Message from Julia Burrows, Director of Public Health, Barnsley – 19 March 2021

We have seen a rise in Barnsley's new case rate recently. It follows the full reopening of schools, and the start of regular asymptomatic testing in schools and for households and carers of children. Asymptomatic testing is now also happening in more workplaces. 

All this testing has identified a higher number of positive cases without symptoms that we would otherwise not have known about, but it means more people know they need to isolate to reduce spread which is a good thing.  I know that isolating can be difficult for some individuals and families but there is financial and social support available from the council to help you.

We are closely analysing the data as it comes in, particularly in the light of the increased numbers we have seen in Barnsley over the past week. We know the increase reflects a higher number of younger, low-risk people testing positive as a consequence of increased asymptomatic testing – which we have been doing a lot of in Barnsley.  We have some of the highest testing rates in the country.  

However, as you know, we already have a high baseline so any rise in cases can be worrying.  And I have written before about our susceptible population, so we always need to be careful that the positive cases in our low-risk population do not transmit to those who are at higher risk of harm from catching COVID-19. 

At this stage, the good news is that infection rates in older adults and the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 have continued to fall in Barnsley. 

This shows the positive effects of both lockdown measures and excellent take up from the local vaccination programme. However, it also underlines the importance for Barnsley that we follow the guidance regarding hands, face and space, along with all the other current government rules, to avoid reversing the benefits we have seen.  

Preventing the spread of COVID-19

We know that transmission of COVID-19 is more likely to happen in the circumstances many Barnsley residents experience that are beyond their control, such as being unable to work from home or mixing of households for essential reasons such as childcare bubbles. 

In our borough, a lower proportion of people can work from home, due to their job role, which means being out in the community and mixing with other people more.

That’s why it’s so important that people who do need to leave their homes to work, do so as safely as possible and get tested regularly to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

We will also continue to work with Barnsley businesses to support them in ensuring workplaces are as safe as they can be.

Schools have many measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus amongst pupils and staff in schools. I recognise that due to the nature of COVID-19, a small number of outbreaks inevitably will, and have taken place in school settings but schools remain a safe place for children to be and have an essential role in children's education and development.  

However, it’s vital that staff, parents and children are as careful in their behaviours outside of schools as they are in these settings. This includes not mixing with households outside your own, even if children are in the same class. Please follow all the current guidelines, as well as following advice from schools on pick-ups and drop-offs, to reduce the risk of transmission.

It’s equally important for everyone else to make sure that where they can, they avoid becoming a contact. Current guidance is still very much “stay at home” and avoid any unnecessary journeys.

As I’ve said before, reducing the risk of infection and of passing it onto family and friends depends on the efforts of every single person in the borough and we all have a role to play in what happens next with regards to our journey out of lockdown. We want to keep on track for the relaxations of restriction that we are all so looking forward to and don’t want anything to derail that.

Vaccination update

You may have seen in the media over the last few days concerns regarding the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and blood clots.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) issued a statement about this yesterday:

“Today [Thursday 18 March] the UK regulator, following a rigorous scientific review of all the available data, said that the available evidence does not suggest that blood clots in veins (venous thromboembolism) are caused by COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca. This follows a detailed review of report cases as well as data from hospital admissions and GP records. This has been confirmed by the Government’s independent advisory group, the Commission on Human Medicines, whose expert scientists and clinicians have also reviewed the available data.

A further, detailed review into five UK reports of a very rare and specific type of blood clot in the cerebral veins (sinus vein thrombosis) occurring together with lowered platelets (thrombocytopenia) is ongoing. This has been reported in less than 1 in a million people vaccinated so far in the UK and can also occur naturally – a causal association with the vaccine has not been established.

The MHRA’s advice remains that the benefits of the vaccines against COVID-19 continue to outweigh any risks and that the public should continue to get their vaccine when invited to do so.”

No vaccine is entirely risk-free, but we know very well the far greater risks from Covid19 disease.  It has been such a relief to see the numbers of hospitalisation and deaths reduce so significantly as a result of vaccination.

I urge you to have the vaccine when you are offered it, along with your second dose. A successful vaccination programme will be a big part of how we live safely alongside COVID-19 in the future, especially to help with the ongoing easing of restrictions and the potential end of lockdown.

Please remember that even when you have received your vaccine doses, you still need to observe all the hands, face, space guidance.

Vaccine rollout and supply

I’m really pleased to say that the lasts figures show that 91,282 Barnsley residents have now had their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The last time I shared the figures on 5 March we were at 70,000.

The focus has been on people in the priority groups, who are most at risk from serious illness. The majority of these people have been vaccinated in Barnsley. As we move down the age groups, more and more of you have been taking up the offer to get vaccinated at one of the larger sites.

I do know though, that for some people it’s really important that they can get an appointment local to them. The Barnsley GP vaccination services have been booking those people in over the past few weeks and you can now call and book directly. If anyone, particularly those in their 60s, 70s and above, has been waiting for a Barnsley appointment, please call 01226 448 808 and book yourself in now. The same applies to anyone who has been shielding or who has an underlying health condition or is an unpaid carer.

You might have heard this week that the country will be receiving fewer first dose vaccines than it expected during April. Second doses will all continue still as planned.

Fewer first doses won’t stop the vaccine programme, it just means the roll out for under 50s won’t start straight away.

It’s important to note though that everywhere, including Barnsley, is well on track to offer a vaccine to everyone in the phase one priority groups (people 50 or over and those in the at risk health groups), by the middle of April, with all adults being offered the vaccine by the end of July.

While locally we’re focusing on making sure as many people in the current priority groups call up to book their vaccine over this next week or so, we’re also planning ahead.

We want, and need, as many people as possible to have their vaccine when it’s offered to them. So we’re doing work now to encourage people in the next phase, those under 50, to get the vaccine when it’s offered to them.

We know getting back to some sort of normality and seeing friends and loved ones is so important. To do that safely and quickly, we need to keep this fantastic start to the vaccine programme going.

We have a saying in health and social care which is ‘make every contact count’. That means that if there is something as important to people’s health, like the vaccine, we make sure we talk about it in every new conversation – even if you’re calling your GP about a bad back.

So, if you can help us take that idea forward over the next couple of months and encourage your loved ones and friends to have the vaccine when it’s their turn, we’ll be a step closer to living that life we’ve been looking forward to.

Every vaccination gives us hope.

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