The number of residential centres in the HSE’s “red alert” has almost doubled since last week, as it confirms 77,300 first vaccine shots have been given across that sector and hospitals.
Three more community hubs for testing opened this week, including one in Waterford, as the demand continues at a high level.
HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor said there are now 29 facilities in the “red” category — where there is a significant risk to residents — up from just 15 seven days ago.
They are also supporting disability centres and mental health units, she said.
Overall, the HSE is supporting 1,338 long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and disability centres.
Some 1,090 of these only receive PPE with 204 in the “green category” and 64 in “amber” meaning they require infection control help or staffing.
Staff shortages is a growing concern for nursing homes, Ms O’Connor said.
About 1,200 staff are off-duty due to either having Covid or being a close contact.
This is also spilling over into homecare where more than 500 workers are unavailable due to Covid-19 reasons.
Ms O’Connor said there have been 21 new outbreaks in nursing homes, among the 52 open outbreaks in this sector.
HSE national director social care, Dr Siobhan Kennelly, said serial testing is continuing alongside the vaccination programme. The level of positivity is rising from these tests.
“The volume of residents who are positive compared to the volume of staff is much lower … in many cases we are able to continue with the vaccinations,” she said.
Ms O’Connor said the pressure on hospitals continues.
She said: “In Limerick, Cork and Galway there are over 100 people with Covid on site. It is very challenging in terms of the impact.
Head of the HSE, Paul Reid, said the vaccination programme offers a glimmer of hope but he warned against complacency.
It is quite grim at the moment," he said.
Mr Reid said the shocking ICU figures of 169 patients hide the growing number of people getting non-invasive respiratory support on the ordinary wards.
This is estimated at 1:1.25, he said, meaning about 210 patients need this level of help to breathe today.
Mr Reid insisted the vaccine booking system being made available for 3,500 GPs is now live and said more people have used it successfully than not, although delays continue in some areas.
He said the data collection system for nursing homes is separate, which is why it continues to be paper-based. This was highlighted by Nursing Homes Ireland some weeks ago and again in the Dáil on Thursday by Deputy Cathal Berry.