Barnsley’s response so far to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and some thoughts about the future - Message from Julia Burrows, Director of Public Health, Barnsley

I’m sure we all listened to the Prime Minister’s announcement last night with eagerness to find out what the Government’s next steps would be in dealing with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

Keep an eye on our social media channels (Facebook and Twitter) and our website to stay up to date on how Barnsley is responding to the Government’s latest information and guidance, and on how we’re delivering the council’s services. Please share this information with your neighbours (at a safe distance!) if they don’t have access to information online. 

This personal message updates you on Barnsley’s response so far to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and some thoughts about the future. 

Since first reported in Wuhan, China, in late December 2019, the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19), has spread globally. We had our first case of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Barnsley at the beginning of March 2020.  On 19 March 2020, in response to the significant challenge facing everyone in our borough, Barnsley Council declared Coronavirus (COVID-19) a major incident. Declaring a major incident in this way meant that we put in place new structures and ways of working with our partners to respond to the pandemic and ultimately protect lives.   


How this has affected people’s lives in Barnsley
 

I’m sure it’s clear to everyone that this is much more than a health crisis. It’s a human, economic and social crisis, and we’re all experiencing and coping with the effects of Coronavirus (COVID-19) differently.  Many people are finding it increasingly difficult to afford rent, bills and food and struggle to access the services they need. This is likely to have a significant toll on both people’s physical and mental health.  

The pandemic will affect people’s short, medium and long-term mental health. We’ve had to find a new ‘normal’ in our everyday lives, and this has presented differing challenges for people.  Longer-term, we need to support people and communities to build up their resilience and ability to cope with a different looking Barnsley.   

The risks of the sudden loss of income or access to social support have consequences that are difficult to estimate, and we do not know what the full, long-term impact will be. Some people will cope well and get back on their feet quickly, but others won't. Moving forward, with a system that has been weakened and with greater than ever levels of need and inequalities, requires us to work differently and even more collaboratively than before. 

During the dreadfulness of this pandemic, we’ve seen countless amazing examples of people and communities pulling together. It’s something that Barnsley is known for, and my goodness have people shown that! This community spirit will be a driving force behind moving Barnsley forward from Coronavirus (COVID-19). 

Supporting our borough’s most vulnerable people 

We set up the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Emergency Contact Centre, with our NHS, other public sector partners and our voluntary and community service partners.  

Over the last couple of months, we’ve supported 2496 people (as of 11 May 2020), who contacted us with urgent requests for food parcels, medications, volunteer support and problems from social isolation. 

We’ve had 1240 people (as of 11 May 2020) in Barnsley signed up to be Community Responders (Volunteers). Community Responders have already been deployed to help people without family or friends, and who may be shielded or self-isolating. 

We’ve also sent out approximately 67,000 letters to people, with information on how to get support if they need it. These went out to people who might need help because they have, for example, a disability, are older and living alone or have mobility issues. 

Information on people affected by Coronavirus (COVID-19) 

Every day in the media, we see data on how Coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting people. The data is difficult to comprehend, and it’s so important to remember that each statistic is a person who has either thankfully recovered from the virus or has sadly died. 

People are recovering from Coronavirus (COVID-19). Over the period from the 21 March to the 10 May 2020, Barnsley had 283 new hospital Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases. In the same period, 201 hospital Coronavirus (COVID-19) hospital cases were discharged. 

Barnsley’s care homes have also had 23 people (as of 10 May 2020) recover from Coronavirus (COVID-19). 

We very sadly had our first death from Coronavirus (COVID-19) on 26 March 2020, and since then, up to 29 April 2020, registrations of deaths tell us that a total of 129 people in Barnsley have sadly died as a result of the disease. 82 of these died in hospital, and 47 died in either a care home, at home or the hospice.  

We know the virus has had a devastating impact on lots of people. Each death represents a terrible loss to the family and friend of those whose lives have been cut short, and I feel so sad to think about the suffering people are experiencing; our deepest sympathies are with those who have lost someone during this time. Any bereavements during this unprecedented time, whether caused by Coronavirus (COVID-19) or not, are more complicated and stressful than usual. With restrictions on seeing family members and limits to the number of people allowed at funerals, I know it has been and will continue to be, a very challenging time and upsetting for a lot of people. We’ve commissioned an organisation called Listening Ear to provide bereavement support for anyone suffering the loss of a loved one at this time. They can be contacted on 0800 048 5224 or visit www.listening-ear.co.uk/refer 

Understanding why Coronavirus (COVID-19) affects certain people 

We’re working with organisations across Barnsley to understand how Coronavirus (COVID-19) affects local people and how best to support them to reduce and prevent the risk. A key part of this work is to identify those at greatest risk from Coronavirus (COVID-19). 

The majority of all deaths have occurred in people over the age of 75.  We’ve also seen more people than we’d have expected die of non-Coronavirus (COVID-19) causes and we’re investigating the reasons why we’ve seen such relatively high numbers of deaths during April.   

It’s challenging to map the rate of the virus and who it affects without having a detailed understanding of people’s information such as their age and pre-existing health conditions.  

While the detailed reasons why some communities have worse rates of infection and death are still being investigated, it’s likely that several factors including underlying health issues and age make it more likely that these people will be more severely affected. Barnsley has a higher proportion than the English average of older people, and despite recent improvements in health, more people are diagnosed with cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Some areas of Barnsley also have very high levels of deprivation, and this is a strong predictor of poor health, wellbeing and reduced life expectancy. 

We’re aware that many people are concerned about reports of the apparent disproportionate impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) populations. A national inquiry has been launched to understand why people from these backgrounds appear to be disproportionately affected by Coronavirus (COVID-19). The inquiry will investigate any emerging evidence of an association between ethnicity and Coronavirus (COVID-19). It also includes research on the impact of the virus specifically on people from BAME backgrounds working in health and social care. We’re anticipating national guidance on supporting our workforce soon and will act on any future guidance. 

Testing for Coronavirus (COVID-19) 

You’ll have seen and heard lots in the media about the increase in capacity to test people, whether that’s health and social care frontline workers, key workers or vulnerable people in our care homes.  

We’ll continue to work with our local health partners as they offer to test local frontline staff and with Public Health England (PHE) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on the national testing arrangements. So for example, there’s a national plan in place with a structured approach to how we test all residents and staff in care home settings, and it’s our job locally to make sure that we sensibly prioritise which care homes quickly receive the testing in which order, to protect people as much as possible.   

Contact tracing for Coronavirus (COVID-19) 

One of the ways we protect the public from infectious diseases like Coronavirus (COVID-19)is through contact tracing. It’s an important, tried and tested tool for outbreak control that’s used by public health professionals around the world.  

If a person tests positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19),we speak to them and identify anyone who had close contact with them during the time they were considered to be infectious. We then follow up those ‘contacts’ and give them the advice they need based on the information gathered. It’s an effective way of reducing further onward transmission of a virus.  

Work is rapidly taking place at a national level to develop a comprehensive contact tracing service which will be crucial as we move into the next stages of our fight against the virus. We’ll share more with you as we learn more about how the national programme will be rolled out. We’re ready to play our part, and it’s certain that local staff with knowledge of our communities will be crucial in responding and reacting quickly to reduce the impact on local people as much as we possibly can.  

Keep following the public health guidance 

The most important thing is that we use testing and contact tracing alongside other key public health guidance to keep Barnsley safe. 

The public health guidance is still centred around hygiene and social distancing being the key things we can all do to help the NHS and protect lives. These guidelines will help people to avoid getting the virus and stop it from spreading to other people.   

Face coverings  

People may have read that the government is recommending fabric homemade face coverings for use when out in enclosed spaces.  We’ll be telling people more later this week about our plans to make these readily available to Barnsley residents, as we believe they are an important way to protect others if we all cover our nose and mouth when we are out and about.   

Washing hands regularly  

This is the most effective single measure at reducing the spread of the virus.  Watch the Government’s useful video which shows people how to do it properly - https://youtu.be/bQCP7waTRWU. 

Washing your hands not only protects you from Coronavirus (COVID-19) but a variety of other diseases, which will be especially important later in the year when we enter the flu season. With the ongoing risk of Coronavirus (COVID-19), on top of flu, it will be even more important than ever that people get their flu jab. 

Moving forward 

I want to thank you all for following the Government’s guidelines and helping us to keep Barnsley safe. Some of these changes are extremely difficult to deal with, and some things may never go back to how they were before the pandemic. Through our social distancing, shielding, isolation and loss, there are things that have brought our communities together and changed how we work and live our lives for the better. 

It’s important that we don’t just concentrate on restoring everything to how it was before or getting back to normal. Our focus needs to be on healing and succeeding in what will be a different place after the pandemic.  

To help us through significant financial challenges and impacts on people’s wellbeing and mental health, we need to look to the things we’ll want to keep. Things that will drive our borough forward in the future, such as working from home and the benefits this brings for family life, mental health and productivity; cherishing our communities and the support they give to each other, the importance of daily exercise in keeping fit and well, both physically and mentally; and valuing our key workers and the massive contribution they make to Barnsley.  

At the beginning of the year, we launched the borough’s Barnsley 2030 consultation, looking at what Barnsley's like now and what we'd like for it to be in 2030.  This is still very much part of our journey. 

As our lives have changed, so will our views of where we want Barnsley to be in the next ten years, and Barnsley 2030 is an important opportunity to work together to visualise a future, and a way forward, for everyone. 

Thank you and stay safe, 

Julia Burrows, Director of Public Health, Barnsley.

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