The most recent seven-day rate of new COVID-19 infections in Barnsley is 139.8 per 100,000 people in the population (using data for the seven days ending on the 5 December).
The decreasing trend we have been seeing recently now seems to be slowing down and levelling out. We are also seeing the rates in over 65 years olds starting to increase again, which has serious implications for serious illness and hospital admission.
We know that the pressure on Barnsley Hospital is not getting better, so combined, this puts Barnsley in a rather precarious position as we move towards the Christmas period when more household mixing will take place and people are affected by the usual winter illnesses.
Even if the relaxation in regulations around extended household mixing from 23 to 27 December allows it, please think very carefully about who you meet up with and how you can protect your more vulnerable friends and family.
Community testing in Barnsley
I am pleased to announce that Barnsley has been accepted to be part of the community testing programme outlined by the Government for Tier 3 areas.
This additional resource will allow us to selectively test asymptomatic residents and workers, meaning that we can identify positive cases and give them the right advice and support.
We have identified groups we wish to prioritise first for community testing, using our local intelligence.
Evidence suggests that in order to be effective in preventing COVID-19 transmission, asymptomatic testing needs to be undertaken at least twice a week, therefore we are asking those prioritised to commit to this schedule.
These cohorts have been prioritised on the criteria of close contact, multiple contact, and vulnerable contact groups - for example, service critical frontline staff, people working in high-risk groups and vulnerable groups.
By testing these individuals on a regular basis, we aim to break some of the chains of transmission within the community for people who interact with the general public on a daily basis.
It is essential that through increased testing we are also able to support people who are told to isolate as a result of their test, and additional information for mental health, wellbeing and financial support will be offered to those individuals.
We are actively planning the delivery, resourcing and estimated costs of providing the additional testing to allow us to begin this programme as soon as possible.
I will keep you updated on further developments.
Testing is only part of a wider approach to tackling the virus and is not an end in itself.
Unless we have all the mechanisms and support in place to act on test results, it will not have the desired impact.
Also, testing for people with symptoms is still more important than testing those without symptoms so we encourage anyone with the classic COVID-19 symptoms (a new continuous cough; a high temperature; or a loss or change to sense of smell or taste) no matter how mild, to arrange a test immediately. This can be done via www.nhs.uk/coronavirus, or by calling 119.
Testing needs to happen alongside other vital elements such as effective contact tracing, full adherence to and support for self-isolation, social distancing, handwashing, and wearing face coverings.
Similarly, a negative test should not be seen as a free pass – if that happens, we could potentially increase risk through more testing rather than decrease it. We know the new lateral flow rapid tests provide a proportion of ‘false negative’ results, and even ‘true negatives’ are only accurate for the specific time at which the test is taken. It is, therefore, crucial to keep following guidance on social distancing, hand washing and face coverings irrespective of a negative test result. Please help us share these key messages with your families and friends.
Combining all of these measures will give us the best possible chance of reducing the spread of COVID-19 in our borough.
COVID-19 vaccinations begin
You can’t have missed seeing the news this week of people receiving the first Covid-19 vaccinations at the start of what will be the biggest vaccination programme we’ve ever known.
We are working closely with our partners in health to ensure that our most vulnerable residents, starting with those over 80, receive the vaccination over the coming weeks.
In the meantime, the advice to everyone is to wait until you are called for a vaccine over the coming months. I will share updates on the roll-out as I receive them.
In the meantime, we must stick to the well-known basics: Isolate and get a test at the first sign of any symptoms, including a news continuous cough; a high temperature; or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. Follow the Hands, Face, Space guidance – regularly wash your hands, wear a face covering and stay two metres apart from people who are not part of your household.
Tier announcements next week
The Government is due to review national Tier positions next week on a regional approach. Although we are seeing a decreasing trend in case numbers, this is just one of the five criteria used and I as mentioned, the rates in over 65s are starting to increase again. The five criteria are:
- case numbers across all age groups;
- cases in those aged over 60;
- the rate of rise or fall in infections;
- the percentage of those tested who have the virus;
- current and projected pressures on the NHS locally.
I will provide an update as soon as we are notified about the South Yorkshire Tier category. Please continue to do all you can to help us manage our rates and cases.