Frequently Asked Questions

All HPSC guidance should be read and interpreted in conjunction with the Government's Framework of Restrictions

Information about COVID-19

Q. How does COVID-19 spread?
The virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) can spread from person to person through respiratory droplets - small droplets from the nose or mouth of a person infected with the virus. These droplets are produced when a person coughs, sneezes or exhales. People can catch the virus either:

  • directly, by breathing in the droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes or
  • indirectly, by touching surfaces (e.g. table, door handle) that an infected person has coughed or sneezed on and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Simple household disinfectants can kill the virus. Surfaces should be cleaned first and then disinfected.

It is always important to stay at least 2 metres from others, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze with a bent elbow or tissue, dispose of the tissue after use, clean hands regularly, and stay home if you become unwell. In areas where it is difficult to maintain a distance of 2 metres from others, it is important to wear a face covering to protect both yourself and others. It is important to follow Government advice regarding when and where face masks should be worn. More information on the use of face masks/coverings can be found here.

Current information suggests that infected people can transmit the virus both when they are symptomatic (showing symptoms) and asymptomatic (showing no symptoms). This is why it is essential that anyone who is showing symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, or anyone who has been in close contact with a confirmed case, should be tested.

Q. Can the virus that causes COVID-19 be spread through the air?
Current information suggests that the virus that causes COVID-19 is spread through contact with respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or exhales. These droplets are too heavy to hang in the air. They quickly fall on floors or surfaces. You can be infected by breathing in the virus from a person who has COVID-19, or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands.

Certain medical procedures can produce tiny droplets that are able to stay suspended in the air for longer periods of time. When such medical procedures are conducted on people that are infected with COVID-19, these aerosols can contain the COVID-19 virus. These aerosols may be inhaled by others if they are not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment. Therefore, it is essential that all health workers performing these procedures take specific airborne protection measures, including wearing personal protective equipment. Visitors should not be permitted in areas where such medical procedures are being performed.

There have been reported outbreaks of COVID-19 in some closed settings, such as nightclubs, places of worship, restaurants, and places of work where people may be shouting, talking, or singing. In these outbreaks, aerosol transmission (specifically in indoor locations that are densely populated and inadequately ventilated) cannot be ruled out.  More studies are urgently needed to investigate such instances and evaluate their significance for transmission of COVID-19.

Q. What is the incubation period for COVID-19?
The incubation period is the time between infection (exposure to the virus) and the onset of symptoms of disease (e.g. cough, fever, shortness of breath, loss of taste, loss of smell, distortion of taste). Current information suggests that the incubation period for COVID-19 is on average 5-6 days, however, it can be up to 14 days. It is now known that during the incubation period, those infected can be contagious (able to spread the virus to other people). Pre-symptomatic transmission (transmission of the virus before symptoms appear) has been identified in a small number of studies 7-12. This is supported by data that suggest some people can test positive 1-3 days before onset of symptoms 1-11.

Q. How long can COVID-19 virus live on surfaces?
Coronavirus can survive for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, less than 4 hours on copper and less than 24 hours on cardboard. As the virus has the ability to live on surfaces, it is important to regularly disinfect areas that may become infected, particularly in areas with high footfall, e.g. reception areas and objects with high touch surfaces e.g. tea/coffee machines, handles of doors, vending machines. Common household disinfectants will kill the virus on surfaces. Clean the surface first and then use a disinfectant.

Q. Will the number of COVID-19 cases increase in winter?
At present, it is unclear whether COVID-19 cases will increase during winter months. As COVID-19 is a new virus, is it difficult to determine how it will act during different seasons. The HSE has made additional funding available to mitigate any possible impact of increased cases in winter on the health system. New guidelines on COVID-19 and Flu testing have been produced and the HSE has extended flu vaccinations to all children from 2 to 12 years of age to reduce the additional burden of winter Flu on the health system.

Testing, restricting movements and self-isolating

Q. Should I get tested? How do I receive results?
If you develop sudden onset of any of the following symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath, loss of smell, loss of taste, change in taste you should self-isolate and contact your GP. They will assess you and determine whether you need a COVID-19 test, and make the necessary arrangements. You must self-isolate while awaiting the test result.

You may also be asked to have a test if you are a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case. In this instance, the contact tracing team will contact you and arrange a test for you. You should restrict your movements for 14 days if you have been identified as a close contact irrespective of the test result or how many tests you have that are negative. You will get the results of your test either by text or by phone call. Further information can be found on the HSE website here.

Q. What is the difference between self-isolation and restricted movement?

Restricted movement
Restricted movement means avoiding contact with other people and social situations as much as possible by staying home. It is also sometimes called ‘self-quarantine’. It means that you stay at home and:

  • Do not go to work
  • Do not use public transport
  • Do not have visitors in your home
  • Do not go to the shops or pharmacy, unless absolutely necessary
  • Keep away from older people, anyone with an underlying medical condition and pregnant women

Further information on what practical measures should be implemented when restricting your movements can be found here.

When to restrict movements:

  • When you are a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case. You will need to restrict your movements for 14 days from last contact with the confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • If a someone you live with is awaiting a COVID-19 swab test result.
  • When you return from a country that is not on the COVID-19 Green List. You will have to restrict your movements for 14 days upon return to Ireland.
  • When advised by a Health Care Professional.

Self-isolation
Self-isolation means staying at home and completely avoiding contact with all other people, including other people in your household. More information on what practical measures should be implemented when self-isolating can be found here.

When to self-isolate:

  • When advised by a Health Care Professional
  • If you have symptoms of COVID-19   
  • While awaiting the result of your COVID-19 test if you’re symptomatic.
  • If you have had a positive COVID-19 test result, regardless of whether you had symptoms or not.

Q. How long do I need to restrict my movements or self-isolate for?

  • If you are awaiting a COVID-19 test should self-isolate until you have the test and the result.
  • If the test result is positive for COVID-19 and you have symptoms you should self-isolate for 10 days from onset of symptoms, the last 5 days of which must be fever free.
  • If the test result is positive for COVID-19 and you do not have symptoms should self-isolate for 10 days from the day the swab was taken, the last 5 days of which must be fever free.
  • People who are identified as a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case need to restrict their movements for 14 days from day of last contact with the confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • In all instances, people who reside in nursing homes, residential care facilities, or people who are hospitalised with COVID-19 need to self-isolate for 14 days if they are confirmed to have COVID-19, the last 5 days of which must be fever free.
    • If they had symptoms they must self-isolate for 14 days from the day the symptoms began, the last 5 days of which must be fever free.
    • If they have no symptoms they must self-isolate for 10 days from the day the swab was taken.
  • Staff that have tested positive for COVID-19 who work in hospitals, nursing homes or residential care facilities who are not hospitalised with COVID-19 must self-isolate for 10 days, the last 5 days of which must be fever free.

Q. What happens if I am a close contact of a case of COVID-19 and I develop symptoms?
If you have been notified that you are a close contact and develop any symptoms of COVID-19 you must change from ‘restricted movements’ to self-isolation in your home and contact your GP to arrange a test. Stay in self-isolation until you receive your test result. Remember that as a close contact you are at significant risk of being diagnosed with COVID-19 if you become symptomatic. Assume you have COVID-19 until you are told otherwise by a health professional.

Q. Can I get an antibody test?
People who are otherwise well do not need to have an antibody test, as the result will not generally be of benefit to the individual person, and are only useful at a population level. If your doctor has concerns about your health and feels that the test is clinically indicated, then they may ask for this test to be carried out on you.

Antibody testing (also known as serology testing) determines whether or not you may have had COVID-19 in the past and have now developed antibodies in response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19). It is a blood test, and is a different test than the one used to diagnose if you currently have COVID-19. The test to diagnose current COVID-19 infection is a nasopharyngeal swab test. If antibodies are detected in the blood test, it is an indication that the person had an infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus at some time. Currently we consider that if someone has been previously infected with COVID-19 they have ‘immunity’ for 12 weeks.

If antibodies are not detected, the most likely explanation is that you have never been infected. If you had a mild infection or had no symptoms, the antibody response may be below the level that is detectable with the antibody tests that are used.

Q. Will a medical certificate stating that a person has a ‘not detected’ test result for COVID-19 be OK to use for travel or returning to work?
It is not advised to use medical certificates for travel or returning to work. A person could come into contact with the virus after receiving the letter and before travel/return to work. There is also a possibility of a false ‘not detected’ test result, therefore this is not advised.

A false ‘not detected’ test result is a result that indicates a person doesn’t have COVID-19, when in fact they do. False ‘not detected’ results can occur for a number of reasons including human error and medical equipment error. While false ‘not detected’ results do not occur regularly, there is always a chance they can happen. The concept of false ‘not detected’ tests can happen with any laboratory test. A ‘not detected’ sample can also be collected in a patient who at the time of the test was infected with COVID-19 but didn’t have enough of a ‘viral load’ at the time of the test for the virus to be detected. This is why COVID-19 results are not reported as ‘negative’ but are reported as ‘not detected’.

Q. Is it necessary to get a letter to confirm that the period for self-isolation or restricted movement has finished?
No, it is not necessary to get a letter to confirm that the period for self-isolation or restricted movement is finished. Once your isolation period is over, and you have been 5 days fever free and you no longer feel ill, you can come out of isolation.
If you are notified as a close contact of a case and have been advised to restrict your movements by a Healthcare Professional, and do not have any symptoms of COVID-19, you should restrict your movements for 14 days from your last contact with the case. Once this 14-day restricted movement period is over, you can return to your normal routine in line with current government and public health advice.

Who can get COVID-19

Q. Who is most at risk of getting COVID-19?
Anyone can get COVID-19 but some people are at higher risk if of getting seriously ill if they get COVID-19.  There are two levels of risk; high risk and very high risk. People at very high risk include people over 70 and people with certain underlying medical conditions, for example people on dialysis or having chemotherapy. People at high risk include people over 60 and people with underlying medical conditions, including obesity. A list of those at high and very high risk is available on the HSE website, as well as advice on the public health guidelines you should follow if you are in these risk categories.

Q. Are young people affected by COVID-19?
While COVID-19 can be more dangerous in older people and those with underlying conditions, all ages can contract the virus, though children currently only account for a small proportion of diagnosed cases.
Young people who have underlying conditions are considered to be at higher risk than young people who are healthy. HIQA (Health Information and Quality Authority) recently conducted an evidence summary on the transmission of COVID-19 from children. They found low certainty evidence that children are less likely than adults to infect others, and further large-scale studies are recommended to identify what proportion of COVID-19 transmission can be contributed to children.

Q. Are pregnant women affected by COVID-19?
The information we have so far suggests the majority of pregnant women who get COVID-19 experience only mild or moderate symptoms and are not at a greater risk of becoming seriously unwell than other healthy adults. There is some evidence pregnant women with underlying conditions (e.g. asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes), those who are overweight or obese, those who are older than 35 years, or who are from a Black, Asian or minority ethnicity, may be at greater risk of requiring hospitalisation due to COVID-19 during pregnancy15.

However, we don’t fully know how coronavirus affects pregnant women and their babies. In order to protect you and your baby, the necessary public health precautions should be taken such as regular hand hygiene, maintaining social distance of 2 metres at all times, and wearing a face mask.

All pregnant women should receive the flu vaccination to minimise the known risks of influenza in pregnancy. Further information on COVID-19 during pregnancy, hospital appointments, and delivery of a baby can be found on HSE.ie. Further information on the flu vaccine in pregnancy can be found on the HSE website here.

Q. Can I catch COVID-19 from my pet?
While there have been some instances of animals being infected by COVID-19, there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19 to humans. COVID-19 is mainly spread from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

If you are sick with COVID-19, you should restrict your interaction with your pet and other animals, as there has been some cases of human to animal transmission identified. Research on SARS-Cov-2 in animals is limited, however, recent research showed that animals such as ferrets and cats can spread COVID-19 to other animals of the same species in laboratory settings. We are still learning about this virus, but it appears that it can spread from humans to animals in some situations, especially after close contact with a person sick with COVID-19. Treat pets as you would other human family members – do not let pets interact with people outside the household.

As a general precaution, it is always wise to observe basic principles of hygiene when in contact with animals. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently and thoroughly. People with pets and people who work with animals should engage in usual preventive actions to avoid infection like hand washing and respiratory hygiene.

For more information on COVID-19 and animals, visit the Department of Agriculture website here.

Q. Are people working in areas such as logistics, control services, retail, couriering, etc. at risk of getting COVID-19 by handling packages? What measures can be taken to reduce the risk of getting infected in these types of work settings?
People working in areas such as logistics, control services, retail, couriering, etc. are not at greater risk of getting COVID-19 as a result of managing packages. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) does not recommend any special measures above those addressed to the general public: frequent and thorough hand washing and use of alcohol-based hand disinfectants, keeping a distance from other employees and customers, and not working if showing signs of respiratory symptoms.

Q. Does wearing a face covering protect me from getting COVID-19?
Wearing a face covering correctly reduces the risk of coming in contact with COVID-19 droplets as it covers the exposed entry points - the nose and the mouth. It also reduces the spread of the virus in someone who may be infected but doesn’t have symptoms when they wear a mask. While face coverings reduce the risk of coming into contact with the virus, they are only effective if used and worn correctly; they should cover the nose and mouth, should be cleaned regularly (cloth masks), and the user should avoid touching the front of the mask. It is therefore important to continue to regularly practice hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and social distancing where possible. Do not place used face coverings on surfaces in public places such as tables and chairs, place only in a refuse bin or in a personal bag that you use to contain used masks More information on the various types and proper use of masks can be found here.

Face coverings should be worn when you cannot maintain a 2m social distance from other people. It is also a legal requirement to wear a face covering when you use public transport, or in certain social situations such as in shops. A full list of places where masks are mandatory can be found here.

Travel

Q. I am an Irish citizen living abroad and wish to travel home. What do I need to know? Do I have to self-isolate or restrict movements when I land to Ireland?
Regarding travel, the Government is advising against all non-essential travel overseas until further notice. Please find further information on the Department of Foreign Affairs website.
The HSE are not carrying out testing for COVID-19 in order to obtain declarations of being disease-free to enable permission for entry to other countries, or to remove the requirement to restrict movements on re-entry into Ireland. This is a private health matter.

All travellers entering Ireland are required to restrict movements for 14 days on arrival in Ireland, unless they are returning from a country on the Green List. The Green List of countries is constantly evolving; please find the latest countries on the list on the Department of Foreign Affairs website.

Obtaining a COVID-19 test on your return from a country not on the Green List does not alter the requirement to restrict movements for 14 days.  Please see the Irish government website which has information for people arriving into Ireland from another country.

The HSE has made a self-isolation facility available if you are unable to self-isolate at home on your return from a non-Green List country. More information can be found on the HSE website.

Q. Can I car-pool/share a ride with other people?
When it comes to car-pooling, please take note of the following:

  • frequently clean and disinfect high touch surfaces such as the door frame and handles, steering wheel seat belt buckles. Wash your hands thoroughly after doing this
  • try not to share vehicles with people outside your household
  • the driver and passengers should wear a face covering if the above is not possible
  • try to share transport with the same people each time and/or have a small number of passengers
  • keep windows open for ventilation, where safe to do so
  • depending on the type of vehicle, have passengers facing away from each other
  • seat passengers at the maximum distance possible from each other
  • clean the vehicle between journeys using household cleaning products – taking special care to clean frequently touched surfaces such as door handles (inside and out), window buttons and seat belt buckles

References:
1.    World Health Organization. Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) 16-24 February 2020 [Internet]. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2020 Available from: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/who-china-joint-mission-on-covid-19-final-report.pdf
2.    Ong SW, Tan YK, Chia PY, Lee TH, Ng OT, Wong MS, et al. Air, surface environmental, and personal protective equipment contamination by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) from a symptomatic patient. JAMA.2020 Mar 4 [Epub ahead of print].
3.    Wang W, Xu Y, Ruqin G, et al. Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in Different Types of Clinical Specimens. JAMA2020 doi:10.1001/jama.2020.3786.
4.    Lauer SA, Grantz KH, Bi Q et al. The Incubation Period of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) From Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases: Estimation and Application. Ann Intern Med2020 doi: 10.7326/M20-0504.
5.    Liu Y, Yan LM, Wan L et al. Viral dynamics in mild and severe cases of COVID-19. Lancet Infect Dis doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30232-2
6.    Wolfel R, Corman V, Guggemos W et al Virological assessment of hospitalized cases of coronavirus disease 2019. doi: 10.1101/2020.03.05.20030502.
7.    Yu P, Zhu J, Zhang Z, Han Y. A familial cluster of infection associated with the 2019 novel coronavirus indicating possible person-to-person transmission during the incubation period. J Infect 2020 doi: 10.1093/jiaa077
8.    Huang R, Xia J, Chen Y, Shan C, Wu C. A family cluster of SARS-CoV-2 infection involving 11 patients in Nanjing, China Lancet Infect Dis 2020 doi: 10.1016/ S1473-3099(20)30147-X
9.    Pan X, Chen D, Xia Y et al. Asymptomatic cases in a family cluster with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Lancet Infect Dis 2020 doi: 10.1016/ S1473-3099(20)30114-6
10.    Tong Z-D, Tang A, Li K-F, Li P, Wang H-L, Yi J-P, et al. Potential presymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2, Zhejiang Province, China, 2020. Emerg Infect Dis. 2020 doi: 10.3201/eid2605.200198
11.    Wei WE, Li Z, Chiew CJ, Yong SE, et al. Presymptomatic Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 —Singapore, January 23–March 16, 2020. MMWR, 1 April 2020/69. 1
12.    Kimball A, Hatfield KM, Arons M, James A, et al. Asymptomatic and Presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 Infections in Residents of a Long-Term Care Skilled Nursing Facility —King County, Washington, March 2020. MMWR, 3 April 2020, 69(13);377–381.
13.    Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA). Evidence summary for spread of COVID-19 by children, 1 April 2020.
14.   Qiao, J., 2020. What are the risks of COVID-19 infection in pregnant women?. The Lancet, 395(10226), pp.760-762.
15. Knight Marian, Bunch Kathryn, Vousden Nicola, Morris Edward, Simpson Nigel, Gale Chris et al. Characteristics and outcomes of pregnant women admitted to hospital with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection in UK: national population based cohort study BMJ 2020; 369 :m2107

Last updated: October 20th 2020