Limerick health chiefs urge public not to withhold information on virus contacts, as they investigate “complex and serious outbreaks” across midwest region

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LIMERICK health chiefs have urged people to “speak openly” when contacted by contact tracers, who are this evening, “investigating complex and serious COVID-19 outbreaks across Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary”.

A spokesman for Public Health Mid West, which monitors the virus across the region from its headquarters in Limerick, said there are presently 304 cases of the virus linked to an outbreak Limerick student population last January which is “steadily increasing”.

The majority of these cases were recorded in February.

A round of on-campus mass Covid-19 testing was announced at University of Limerick two weeks ago, to help manage an outbreak among the student population off-campus.

Public Health is also having to manage outbreaks across households, workplaces, and long term residential care settings in the region.

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Contact tracers have reported incidences where confirmed cases and their close contacts are not answering their phones, or perhaps are not disclosing all relevant information, which means the tracers cannot fully investigate how the virus is spreading.

“When a contact tracer phones an individual who is a confirmed case, it is a strictly confidential and private process to determine all possible points of exposure and potential links to other cases of COVID-19. It allows the Department to map the chain of transmission in a setting or community, and to prevent the further spread of infection in a timely manner,” the spokesman explained.

“It can be challenging to get the full range of close contacts in workplaces, particularly small workplaces, where some work colleagues may deny being a close contact, out of fear that the workplace may suffer due to reduction in staff or potential temporary closure,” he said.

“Temporary closure” of workplaces are occurring “very infrequently” however, “single workplace infections can lead to multi-household clusters and further secondary outbreaks if Public Health departments are not fully aware of all possible exposures”.

“In a small number of instances, we are also seeing hesitancy among young people to be fully forthcoming with information. For example, someone who attended a social gathering or visited a household may be reluctant to reveal details of these events, such as their close contacts, the number of people attending the gathering, or even admit that they attended the household or gathering.”

“We are seeing this similar pattern in all age groups, albeit in small numbers, in multi-household outbreaks in housing estates and communities across the Mid-West.”

While tracers “often discover the extent of close contacts through follow-up phone calls with the individual or new confirmed cases”, they are finding that “people can be hesitant to reveal their actions or their close contacts, out of fear that they may get others in trouble or that their personal information will be compromised”.

“Our contact tracers are active in allaying these concerns and offering helpful advice on how to stay safe and protect others during your infectious period.”

Dr Mai Mannix, the Director of Public Health Mid-West, reminded people, “there is no such thing as giving too much information to a contact tracer, but there are instances where information is scant”.

“The less open you are about your movements and close contacts, the more challenging it is for us to investigate and prevent further outbreaks. You could be the first link in a long chain of transmission that infects someone very vulnerable, but you can break that link by following public health advice and being open with contact tracers,” Dr Mai warned.

Meanwhile, three vaccination centres in the mid west are at an advanced stage of completion, and will be ready for opening to the general public in the next few weeks, the HSE confirmed this evening.

Under the joint governance of UL Hospitals Group and HSE Mid-West Community Healthcare, centres have been developed for Limerick (Radisson Blu Hotel, Ennis Road); Clare (West County Hotel, Ennis); and Tipperary (Abbey Court Hotel, Nenagh).

The Radisson vaccination centre, which has been controversial as it is located on the Clare side of the Limerick border, opened for the vaccination of healthcare workers last Wednesday, and is also serving as an operational dry-run to ensure maximum efficiency of the facilities when they open in the coming weeks.

The maximum booth capacities for the three centres are 30 in the Radisson Blu Hotel, 20 in the West County Hotel, and 15 in the Abbey Court Hotel.

When all three centres are operating at maximum capacity, our vaccinator teams will be able to deliver a collective total of up to 6,000 doses of vaccine per day.

Registered healthcare professionals including doctors (IMC), nurses & midwives (NMBI), pharmacists (PSI), physiotherapists (CORU), paramedics, advanced paramedics & emergency medical technicians (PHECC), registered optometrists (CORU) and registered dentists (Dental Council of Ireland) or other regulated healthcare professionals approved to vaccinate can apply for either full-time, part-time or flexible hours.

Further information and online application is accessible via www.hbsrecruitmentservices.ie/vaccinators. Enquiries to: 061-588590.