HSE chief warns of 'significant' numbers not showing up to Covid-19 tests

HSE chief warns of 'significant' numbers not showing up to Covid-19 tests
Health Service Executive (HSE) chief executive Paul Reid, said confirmed coronavirus cases are now averaging 5.4 close contacts. File Picture. 

The health service has warned of trends which are “significant and worrying” over the past two weeks, including people routinely refusing voluntary Covid-19 tests.

Meanwhile, the rate of infections per 100,000 people has more than doubled in Ireland over the past two weeks.

At the HSE’s latest operational briefing, chief executive Paul Reid said between 20% and 25% of people who have been reported as close contacts of a confirmed case of the disease have not been showing up for their ‘day zero’ test.

Mr Reid said it is imperative these bookings are attended as the likelihood of a positive test is greater at the initial test.

“In most cases, people will commit to an appointment but then they are a ‘no show’,” he said.

The numbers of people not attending their follow-up test on day seven is as high as 50%, Mr Reid said.

He noted a worrying trend of workers in nursing homes, who are currently testing positive despite being asymptomatic.

At present, Ireland has a positivity rate of about 5.6 cases per 100,000 population, up from just 2.5 over the previous fortnight.

Close contacts for confirmed cases have increased by more than 55% in the last week. The figure is now 5.4 on average, up from just over two 14 days ago.

Mr Reid said:

It’s really important, even if you don’t have symptoms, to come forward for a test - for yourself, for your family, for the wider public, to stop the surge from happening.

Colm Henry, chief clinical officer with the HSE, said somewhere between 20% and 40% of people who transmit the infection are asymptomatic. 

“People are not the best judge themselves as to whether or not they need a test,” he said.

Mr Reid said health officials are engaging in "longer dialogue" with close contacts in the wake of the low uptake of appointments.

“Stick with us. This was never going to be a short game, this was always going to be the longer haul,” Mr Reid said.

Regarding the Covid Tracker app, launched two weeks ago, he said health authorities are “consistently seeing good, positive take up”. Some 91 people have thus far been alerted as being close contacts of confirmed cases on foot of the app, he said.

The HSE also confirmed a plan to reopen services ahead of the upcoming flu season. Anne O'Connor, chief operations officer with the HSE, said that plan is now live and will be implemented in three phases, from July to August, September to November, and December through to next February.

"That phase will fundamentally see a scaling up in capacity in the face of circumstances where we really don’t know what’s going to happen”, Ms O’Connor said.

“This will require a winter plan like never before, an investment like never before,” said Mr Reid.

He said that the “biggest challenge” in the coming flu season will be the accurate diagnosis of respiratory illnesses. 

Mr Reid said:

We’re encouraging everyone to come forward and have the flu vaccine. 

"It’s more important this year than ever," he said. 

In terms of the green list of countries from which travel does not require self-isolation, Mr Reid said the publication of that controversial list was a “judgement call” by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Asked what the benefit of the list is given the confusion it has created over what is acceptable and what is not, Mr Reid said that “all we can do is restate public health advice, that is, not to travel abroad at this time”.

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