Message from Julia Burrows, Barnsley Director of Public Health - 4 December 2020

Latest figures

Our current seven-day rate is 188 per 100,000 people in the population (using data for the seven days ending on 28 November). Encouragingly this has continued to fall over recent weeks which is good news.

However, our numbers are still too high, and we need to keep the reducing trend going. We are still seeing pressure in the hospital and sadly 370 people have died of COVID-19 in the borough since March. This information is available on the Government website as well as our own Covid-19 data pages.

This shows the continued risk of the virus and many of us are very worried about the impact of increased social mixing at Christmas and what it will mean for hospitalisations and, tragically, people dying in January.

Vaccine update 

It is really good news that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use by the UK medicines’ regulator.  We know it will take time to roll out a mass vaccination programme which is why it’s so important in the meantime that we 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.

Wider benefits of Hands, Face, Space 

The data I receive about other winter infections, including flu, and diarrhoea and vomiting illnesses, show the levels of infections and hospitalisation are much lower so far this year compared to the same time last year and previous years. Although we are still at an early stage in the winter season, it is a very good sign that people are doing really well on COVID-19 prevention measures. It shows the actual benefit of more people regularly washing their hands, keeping their distance from each other and wearing face coverings in helping to minimise the spread of these infections. There has been a good uptake of flu vaccination which really helps too. 

Barnsley’s approach to testing

Many of us are used to downplaying illnesses and going on with our lives when we’re coughing, have a headache or feeling exhausted. This year, things are different. Please be extra careful if you start to feel unwell. To the greatest extent possible, stay home, stay hydrated and stay away from others. Pay attention to worsening symptoms.

It is crucial that people with the three cardinal COVID-19 symptoms – a high temperature, new, continuous cough or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste - no matter how mild, isolate and get tested. 

Making sure people with symptoms get tested is the most important aspect of our testing programme, and we have good availability of testing in Barnsley. More information about testing is available on our dedicated COVID-19 webpage.

Building on this, we have expressed interest to the government in expanding asymptomatic testing in Barnsley using a targeted approach. We know testing is only effective when it leads to appropriate action – such as people isolating if they test positive and being able to trace contacts, and we are actively exploring how and where we can most effectively use rapid testing in people without symptoms.

If our proposal is accepted by the government, we would hope to be starting soon and will let you know more details when we can. 

The ‘lateral flow tests’ can give a result in around 30 minutes and there is real potential in using these tests in a variety of situations. We are proceeding cautiously as there is still emerging evidence about their use in practice, but they have the potential to become a useful tool in our management of the pandemic. 

We recognise there are barriers to being able to self-isolate and in our proposal to expand testing, we have included an ask of government for further financial support so we can keep helping those who find self-isolation difficult due to serious financial pressures. Unless we increase the proportion of people isolating when they have symptoms and/or a positive test result, we will keep struggling to contain the spread of the virus.

A negative test result does not mean a free pass – please take care 

Along with other Directors of Public Health across the country, I want everyone to have a happy but safe Christmas.

I really want to make it clear that a single negative test pre-23 December is not a passport to a “virus-free” Christmas with your family and friends.

Please don’t let a negative COVID-19 test give you a false sense of security. 

If you are tested shortly after becoming infected but before the virus has reproduced enough copies of itself, a test could fail to detect the virus and produce a false negative result.

You might also be in the early, undetectable stage of infection; or you might get infected after you took the test.

Please continue to follow the Hands, Face, Space guidance to protect yourself and the ones you love.

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