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Could Mayo v Kerry match have fanned Covid-19 in Mayo?


IN THE SHADOWS Supporters on the McHale Road side of the ground during the Mayo v Kerry Allianz Football League clash in MacHale Park, Castlebar on March 1. Could this game have sparked some of the Covid-19 cases in Mayo? Pic: Sportsfile

Leading professor insists Mayo numbers are still ‘quite low overall’

Edwin McGreal

The Mayo v Kerry national football league game on March 1 could be one of many factors which account for the relatively high number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Mayo.
That’s according to one of the country’s leading immunologists, Professor Luke O’Neill. Based at Trinity College, Dublin, Professor O’Neill spoke to The Mayo News about the number of confirmed cases in Mayo.
Last night (Monday), Mayo had the highest number of confirmed cases in Connacht, with 332. Galway was second highest in the province, with 294. With Galway having almost twice the population as Mayo and with Mayo having a low population density, such figures have provoked alarm in the county.
Speaking at yesterday’s meeting of Mayo County Council, Cllr Michael Kilcoyne, a member of the HSE West Regional Forum, expressed concern.
“I don’t understand why the figures in the county of Mayo are as high as the county next door in Galway which has double the population and which has a city,” he stated.
Professor O’Neill said he ‘would not read too much into comparing one place to another’ but outlined some of the factors which might explain Mayo’s figures.
‘Spread like wildfire’
He said major sporting events were ‘places where this spread like wildfire’. There has been much criticism of the fact the Cheltenham racing festival went ahead from March 10 and while there were no concerns about Covid-19 for the Mayo v Kerry league game in Castlebar on March 1, Professor O’Neill said such a gathering could, at this juncture, partly help to explain Mayo’s higher numbers.
At the time the only concern about that game going ahead was weather related and it was postponed from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon due to Storm Jorge. A crowd of 8,069 filed through the turnstiles. The first confirmed case in the Republic of Ireland was the previous day.
“Major sporting events were, without doubt, places where this spread like wildfire so if there was a big GAA game in a town, say, and 5,000 people turned up and in the next county if there wasn’t that kind of crowd turning up, you’ll see a variance because it spreads in that kind of crowd.
“Let’s say there was a superspreader in that crowd and let’s say they infected five, ten, 15 people and each of those infects two people, suddenly it begins to escalate … That’s probably one of the worst environments for the spread because we now know that simply speaking and shouting spread the virus, you don’t need to cough.
“Now a football match where people are shouting and roaring, there’s a big fog of virus over that crowd. If anyone was infected there and they’re shouting, you’re going to see the virus coming out. It floats on the breeze. We now know as well the virus can live in these little aerosols that are smaller than you cough out and it can float away anywhere in a football stadium, across the far side of a pitch even and infect people over there so it is very infectious.
“You could have had cases in the last couple of weeks that started in that football match,” he said.
Aging population
He said other factors to consider include adherence to restrictions and the number of people in nursing homes. Mayo is the county with the highest percentage of people aged 65 and over, according to the 2016 Census.
“What really controls the numbers is a lockdown. The sooner you lockdown … If there was any delay in that or it wasn’t adhered to properly, then your numbers will be higher. So I presume Mayo was like everywhere else, people obeyed the lockdown. As long as different counties obeyed the lockdown, that would be good as that wouldn’t be a reason for different numbers being higher.
“There’s no doubt as well that the number of nursing homes is a key factor. Places where there are more nursing homes have more cases for obvious reasons because older people get infected and they test in those nursing homes. There are clusters in nursing homes and that seems to be a factor as well.
“An aging population is a big factor. Remember, if you are young and you pick up the virus, you may have no symptoms and you wouldn’t even be tested so wherever there’s older people, there will be higher incidences for that area as well,” said Professor O’Neill.
But he added Mayo’s numbers are still ‘quite low’.
“Those numbers are quite low overall anyway and you could have an outbreak in a nursing home somewhere just from bad luck, somebody goes in who is infected, infects ten people and the numbers suddenly go up because of that. I wouldn’t read too much into comparing one place to another.
“The numbers can be a little bit unreliable as well because it can be the number of test kits that drives the numbers and the number of test kits can vary from county to county.
“Also you have this confounding thing of just the way it spreads in a way and bad luck can give rise to clusters.
“Some people are very infectious and if they go into a pub or went into a pub, say three or four weeks ago, they might have infected ten people. If they went to a different pub or went to a different county, they’d bring the virus there. I think it is pretty random in a way,” he explained.