Alarming rise in Covid-19 cases in Donegal - we need to be really honest with ourselves about social contacts

The warning about social gatherings doesn't just apply to our young people

New Covid-19 test centre in Donegal Town

New Covid-19 test centre in Donegal Town

There is a sombre and somewhat anxious mood across much of Donegal as we settle into the Level 3 restrictions.

People recognise that the continuing increase in Covid-19 cases left the government with little choice. But it is still a bitter pill to swallow, particularly for business owners who have been trying to claw back some of their losses from earlier in the year, and their staff who find themselves on the revised Pandemic Unemployment Payment under its revised terms. 

There have also been questions raised about why the entire county is on lockdown when the problem is largely confined to some areas. 

But that is the system that we have at the moment, and so we have no option but to batten down the hatches for the next few weeks and make every effort to stop the spread.

The bustling month of August seems like a distant memory when we see the empty car parks and closed doors on most hotels, bars and restaurants; the staycationers all gone home, or looking elsewhere for hotel and holiday home accommodation, meals out and trips to tourist hotspots.

As those affected by the lockdown look for someone to blame, somewhere to direct their anger and despair, there are questions asked about how much the big influx of staycationers contributed to the increase in figures in Donegal. If that had been the case, surely we would have seen similar numbers of cases in other counties that enjoyed the same rush of late summer business.

Much blame is also being directed towards young people, with accusations of thoughtlessness for their elderly and vulnerable relatives. While there is a degree of truth in that house parties have contributed to the spread, it must also be acknowledged that our young people are among those most deeply affected by the Covid-19 crisis whether or not they become ill.

They have had their worlds turned upside down without the benefit of life experience to know that this time will pass, and at worst we will adapt to a new way of living, as humankind has done throughout its existence. Schools have done their best to put every possible measure in place to keep children and young people safe but for many, it is a bleak and anxious time. This generation needs our support, not our blame.

Indeed, according to public health officials many of the current cases in Donegal are linked to family gatherings which were certainly not organised by young people. This is a stark reminder that just because we are among family and friends, we still need to be hyper vigilant.

In a largely rural county, having the highest rate of Covid-19 transmission is quite worrying, especially this far into the pandemic when measures are in place in every business premises and public building. 

While it is important to find the root cause of this exceptional transmission rate, we need to be careful to not point the finger in the wrong direction. 

As has been the case throughout the last few months, personal responsibility plays a big part. This is not a time to look at the guidelines and see how we can bend the rules so that we can carry on our favourite activities, continue to meet our small social circle or hold family gatherings.

Weddings and funerals are limited to 25 people; social and family gatherings of no more than six people from no more than two households; organised outdoor events have a maximum of 25; sports training is limited to non-contact pods of 15; gyms and pools are individual training only; and food outlets are restricted to outdoor seating and take away.

The rule that seems to be most flaunted relates to social gathering, with groups from more than two households meeting. 

This is not a time to try and find ways to get around a system, or of not getting caught. The link between family and social gatherings and the rise in Covid-19 spread in Donegal as previously mentioned tells its own story. 

If we don’t adhere to the restrictions, more people will get sick. More people will die. Our healthcare staff and other frontline workers will again be stretched beyond their limit. Harsher restrictions will be imposed at Levels 4 and 5. These will include no visitors, family or social gatherings whatsoever. Who knows how long that will continue because if we have to go up another level, that means the virus has a strong hold in the county and will be very difficult to suppress.

Surely it makes more sense to press pause now, to advise rather than blame, to look at the current guidelines and each ask ourselves if we are doing everything we can to stop the spread, and to give ourselves an honest answer.

For now the transmission rate is still rising at an alarming rate. We have two more weeks of the current restrictions. Our actions over these two weeks are more important than ever. 

It’s in our hands. Let’s get it right.

For everyone.

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