Message from Julia Burrows, Director of Public Health, Barnsley - 23 June 2020

Reducing the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community

I know it hasn't been easy to change how we live, but the hard work that people in Barnsley have done in recent months to protect themselves and their friends, families and communities has made a huge difference.

I want to update you on:

  • Our approach to Test and Trace and outbreaks
  • What's happening in Barnsley
  • Public data about Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases
  • How you and your family can help to reduce the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Thank you and stay safe,

Julia Burrows, Director of Public Health, Barnsley.

Our approach to Test and Trace and our outbreak plan

We've been working with organisations across Barnsley and Public Health England Yorkshire and Humber and NHS Test and Trace to manage and advise on cases of suspected or confirmed Coronavirus (COVID-19) in settings such as care homes, schools and workplaces.

Our Outbreak Control Plan, which outlines our approach and responsibilities, will be published before the end of June. Several groups have been formed to guide and oversee this work, including an outbreak control board which will be chaired by the Leader of the Council.

What's happening in Barnsley

Over the last couple of weeks, in common with many other parts of the country, we've started to see linked cases of suspected or confirmed Coronavirus (COVID-19) across our borough in various settings. You may have heard about these in the media or on social media, and I understand it can be worrying to hear about positive cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in your local area.

A significant benefit of the NHS Test and Trace programme is that people are now getting tested for Coronavirus (COVID-19) and self-isolating quickly. It also means that the people they have been in close contact with are also asked to self-isolate and get a test if they develop symptoms. These groups of people who have been in close contact with each other means we're starting to see clusters across our communities. We call it a cluster when there are a number of suspected or confirmed positive tests in one area or workplace. Of course, this situation is not unique to Barnsley. It's happening across the country, and we know that over the next few months we're likely to continue to see clusters in places such as care homes, schools and workplaces.

While positive clusters are an inescapable feature of Coronavirus (COVID-19), we're managing each cluster individually and carefully to minimise the risk to people. We know that for most people Coronavirus (COVID-19) will be a mild illness, but there are more vulnerable people in our communities, including the elderly and those with existing long-term conditions. While we cannot eliminate the risk, short of a full lockdown which causes its own problems, we're supporting workplaces to continue to run services while managing the risk and reducing the number of unnecessary contacts with others.

We're working with our local health partners, including Public Health England, to provide this support. You might hear about services reducing or stopping, buildings being closed for deep cleaning or specific testing for groups of people either via home testing kits or a mobile testing unit. These are all part of our plans, and ways in which we manage the risk and reduce the spread of the virus.

I understand it can be worrying if you're part of a group of people who are being tested for Coronavirus (COVID-19). However, testing is really important as it helps us manage what's happening in Barnsley. It also means we're likely to see the overall number of positive cases for Barnsley rise, as we'll be picking up on more positive cases. This is a sign we're doing the right thing, and the more information we gather, the better we can understand the spread of the virus and highlight where to take action.

In any of these situations, I want to reassure you that we'll work with services and Public Health England to communicate with the people affected as soon as possible, letting them know what's happening and what action they need to take.

Public data about Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases

Since early April, the government has published a national dashboard of test results, including some local information. As new capacity has become available more testing has been done, but not all these tests currently appear on the dashboard. However, following the NHS Test and Trace programme being rolled out, council Public Health teams are getting more information, and people testing positive are now referred to the NHS Test and Trace programme. This means we now have a good idea of the local situation.

As the data gathering becomes more integrated, we're likely to see numbers going up in local areas as the extra testing results get added in.

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 being responsive continues to be our best approach.

How you and your family can help to reduce the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

We all have a role to play in ensuring we follow the existing social distancing guidelines. If you're identified as a contact of a confirmed case, you must self-isolate for 14 days and get a test if you have symptoms. You should also self-isolate immediately if you're contacted by the NHS Track and Trace service.

This is doubly important for any of us at work, especially if providing a service to the public. 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.

After such a long time, it's easy for us to become complacent, and I know many of us are desperate to get back to our daily routines. The key thing you can do to help protect your community is to follow the government's guidance:

  • Stay at home as much as possible
  • Work from home if you can.
  • Keep your distance and stay apart - follow government guidelines.
  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Wear a face-covering in indoor spaces outside the house or more crowded places.
  • Limit contact with other people
  • Do not leave home if you or anyone in your household has symptoms and get a test to see if you have the virus.

You can find more information about Coronavirus (COVID-19), its symptoms and what you need to do at nhs.uk/coronavirus.

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