Counties Westmeath, Louth and Carlow now have the highest incidence of Covid-19 amid signals people across the country are reining in their socialising .
The 14-day incidence is more than 1,700 per 100,000 in the three worst-hit counties compared with a national incidence of 1,266.5.
Wicklow, Wexford, Limerick, Kildare and Galway have the lowest 14-day incidence.
Meanwhile, there are hopeful signs people are cutting back on social mixing.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “Our research tells us that people are listening to the public health advice and are reducing the number of people they are planning to meet and are cancelling social events to reduce their contacts.”
He said levels of worry about the virus were now at their highest level since last April.
He was speaking as 3,666 new cases of the virus were reported yesterday.
There were 638 Covid-19 patients in hospital, down from 684 on Monday.
However, the number who are in intensive care rose to 130, up from 126.
The HSE forecast two weeks ago that nearly one in two of the 301 permanent intensive care beds could be occupied by a Covid-19 patient by the end of this month.
Younger unvaccinated pat- ients continue to feature among the most seriously ill from the virus.
Dr Holohan said: “We know what we are asking people to do to help suppress the spread of disease in our communities is very difficult. If we all make a concerted effort, it can make a difference.”
The HSE is planning to roll out up to 200,000 booster vaccines this week amid evidence the jabs are already having a significant effect in protecting the oldest age groups.
Dr Holohan said that over the coming weeks people should focus on five key actions to reduce their risk and keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
If you have cold- or flu-like symptoms, isolate immediately and get a PCR test, not an antigen test. Prioritise who you need to meet. Opt to meet outdoors and open
windows when indoors. He also advised that people should wear a mask properly, make sure they use the right test and understand what the test result means.
HSE testing centres remained under severe pressure yesterday, with no online appointments available in several counties, including Dublin and Cork.
A record 26,000 people were swabbed at the centres on Monday, although the system was originally designed to cater for only 15,000 tests a day.
The HSE has now entered into deals with private companies in a bid to increase capacity and hire extra staff.
Dr Nuala O’Connor of the Irish College of General Practitioners said if people with symptoms faced a delay in getting a test appointment, they should continue to self-isolate.
“If you have symptoms of infection, you should be self-isolating, staying at home and away from work for at least 48 hours until after your symptoms resolve, or longer if you turn out to be Covid positive,” she said.
“So if there’s going to be a day or two delay in getting a PCR test, what you do yourself doesn’t actually change.
“In Donegal, there’s loads of tests available today. It was a hotspot a few weeks ago. Cork happens to be a hotspot today, there’s a lot of Covid circulating in Cork, like many counties, and that’s why the delay is there.
“If we want to be able to have a nice Christmas, we all need to be careful about who we meet, the number we meet and reduce social contacts. The virus spreads when we get together.”