Quarter of new Covid cases, close contacts not answering tracing calls - HSE

Appeal comes as positivity rates climb to 25 per cent in parts of the country

The Health Service Executive is urging people to engage with contact-tracing teams, as about a quarter of new cases and close contacts are not answering phone calls within 48 hours, while  positivity rates climb to 25 per cent in parts of the country.

Niamh O’Beirne, the HSE’s head of testing and contact tracing, told The Irish Times that while up to 98 per cent of “index” infection cases – people who had tested positive – were reached with a text message, 24 per cent did not answer the phone within 48 hours.

Furthermore, 26 per cent of close contacts did not answer the phone within 48 hours. In both instances, multiple attempts were made to reach those concerned. About 20 per cent of close contacts were also not turning up to day zero and day 10 tests organised by the HSE, she said – although she cautioned some would still be tested as walk-ins or self-referrals in testing centres.

“We are struggling with people not answering the phone before multiple attempts. We’re finding 25 per cent of people are requiring us to make multiple calls, and some going over into the following day,” Ms O’Beirne said.


‘Containment phase’

Five per cent of close contacts asked to be called back another time.

“At the stage we are at in the pandemic, in the containment phase, it’s really important to contain the spread of the virus. The cases are going up, but we all have a role in controlling the spread at this point,” she said.

It comes as positivity rates in testing continue to climb, with the national figure at 10.5 per cent, and some 16,000 tests being done on samples in the community every day. Some centres, including Buncrana, Co Donegal, and Tallaght in Dublin, are recording positivity rates of 25 per cent.

Turnaround times for testing have remained steady she said, with the “end-to-end” process, including contact tracing, for a positive test coming in at a median of 2.2 days. The median time to be notified is 1.1 days.

The HSE’s “surge capacity” is about 22,000 tests per day. With the level of community testing projected to top 20,000 on current growth rates by early next week, the HSE’s back-up plan to switch to antigen testing for unvaccinated and asymptomatic close contacts may be triggered within days.

Such a step should free up about 20 per cent of PCR capacity again, Ms O’Beirne said. Antigen testing will be for those over 13 years, she said, while younger children will still be PCR tested.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times