WHILE concerns have been voiced about the increase in the volume of cases of Covid-19 being reported in recent days, a leading Cork infectious disease consultant has stressed that many of these newly identified cases are related to clusters, and says community transmission remains low.
Professor Mary Horgan, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) and a consultant in infectious diseases at Cork University Hospital (CUH) said the recent rise in cases, which have been reported predominantly from Kildare, Offaly and Laois, is largely a cluster-related activity related to meat processing plants.
She pointed out that the latest clusters are not the first to be seen in meat processing plants in Ireland, with a cluster identified in Fermoy in May.
“Internationally it’s been an issue also in the States, in Germany and just more recently in the past week in Denmark,” Professor Horgan said.
While the clusters have undoubtedly led to serious concern, the infectious disease consultant stressed that community transmission remains very low.
“If you take the clusters aside, and obviously this can change at any time, the incidence is really low in the community and certainly in the Cork region, it is very low, which is good,” she said.
Professor Horgan pointed out that there are a few things which would be a particular cause for concern, including a big influx of patients requiring hospitalisation, and she said this is not something that is being seen.
The latest figures show 12 people with confirmed Covid-19 were being treated at hospitals around the country on Sunday night, with six people being cared for at critical care units.
There has not been a confirmed Covid-19 related case at a hospital in Cork for over a week.
“Any hospitalisation is not a good thing but the numbers have been very low,”she said. “It’s probably a reflection that it is younger groups who seem to be getting infected.
“Most people are under the age of 45 and the younger you are the less likely you are to have to require hospitalisation.”
Despite concerns about the recent increase in cases, Professor Horgan said she believed that schools are still in a good position to open from September.
“Getting children back to school is really important,” she said. “They are much less likely of getting infected, and if they get infected, being very sick.
“Other countries have done it like Denmark. They did it in April and thankfully they’ve had a good experience.
“School will be different, but the way we all live now is different than we did before.”
Professor Horgan said she was also keen to see older people resume more activities and to get out exercising.
The RCPI President said that there had been a number of downsides to cocooning, including people losing muscle mass, people becoming unsteady and losing confidence.
“We know a huge amount more now of who it affects, and how to treat it than we did four months ago, so our knowledge really has improved,” she said.
“While we should be afraid of it, we shouldn’t constantly live in fear, because that’s not good for our health either.”
Asked if she believed society re-opened at the right time, Professor Horgan said this was the case.
“Absolutely we should have opened up when we did for a few reasons. First of all, I think society needed it, the economy which underpins everything we do, our education, our health system, our social welfare system, needs a healthy economy. A healthy economy equals a healthy population.
“Secondly we had to ensure that the test and trace system that we have in place is robust, work is quick, and it certainly is getting the ability to do that now.
“If we did it any later, we’d be talking about this in September and October when we are getting into seeing more coughs and fevers,” she said.
As the autumn approaches, Professor Horgan said it is important that if people have fevers and coughs, they get tested for Covid-19, and that they get the flu vaccine.
“We just have to live the best we can so people can work, people can go to school, universities can open, businesses can stay open and again if you look at the other counties around the county, they’ve done extremely well,” she said. “What’s happened here is associated with clusters, not widespread community spread like is happening in the States.”
While Covid-19 has not gone away, Professor Horgan said she remains hopeful that someday it will.
“The great unknown with this is we don’t know how long — we certainly need a vaccine,” she said.
“It’s very hard to eradicate an infectious disease without a vaccine
“What we have at the moment is living that bit differently. Is it hard? I think we’ve gotten used to it. I was asked will people get tired of it. A lot of the things [that we are doing now], we should have been doing anyway like cough etiquette handwashing.
The infectious disease expert added: “All of the other pandemics we have seen, they eventually go and I’m an optimist and I believe it will go. How long? I don’t know.”