Speaking to the, Paul Reid said the rise in Covid-19 cases has sparked concern about a new wave of the virus spreading through at-risk sectors of society.
The latest figures reveal that 537 patients are in hospitals around the country with Covid-19 — a threefold increase from the 180 patients in hospital on May 31. Of those currently hospitalised with the virus, 27 people are in intensive care units (ICU).
The test positivity rate has nearly doubled in the last fortnight to stand at just under 30%, up from 16.4% on June 4.
Mr Reid said the HSE is now actively considering making a recommendation to Government for the return of masks in certain settings.
“Yes, I think any time we get a trend like we’re getting at the moment it has to trigger considerations for reduced transmission,” Mr Reid said.
“We’re strongly watching what’s happening. Our immediate priority is hospital cases, which are significantly rising.
Mr Reid said the HSE is particularly worried about transmission into nursing homes and other residential facilities as more outbreaks could ultimately lead to restrictions on visits to residents.
“Cases are rising in nursing homes. At the peak we were at 70%, then down to 12%, and now are rising again,” he said. “We’re not seeing significant harm or illness but more cases in each nursing home.
“We have been monitoring all of this and although we’re not seeing the same level of sickness, ICU numbers have not risen, but that takes two weeks to appear.”
Meanwhile, immunologist Professor Liam Fanning has said that mandatory face masks on public transport may not make any difference to the current wave of Covid-19.
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Professor Fanning said that mandatory face masks may not make a big difference given the current infection trajectory.
It was very difficult to quantify the actual impact of masks, he added. The fact that so few people now wear masks and that many also wear them incorrectly meant it was difficult to gauge how effective they were at cutting down on transmission.
“The actual seal that you have on most masks now is probably not sufficient to effectively cut down on transmission.
“I think there's some comfort for people when they're wearing a mask, but it's not a shield.” The bottom line was that people needed to get the vaccine and the booster, said Professor Fanning.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has already called for a return to mandatory mask-wearing in crowded places and on public transport.
INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said that additional measures are needed given the sharp rise in cases in hospitals.
“There are very real reasons why masks have been shown to slow down transmission and that is what we need now because our hospitals are overcrowded to a level that we normally don’t see in winter — and it’s June,” she said.
Further concerns have been raised within the health system that the disbanding of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has left a gap in service provision when it comes to dealing with Covid-19.
“To be frank, there is a gap at the minute — structure and processes are not there,” one high-level health source said.