PHA cluster assessment shows cases in both workplace and community settings in NI
An analysis of COVID-19 clusters across Northern Ireland by the Public Health Agency (PHA) has shown that they are occurring in both workplaces and communities.
Since 25th May 2020, when the contact tracing pilot ended and the full test and trace programme went live, 23 clusters have been identified in total, 11 of which remain open. 168 cases of COVID-19 have been associated with these clusters. Nine clusters have had five or more cases associated with them.
A cluster is currently defined as two or more laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among individuals associated with a key setting, with illness onset dates within a 14 day period.
Key settings which have seen a cluster include workplaces, retail or hospitality premises, domestic gatherings, and sporting settings.
COVID-19 transmission risk is highest in a household setting, and it is to be anticipated that a significant number of linked cases within households will be identified by efficient contact tracing. It is for this reason that household linked cases are not reported as clusters.
The PHA’s Contact Tracing Service continues to engage successfully with the vast majority of identified contacts and provide appropriate advice to help prevent any onward spread.
Since July, the average number of close contacts linked to cases has more than doubled. The rise may be attributed to the gradual easing of lockdown measures, but may also be explained by relaxing of attitudes to social distancing.
Dr Gerry Waldron, Head of Health Protection at the PHA, said: “Our analysis of clusters to date has shown that they have been associated with both workplaces and in the community, such as domestic gatherings and in hospitality and sporting settings.
“Clusters are managed through the contact tracing programme, and where we need to advise or inform the public of any increased risk to public health we will do so in a timely manner.
“In the past seven days, five clusters have been identified. 35 cases have been associated with these clusters, with 239 close contacts.
“This should act as a timely reminder that we must not become complacent – coronavirus remains in circulation and we have seen an increase in cases in recent weeks. It is therefore essential that we remember the key advice to help keep ourselves and those around us safe.
“Maintain social distancing, wash your hands regularly, and get tested if you display any symptoms of coronavirus.
“This disease has the potential to make its presence felt in any community, as we have seen with clusters appearing across council districts.
“Everyone should act on the basis that it might potentially be in your neighbourhood right now, rather than waiting it to emerge in your local area or for rumours to circulate before taking steps to help protect yourself and others.
That’s why following the public health advice remains vitally important. You can spread the virus even if you don't have symptoms, so taking these steps and exercising good hygiene practices will help prevent cases and reduce the number of clusters.”
Dr Waldron added: “Speculation around current clusters of COVID-19 across Northern Ireland is not helpful.
“We will not be commenting on individual cases of COVID-19 or going into the detail of every incident that emerges, as this could lead to people being identified, create stigma and focus attention on individuals, families or groups, and therefore deter others with symptoms coming forward to be tested.”
Everyone with symptoms of coronavirus can book a free test. If anyone is concerned that they are experiencing any of the symptoms of coronavirus, they must self-isolate and arrange a test as soon as possible.
For further information on the virus, its symptoms and how to book a test, visit www.pha.site/coronavirus
We must be aware that COVID-19 is still a threat and we need everyone to play their part in helping to stop the virus spreading. If you receive a positive test result you will be contacted by the PHA’s Contact Tracing Service from (028) 9536 8888.
Members of the public are also encouraged to download the StopCOVID NI contact tracing app on Android or Apple, which complements the work of the Contact Tracing Service.
From next week, the PHA will be moving to publish regular updates on regional cluster activity.
In addition, there have been 14 clusters across Northern Ireland with fewer than five people. Cases in a smaller cluster may also be associated with a larger cluster, for example, a common geographic location or common social setting.
Cluster data are reported up to 5pm on 03/08/20.