How targeted rapid testing will help to strengthen our approach to tackling the virus
I was pleased to announce earlier this week that Barnsley is to be part of a South Yorkshire wide targeted rapid testing pilot using lateral flow test kits. This rapid form of testing is different from the usual swab kits used in testing centres and provides a test result within an hour, without the need for lab processing.
We’ll be using these kits where we can have the biggest impact – both in terms of reducing transmission of the virus and to support the delivery of key services. We’re working with our South Yorkshire colleagues to confirm which groups and sectors will initially be part of the new programme of testing and on the logistics for delivering mass targeted testing. We anticipate a continued extension and widening of the testing programme once we start receiving the numbers of tests we need from the government.
While the pilot is welcome news, it’s crucial to recognise that testing is only part of a wider approach to tackling the virus. Testing 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. It 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. Combining all of these measures will give us the best possible chance of reducing the spread of COVID-19 in our borough.
Our testing sites are still open for people displaying symptoms of COVID-19 (high temperature, a new continuous cough or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste). Simply book a test by visiting gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test or calling 119. I strongly encourage everyone with these symptoms – no matter how mild – to get a test and isolate until you get a result.
Our COVID-19 support service
Launched at the end of October, our COVID-19 support service contacts people who have tested positive for the virus, offering advice and welfare support. The team also emphasises guidance and the legal requirements of self-isolation, helping people to understand what they need to do.
We don’t duplicate NHS Test and Trace or Public Health England work; we work with them to prioritise people who NHS Test and Trace have been unable to contact.
When we do speak to people, we identify their contacts and update the national system for NHS Test and Trace so other contacts can be notified. We also take the opportunity to find out more about their routines and symptoms so we can build a better picture of how the virus is affecting our borough.
While contact tracing is an essential part of our service, it is not merely a call centre. Our staff are there to talk to people and check on their wellbeing. It’s essential we make sure people are safe and have access to what they need while they’re ill or self-isolating.
The service calls people from a Barnsley telephone number, so if you’ve had a positive test it’s important we talk to you, so we know if you need any more support. Your information will help us to gather intelligence which will help us to reduce the spread of the virus in our borough.
You will have seen the very encouraging news about vaccine development. I wanted to let you know we are working hard with our NHS partners on a mass vaccination programme, and you will be seeing more information about this over the coming weeks.
While this is great news, the reality is that when it does eventually start taking place, mass vaccination will be over an extended timeline which will take many months and is by no means a quick fix. We will all still need to carry on following all the guidance to protect ourselves and those around us.
I want to finish by thanking you for following the national restrictions over the last two weeks. We’re yet to understand what will happen after the 2 December and over Christmas, but we will let you know as soon as we can.
Take care and stay safe