‘Communication difficulties’ in tracing contacts of infected meat plant staff – Harris

There are “contacting and communication difficulties” in tracing the close contacts of some meat plant staff infected with Covid-19, Minister for Health Simon Harris has told the Dáil.

Speaking yesterday, Thursday, June 4, Minister Harris was responding to a question from independent Roscommon-Galway TD Denis Naughten, who raised concerns that the contact tracing system for those infected with Covid-19 has “fallen down fundamentally”, particularly in relation to meat plant staff.

Deputy Naughten said that “in some instances, only about a third of the close contacts of those that have been identified as positive within the meat industry have now been followed up,” something the TD said was “completely unacceptable” as it creates “a significant community risk”.

In response to this, Minister Harris said that generally, 60% to 70% of close contacts of infected meat plant workers are followed up with, but that there are some challenges.

“I am told that the amount of contact tracing is lot higher than a third. I am told that it’s between at least 60% and 70%, but there are a number for which there are contact and communications difficulties,” the minster noted.

Responding, Naughten said that he had raised this issue with the Health Service Executive (HSE) six weeks ago, adding: “[The HSE] was well aware of this a long time ago.”

HSE response

Today, Friday, June 5, the HSE has addressed this issue in the weekly Covid-19 briefing.

Dr. Mai Mannix, the HSE’s director of public health in the mid-west, said that community contact tracing (tracing contacts in the community or in public rather than workplace contacts) for meat plant staff infected for Covid-19 was “about 90% complete”.

Dr. Mannix added that the figure of 60% to 70% referred to by the minister related to one particular plant.

The HSE official added that workplace contact tracing for meat plant staff (as opposed to community contact tracing) is 100% complete.

Dr. Mannix also confirmed the latest figures for meat plant staff who have been infected by Covid-19.

As of June 1, 1,054 cases of Covid-19 have been detected among meat plant workers, across 20 facilities. 15 of these facilities are currently under investigation, while the remaining five have had investigations closed as they have not had a positive case in 28 days or more.

Mass testing (testing of all staff) has taken place at eight facilities.

88% of the workers who have been infected are out of the infectious period (14 days), and 62% have returned to work.

Of the infected workers, 2.7% have required hospitalisation, and seven individuals required admission to an intensive care unit (ICU). There have been no deaths among meat plant staff in the Republic of Ireland from Covid-19.