Message from Julia Burrows, Director of Public Health, Barnsley - 12 June 2020

I’d like to reassure you that we're doing everything we can as a council to support our residents and continue to deliver excellent services throughout the pandemic. 

I want to update you on:

  • Social distancing and hygiene measures – the risk of spreading Coronavirus (COVID-19) is still high.
  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) figures in Barnsley
  • Public data about Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases
  • The R number - what does it mean?
  • What all this data is showing us and how we’re using it to guide our response
  • Test and Trace update
  • Care homes update
  • Schools update - from Mel John-Ross, Executive Director of Children’s Services

Thank you and stay safe,

Julia Burrows, Director of Public Health, Barnsley.

The risk of spreading Coronavirus (COVID-19) is still high

We know that the best defence we have against this virus is for everyone in Barnsley to do the right thing to reduce its spread. 

It's really difficult to carry on following social distancing guidance for such a long period. We all want to see and hug our family and friends and return to our day to day routines. We're not just there yet, and we need to make sure we’re not complacent when it comes to following the guidance.

These messages are familiar by now, but the only way to beat the virus is if you:

We all have a role to play in making sure we’re not a contact. A contact is someone who has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. If you’re a contact, you must self-isolate for 14 days. This is doubly important when you’re at work, especially if you provide a public service. After such a long time, it’s easy for us to become complacent. Make sure that during your breaks, and before and after work, you’re following social distancing and hygiene measures. This will help to protect you, your colleagues and your customers, making sure that no one becomes a contact.

Barnsley will get through this pandemic. If we all follow the measures above, it will mean we can re-open the economy, and start being able to see our family and friends again while keeping each other, and especially our most vulnerable residents, safe.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) figures in Barnsley

People who have recovered from the virus

It's important to talk about the people who are recovering from Coronavirus (COVID-19). Over the period from the 21 March 2020 to 10 June 2020, Barnsley had 372 new hospital Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases. In the same period, 268 hospital Coronavirus (COVID-19) hospital cases were discharged.

People who have sadly lost their lives to the virus

Sadly, as of 6 June 2020, there have been 229 deaths registered in Barnsley with a mention of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on the death certificate. 135 of these were in hospital, and 94 were outside hospital. The majority of deaths outside hospital have been in care homes. Locally, we reached the peak of the pandemic in April 2020, and death rates have been falling. No children or young people in Barnsley have died having been diagnosed with Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Public data about Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases

What the current Public Health England data shows

Since early April, the Government has published a national dashboard of positive test results which include all results. However, at Local Authority level, the dashboard only includes Pillar 1 positive tests. This is positive tests where the sample has been processed through NHS or PHE labs.

It does not include Pillar 2 positive tests, those processed through the Lighthouse labs, like the one in Milton Keynes. Pillar 2 positive tests include swabbing performed at Regional Testing Centres and their satellite clinics, home testing kits and mobile testing units. In recent weeks, this has also included widespread testing in care homes.

Plans for data at a local level to include Pillar 2 positive tests and what that will show

Over the past week, information from the NHS Test and Trace programme has been made available at Local Authority level. All people testing positive in Pillar 1 and 2 are now referred to the Test and Trace programme. This means we now have some idea of the total positive test results at Local Authority level, although even this data is unlikely to represent all new cases.

Public Health England will shortly be updating their national dashboard with all positive tests by Local Authority (both Pillar 1 and 2 tests).

I wanted to tell you about this now, as when Pillar 2 data is added to the national dashboard, the figures for all Local Authorities will be much higher than has been used to date. This is not because cases have gone up, it’s because the Pillar 1 and 2 data has been added together.

In Barnsley, we continue to pay very close attention to what the data is telling us about the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). This has been important in managing the pandemic for three key reasons:

  • Barnsley has detected quite high levels of infection locally.
  • The rate of infection in Barnsley is reducing slowly.
  • We need to be very vigilant to watch the effects of relaxing social distancing.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has hit different parts of the UK at different times and in different ways. It’s likely that the moderately high rates in Barnsley are related to effective testing, high local rates of those underlying diseases that increase the risk of Coronavirus (COVID-19) (such as chronic lung diseases caused by smoking and related to the local coal mining history), and a population that is on average more elderly than the rest of the country. However, despite and because of these reasons, maintaining vigilance, collaboration, and responsive continues to be our best approach.

The R number - what does it mean?

There’s lots of information out in the media about what the R number is and what it means. Not all of this reporting is correct. Calculating the R rate is very complex. It involves data from lots of different sources.

The calculations include information relating to such things as confirmed cases, hospital admissions, deaths, patient surveys and testing.

When these are all put together and interpreted by experts, they give regional and national R numbers.

Robust calculations of the R number come from a joint study from Public Health England and the University of Cambridge and also from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

It’s not possible to calculate meaningful R values at a very local level, such as one specific for Barnsley. 

What all this data showing us and how we’re using it to guide our response

Locally, we’re reviewing early warning indicators daily. They include:  

We’re constantly reviewing and building the data that is available to us, and we’re creating new ways to use it to best control the virus in Barnsley, and support people who need it most. Now that the national Test and Trace system has started, and everyone in Barnsley can get tested if they have symptoms, we expect the wider range of testing data will enable us to add more information for our local response moving forward. We’re also continuing to monitor local, regional and national information to understand the picture for Barnsley.

There are other parts to this puzzle that we’re considering. What non-virus-related needs should be addressed and when, who is most at risk of ill health and other issues of concern during these times, and how do these needs interact with the social and economic needs of people in Barnsley. We’re bringing together lots of local data to make sure we’re providing the best support possible.

Test and Trace update

The NHS Test and Trace service is now active.

Test and Trace helps to quickly identify people who test positive for the virus, gathering information about other people they have been in contact with that may be at risk and informing them about the need to isolate.  Some of this is done remotely using a web-based tool or telephone calls from trained contact tracers.

Supporting this programme in Barnsley

We’re already working with organisations across Barnsley and Public Health England Health Protection Teams to help with local situations which may be difficult to manage remotely and would benefit from local input and expertise.  For example, this may include outbreaks in settings such as care homes and workplaces. We have completed a draft of our overarching outbreak control plan which defines local activities and responsibilities and will submit the final version to government before the deadline of the end of June.   Several groups are being formed to guide and oversee the work, including a board which will be chaired by the Leader of the Council.

If you’re contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service

If you're told by the NHS Test and Trace service that you've been in contact with a person who has coronavirus you should immediately:

  • stay at home (self-isolate) for 14 days from the day you were last in contact with the person – it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to appear
  • do not leave your home for any reason – if you need food or medicine, order it online or by phone, or ask friends and family to drop it off at your home
  • do not have visitors in your home, including friends and family – except for essential care
  • try to avoid contact with anyone you live with as much as possible
  • people you live with do not need to self-isolate if you do not have symptoms.

If you develop symptoms follow this guidance. If you don’t develop symptoms, you can stop self-isolating after 14 days, and you do not need to have a test.

Care homes update

Barnsley is testing all care home staff and residents, including those who don’t have any symptoms. To date, South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust have tested staff and residents in 34 care homes with a further nine homes scheduled in the next five days.

1,100 tests have been completed. This includes 556 residents. 440 tests were negative (79%), 50 tests came back positive (9%), and there’s 66 tests still awaiting results.

We’re aiming to complete full testing in all care homes within the next few weeks except for those homes who opt-out.

As of Yesterday, (11 June 2020), we understand that over 90% of our care homes are Coronavirus (COVID-19) free. This is good news and reflects the excellent work by our local care homes with the crucial support of adult social care and health partners.  Given the vulnerability of care homes residents, we can never be complacent and will continue to prioritise testing and support to this sector. 

Schools update- from Mel John-Ross, Executive Director of Children’s Services

Figures on schools expanding

On 1 June 2020, primary schools and academies committed to opening to the expanded eligible age range of pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6. Through our joint planning with school leaders via the Barnsley School’s Alliance, we encouraged schools to welcome back pupils in the eligible groups, based on their risk assessments, and at a time when it was safe to do so. 

The expanded reopening of schools on 1 June 2020 built upon the arrangements for vulnerable children and those of key workers, who attended school throughout the pandemic.  

In Barnsley, we have had a higher proportion of vulnerable pupils attending than is the case nationally. This is as a result of careful tracking of vulnerable pupils, and our schools working with key services to make sure children can attend wherever possible. Tracking has meant that where children are not in school, we can make sure that someone is in regular contact with their family and that they can escalate any concerns if they need to.

The overwhelming majority (95%) of our primary schools and academies have re-opened to the expanded pupil groups from week commencing 8 June 2020. The timeline for the expanding for Barnsley primary schools and academies is:

  • 48 schools opened week commencing 1 June 2020
  • 23 schools opened week commencing 8 June 2020
  • 4 schools open week commencing 15 June 2020

Between Monday 1 June 2020 and Monday 8 June 2020, we saw a significant increase in the number of eligible pupils returning to schools across the borough:

  • Attendance for Reception children increased from 11.5% to 25.4%
  • Attendance for year 1 children increased from 10% to 27.8%
  • Attendance for year 6 attendance increased from 12.8% to 29.3%

In total, 3,778 pupils attended school on Monday 8 June, an increase from 1,989 the previous Monday.  As a result, attendance overall has increased from 5.7% to 10.9%.

Year 10 and 11

Secondary schools have all remained open to vulnerable pupils and children of key workers. There’s a concern for potential lost learning regarding pupils in year 10, who will sit their GCSE exams in summer 2021. In line with Government guidance, our secondary schools are all planning to welcome back pupils in year 10 from week commencing 15 June 2020, for some form of face to face support/input. For the majority, this will mean attending for one day per week for now. These plans are still being finalised by school leaders in consultation with parents/carers and their children. Their plans will be updated once final pupil numbers wishing to attend are known.

Schools now not re-opening to all primary school pupils

On 9 June 2020, the Government announced that the plan for all primary pupils to return to school before the summer holidays was no longer feasible. Instead, schools have been given flexibility over whether to admit more pupils. We’ll continue our joint planning with school leaders through the Barnsley School’s Alliance, to use these flexibilities and support schools to admit more pupils. This will be decided based on their risk assessments, their capacity and the safety of both pupils and staff. 

We expect further guidance from the government shortly and will build into our planning, the additional support that children can be offered to catch up on their learning, ahead of September.  Equally, we'll support our schools with their recovery planning, ahead of September, based on various scenarios.  

Many pupils will have lost 40 per cent of their time in a classroom and it's really important that we continue to build the confidence of parents, supporting our schools to be able to admit more pupils, as quickly and as safely as possible.

Evidence that children returning to school has caused any increase in the spread of the virus

There’s no evidence that children returning to school has caused an increase in the spread of the virus. We maintain that schools have put into place, safe and controlled measures and that any risk of children attending schools, must be balanced against wider risks such as hidden harm, the impact on their learning, their emotional wellbeing and development and the risk of the virus spreading in the community if social distancing is not adhered to. 

It’s important to acknowledge that school staff and children may test positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Just like anyone else in Barnsley, school staff and children may develop symptoms and test positive for the virus.

This is why we have clear measures, protocols and guidelines in place for schools to reduce any risk as best they can. These include clear protocols for responding to any child or adult, who has tested positive.

It’s important that if either a child or member of staff is feeling unwell, that they stay at home and let the school know as soon as possible. If they have symptoms of Coronavirus (COVID-19), they need to self-isolate immediately and get tested. This also applies if any members of the household are unwell.

I’m aware that information is being shared on social media about possible cases, including in ways where information has been taken out of context, and people only see a snapshot and not the full information. It’s a worrying time for us all, but I would urge you to be wary of social media content that may be misleading. Our decisions and the measures we have put in place are evidence-based and thoroughly risk assessed. Make sure you follow the advice given to you by official sources such as Public Health England.

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