An outbreak at a Limerick GAA club resulted in a dozen players testing positive for Covid-19 and spreading the virus to close contacts.
Two weeks ago, the small rural community of Ballylanders in southeast Limerick was hoping there would be a rare reason to celebrate. The local footballers were due to play Adare in the county senior football final that afternoon. It was not known at the time that Ballylanders was at the start of a significant Covid-19 outbreak.
The game was a one-sided affair with Adare coming home with a 15 point win. It was later said that some of the Ballylanders players didn’t play as well as expected. Some suggested that the players weren’t in color; others thought nerves were a factor.
“Only six people were allowed at each table, and all tables were two meters apart. Even then, people had to sit down with their close contacts and partners. Everything that could be done to be sensible has been done, ”he insisted.
During the pandemic, GAA communities were an important part of the Irish fight against Covid-19. Volunteers help vulnerable members of their communities through difficult times. Since returning to action on the ground, the GAA has added another thread to Irish Covid-19 history.
Less than two weeks ago, a day after Ballylanders were defeated by Adare, the association suspended club action when Nphet recommended the country move to Level 5 restrictions.
It also came after pictures and videos were shared by crowds across the country who came together to celebrate club successes. Clubs in Cavan, Galway and Cork were confronted about their solemn scenes. The Cavan cases in particular have been blamed for an increase in local cases. Ballylander’s own story reflects this.
When the GAA announced the cessation of club activity, some of the Ballylanders players showed symptoms of Covid-19. Four days later, the club confirmed that two of their players had tested positive.
Ryan admitted that 15 players from his club or their close contacts have tested positive for the virus since losing the final. However, local GAA sources admitted they expected a positive number of around 20.
Ryan says the club’s cases are unfortunate. “The only thing we may have done differently is that the use of the masks may have been more consistent. Some of the players traveled together for the game and put on masks when they got out of the car. Perhaps in the car setting helped wearing the mask.
“We may have been a little more vigilant, but we come from an area where there has never been a recognized case. However, the virus was likely in the community before the game and only really emerged afterwards.
“It’s sad. We are a small club, we are proud of what we do and we beat over our weight in football. It’s unfortunate that it happened. We followed the guidelines and maybe should have gone a little further. ”,“ He added.
The Ballylander’s history is not unique, and while clubs are reluctant to publicly admit when they have confirmed cases, other GAA groups in the Midwest have seen small outbreaks among members.
“In general, socializing after the Games is important and that adds to the cases here,” said a local public health doctor.
The Midwest has been one of the hardest hit by the virus in recent weeks for a variety of reasons. There are more than 20 schools in the region where parents have been notified of positive Covid-19 cases in the past two weeks.
The number of cases in the Rathkeale-Adare electoral area has increased since September. Some of these were linked to Holy Communions in the county last month. A family doctor in the area has moved to warn patients not to deny that they have Covid-19 symptoms if tested over the phone and then come for surgery with the same symptoms.
On a weekend last month, a mobile test unit was set up in Rathkeale to identify cases. With 106 active cases in the region and one of the highest infection rates in the country, cases are now called for recovery.
Fianna Fáil’s local councilor Kevin Sheahan is among those in the region who believe the government should be more proactive. “That the government rejected the advice to reach Level 5 two weeks ago is nothing more than an act of betrayal,” he said.
Doctors in the Midwest generally support allocating additional resources for testing and tracking as demand increases.
Across the Shannon in Clare, more and more cases are being traced back to school return, social gatherings and people traveling in and out of Limerick to work. Those working in the hospitality industry have also seen positive results recently.
Dr. Michael Kelleher, Lahinch GP, said his practice had recently seen the first positive cases since April and doubled calls since early September.
“There is an increasing workload and limited capacity. We have a lot to do to take many calls over the course of a day. My workload on Covid-19 has doubled, ”he said.
“We were quiet from May to the end of September. I think schools are going back and some anecdotal stories about an element of Covid fatigue in relation to the limitations could be a factor. ”
Meanwhile, locals fear the looming shadow of the virus. West Clare has an infection rate of 409 per 100,000, despite a sprawling rural population, just below the 423 per 100,000 in Ennis.
“People are starting to feel it’s closer here than ever,” said Kilkee Alderman Cillian Murphy. “During the lockdown and in the summer, the community here did not feel as threatened by the virus as it does now. It’s a worry. ”
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