number of new cases.

In addition, the HSE is using Revenue Commissioners officials in Limerick and Dublin, along with the Army band, to make calls to newly confirmed cases of Covid-19 to trace their contacts.

There has been a sharp increase in the speed and number of recent cases along with the complexity of cases with first calls to inform the newly infected sometimes taking hours because they are foreign nationals requiring translators and support in several languages.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said on Wednesday that the testing and tracing system had been “caught off guard” and this was the fault of the “entire political and administration system”.

Prof Mary Codd, who runs the contact tracing centre at UCD, said it was “not quite accurate” to say it was caught off guard. She said “an escalation plan” was in place to bring the UCD centre back into operation within 36 hours with a surge in cases earlier this month.

The increase in new infections over the weekend of August 7th-9th forced the HSE’s contact tracing operation to escalate its response twice over that weekend, calling in more contact tracers.

Plans are already in place to establish a permanent testing and contact tracing operation within the HSE with a long-term dedicated workforce deployed on multiple shifts each day.

The increase in cases, from a low of 61 per week to 533 cases in the second week in August, has left health officials having to trace and call up to 1,000 contacts of confirmed cases every day.

Restrictions

New restrictions announced on Tuesday to limit house and garden parties, and social events connected to workplaces and sports clubs are designed to reduce the average number of contacts.

The average number for an infected individual stands at about six, up from an average of two in May, though some individuals can have up to 50 contacts. The median turnaround time from referral for a Covid-19 test to the completion of contact tracing is just under three days.

Ireland’s 14-day cumulative number of Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people stood at 25.4 on Wednesday, higher than the UK at 21, Greece at 24.4 and Italy at 10.3.

Outbreaks at meat plants in the midlands have skewed the overall national figure with Kildare reporting an incidence rate per 100,000 of 190, Offaly at 133.4 and Laois at 55.5.

New figures show the number of Covid-19 outbreaks in family homes are continuing to rise with 78 reported in August to date, compared with 20 in June and 87 in July.

There have been 1,718 outbreaks – each defined as two or more cases – in private homes during the pandemic. The number of outbreaks in workplaces has risen to 60 from 49 a month ago.

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