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Covid’s clear and ever-present danger

News

STEP BY STEP Staff at the Covid test site at MacHale Park in Castlebar process a test. Over 83,000 tests have been conducted in Mayo since Covid-19 arrived on our shores, the majority at MacHale Park. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Analysis
Edwin McGreal

In the two weeks up to Monday, October 4 last there were a total of 456 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in County Mayo.
Despite high levels of vaccine uptake, the virus is still waging war in the county and people are being advised to remain on guard.
If you want some context for that figure of 456 confirmed cases in two weeks, consider that as of June 30, 2020, the end of the first wave, Mayo had a total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 since the virus first came to our shores of 572.
That’s for all of March, April, May and June. Yet in the two weeks to October 4, the case numbers were not too far off that.
It highlights the virulence of the delta variant and perhaps a more relaxed attitude among people at large.
Belmullet-based GP Dr Fergal Ruane saw the area in the midst of a Covid crisis last New Year. This time around, he notices the vaccines making a significant change.
“The numbers are stubbornly high,” he told The Mayo News. “There are exceptions to the rule but, by and large, people who are vaccinated and get it, it can be a nasty dose but that’s as far as it goes.
“From my experience most people are not getting very sick with Covid but some people who are not vaccinated are running into trouble with it,” he said.
The current hospital figures back that up. As of 8pm on Sunday night, October 8, there were two confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Mayo University Hospital. Compare that to nine months previously and there were 82 confirmed cases in MUH.
Now, obviously comparisons are fraught with peril as spikes can come for different reasons but it helps to underline the gulf.
Still, just because you did not end up in hospital, does not mean you might have got off lightly. Martin McIntyre’s story in the adjoining piece is a salient reminder of an undeniable reality – you do not want to get Covid.
Trends can be hard to draw. Of the six electoral districts, five are below the national average for Covid-19 cases. The previous week, four were above the national average.
Right now, for the latest two week period, from September 21 to October 4, Belmullet Electoral Area has the lowest incidence rate in the county. This area includes all of Erris, Mulranny and all of Achill. There were 22 positive cases in that district in that time frame, an incidence rate per 100,000 people of 174.6. The overall Republic of Ireland rate per 100,000 was 372.1.
Swinford, with 46 cases, was the next lowest with an incidence rate of 266.1. This area also includes Foxford, Charlestown and Kiltimagh.
Following up is Westport, with an incidence rate of 304.7 (56 cases); Claremorris, 320.5 (87 cases); Ballina, 366.4 (92 cases) with Castlebar having the highest with an incidence rate of 460.1 and 138 cases.
Mayo currently has the lowest incidence rate in Connacht, up to October 8, with an incidence rate of 262.8. But before anyone gets too excited about those, there’s not a huge gulf to the other counties with Sligo on 326.5, Galway 335.2, Roscommon 365.6 and Leitrim 424.4.
You could throw a blanket over those numbers and as we’ve seen in the past, Mayo could just as easily be the highest in the province in a week’s time.

Testing
Unsurprisingly there was a surge in testing in Mayo around the All-Ireland Final.
For the week of September 13-19 (Monday to Sunday), a total of 3,637 people were tested for Covid-19 in the county.
That represented a jump of over 700 people from the previous week, where 2,908 people were tested.
From September 20-26, the figures were back down to a similar range, 2,873.
And, for the most recent week, from September 27 to October 3, the numbers fell to 1,811.
Part of that fall is likely explained by a change in the criteria around testing with close contacts of children not being required to undergo a test.
So far in Mayo, since testing commenced, 83,000 people have been tested in the county.
Testing has been, by and large, in MacHale Park in Castlebar though testing in the early stages of Covid-19 were at the new leisure centre at Lough Lannagh in the town.
There have also been pop-up tests in parts of the county, including one in Ballina which was open for two days a week for two weeks recently.
“The lines are blurred a little now too. There’s a lot of viral infections with the change in weather. Particularly in kids who are back to school. I had to send quite a few kids for tests but they came back negative,” explained Dr Fergal Ruane.

Booster vaccines
This week over 65s in long-term care settings in Mayo are receiving a booster vaccine, as part of a recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Council (NIAC).
Elaine Prendergast, Head of Service at Health and Wellbeing with HSE West, outlined to The Mayo News who is eligible.
Anyone aged 65 or more and lives in any of the following settings: nursing homes, HSE run or private; any congregated settings including religious orders, mental health facilities, facilities for disabled people and any prisoners aged 65 or over.
The roll-out of that booster vaccine commenced on Monday, October 4 last nationwide and is a three week programme.
While healthcare workers in such care settings were vaccinated at the same time as residents in the first round of vaccinations, this will not be the case this time around.
Over 80s living in the community are also able to avail of a booster vaccine from their GPs. Anyone living in the community who is bed-bound or otherwise not in a position to get to their GP will be able to be vaccinated by the HSE after the roll-out at care settings concludes.
People who are immunocompromised are also able to receive another vaccination if they meet certain criteria. This is referred to as a third dose, and not a booster, unlike the first two mentioned.
Ms Prendergast added that first and second doses are still available in the central vaccination centres such as Breaffy House outside Castlebar.  
“My advice is that you still need to be vaccinated and if the advice for your age cohort is to get a booster, then get the booster,” said Dr Fergal Ruane.