In response to the high prevalence of COVID-19 now circulating in our community, the HSE is asking everyone in Ireland to stay at home, and to effectively act like they have COVID-19. This is in response to the very high rates of positive tests seen over recent days, and the widespread increase in infections in our communities nationwide.
The HSE is also making changes to our testing and contract tracing system. In a continuing effort to maintain effective turnaround times for testing and contact tracing, the HSE will not be referring close contacts for a test from today. This step is being taken to ensure that those who are symptomatic are prioritised and receive a test as quickly as possible.
The HSE’s Chief Clinical Officer, Dr Colm Henry says: ‘We are asking all close contact to restrict their movements, this is the strongest defence we have against the spread of this virus. If you show any symptoms please call your GP or GP Out of Hours service immediately and they will refer you for a test if required. We know that GPs and GP Out of Hours services are very busy, and we ask for everyone’s patience as we all work through this challenging time. We are asking that the public support this measure fully and follow all public health advice so that we can all keep our friends and family safe.’
People who received notification by SMS that they are a close contact, should follow the existing public health guidance and restrict their movements for 14 days. Should they become symptomatic they should call their GP or GO Out of Hours service and arrange a test.
The text message for close contacts will now advise a person that they are a close contact and that they should restrict their movements and should they show symptoms they should immediately contact their GP to arrange a test.
This temporary measure is being implemented in consultation with GPs, to ensure those who are symptomatic are tested as quickly as possible and that we can continue to try to reduce the spread of the virus. As always we are grateful for the support of our GP community and GP Out of Hours services in referring people for COVID-19 tests and caring for these patients. This step is also to support our contact tracing teams who continue working under significant pressure due to the increasing positivity rate at this point in the pandemic.
Contact tracing is an important part of the HSE’s response to COVID-19. As part of our Testing and Tracing function, the HSE has built a contact tracing workforce, who work under the supervision of the public health specialists. This allows the highly skilled specialists to focus on managing outbreaks; dealing with risk assessments; support complex settings such as residential care facilities; and doing in-depth analysis of sources of transmission in their locality.
An extensive service development programme for our testing and contact tracing programme has been worked through, including recruitment of staff and deployment of new technology to undertake up to 25,000 tests a day and to make 7,500 successful calls to contact trace positive cases. Over the last week the service has been in peak escalation and yesterday we processed over 26,000 swabs, over 2,300 calls were made to people with a detected COVID-19 result and almost 11,000 calls were made to close contacts.
During this unprecedented surge in cases, we are asking the public to support this measure and follow all public health advice and guidance.