The Chief Medical Officer and the Minister for Health met Limerick officials today to examine the sharp rise of Covid-19 across the city and county.

Between 16 May and 3 June, 970 people tested positive in Limerick. In the same period, more than 17,000 tests were carried out.

From the middle of May, case numbers began their rapid ascent in Limerick, a trend not experienced in neighbouring counties.

So what are the circumstances that have driven this concerning increase?


Social gatherings

Early in Limerick's spike, Public Health Mid-West cited home visits and indoor family gatherings as a source of outbreaks, pointing out cases associated with extended families and mixing households.

With the rate of the virus in the community rising, the situation is now much more widespread, with health officials blaming "indoor gatherings, house parties, household visits, family gatherings, and largely indoor activity" for the case numbers.

Social mixing has led to many multi-household clusters, local officials said.


Workplaces, schools

It’s a domino effect, and cases arising from social gatherings made their way into schools and workplaces.

The local public health department said indoor gatherings in breach of guidelines have had "significant knock-on effects in the community", including in workplaces and schools.

Public Health Mid-West is currently investigating Covid-19 "situations" in 34 workplaces, involving 91 cases and an estimated 160 close contacts. A workplace situation is when there is at least one Covid case linked to a workplace.

The workplace situations are worsened by "inconsistent mask-wearing and social distancing" and a general relaxation in infection prevention and control standards.

Some schools took the decision to close, with several more sending classes home due to the detection of cases.

During the week, Public Health Mid-West outlined one example in which an index case linked to a primary school resulted in more than 40 cases fanning out to two other workplaces and several households.


Testing

More than 17,000 Covid tests have been carried out in Limerick in just under three weeks.

Across two testing sites in Limerick city from 16 May to 3 June, a total of 17,248 Covid tests were carried out.

According to figures from HSE Mid West Community Healthcare, 3,978 tests were carried out at the temporary walk-in centre at St Joseph's health campus in the city since it opened on 26 May.

More than 1,000 people were tested at the city’s main test centre, in Ballysimon, on 24 May.

On 27 May, nearly 1,500 people were tested across both Limerick sites. On the same day in Clare, 119 people were tested.

The next day, 28 May, 90 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Limerick’s daily case count - one of the highest daily figures of this spike.

The high numbers of people presenting for testing could be contributing to the discovery of cases that might otherwise go unnoticed - a positive outcome for teams trying to find the source of such large-scale outbreaks.

This week, Dr Mai Mannix of Public Health Mid-West said they were "going through a period of active case finding".

"With regards the high incidence rate in Limerick, we are currently going through a period of active case finding, allowing us to track, trace, and follow the disease in the region. Things will get worse before they get better, but we are hopeful we will overcome this outbreak with the help of the public availing of walk-in testing and adhering to Public Health guidelines," Dr Mannix said.

Earlier in the week, the director of the mid-west department also thanked the people of Limerick for availing of the test clinics in recent days, saying it "has allowed us to gauge and understand the extent of this situation, and to evaluate trends and behaviours that are contributing to this large community outbreak.

"While the figures are of serious concern as we face increasing pressure amid the cyber attack, I am hopeful that a strong community response of availing of walk-in testing, and being extra cautious with public health guidelines, will put us in a more secure position in the coming weeks."

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Variants

All of the swabs from Limerick are now being sequenced for variants, said Dr Mai Mannix.

Speaking on RTÉ's Six One, Dr Mannix said there is no evidence that the Delta variant is driving cases in Limerick.