Message from Julia Burrows, Director of Public Health, Barnsley – 5 March 2021

The most recent seven-day rate of new COVID-19 infections in Barnsley is 160 per 100,000 people in the population (using data for the seven days ending on 27 February 2021). This is a fall of 12 per cent compared to the previous seven-day period. 

The really good news this week is that we are seeing far fewer deaths and hospital pressures than we have done for months. There are significantly fewer people in hospital with Covid than we’ve seen for a while which suggests both the vaccine and the extended lockdown have really started to have an impact.

Less good news is that while our positive case rates are slowly reducing, this week Barnsley has one of the highest overall rates in the country, particularly in the over 60s age group.  Both these rates are reducing steadily and the continued reduction of the rates depends on the efforts of everyone to keep doing the things we know help reduce transmission – washing hands, wearing face coverings and keeping that 2m distance from others.

We know as lockdown starts to ease, there will be some increase in cases. We will be testing more people (especially in schools and workplaces) and there will be some increased transmission. However, sticking to the basics and getting vaccinated when we are eligible to do so is key to sustaining progress and enable the continued lifting of restrictions – something we are all keen to see happen.

Our testing offer for people without symptoms

About one in three people with COVID-19 do not have symptoms but can still pass it on to others. Regular testing of people without symptoms is important to help stop the virus from spreading and protect your loved ones. 

Community testing for unpaid carers and those people whose job role means they cannot work from home will be taking place at the Metrodome for the foreseeable future.

We’ve had some really positive feedback from businesses and individuals making use of the twice-weekly testing. There’s more information about what’s involved and how to book at www.barnsley.gov.uk/coronavirus-rapid-test

Rapid lateral flow testing for households, bubbles and childcare providers of school pupils and staff is also now available.

Households with primary school, secondary school and college-age children, including childcare and support bubbles, can test themselves twice every week at home as schools return from Monday 8 March.

Households, childcare and support bubbles of primary, secondary and college staff can also be tested. Twice-weekly testing will also be offered to adults working in the wider school community, including bus drivers, childminders and after school club leaders.

If you’re a member of a household, childcare bubble/provider or support bubble of a school staff member or a pupil, you can get a twice-weekly test by collecting a home test kit from a test site or by ordering a home test kit online. 

Two packs of home test kits can be collected from the following collection points between 1pm and 7pm every day:

  • Lower Courthouse car park, County Way, Barnsley, S70 2JW
  • Dorothy Hyman Sports Centre car park, Cudworth, S72 8LH
  • Summer Lane car park, Wombwell, S73 0DD

Find more information here www.barnsley.gov.uk/coronavirus-schools-rapid-test

Outdoor recreation

I know many of you have been enjoying meeting up with one other person for exercise, but from Monday 8 March, you’ll also be able to sit down to socialise in parks and public spaces with one other person who you don’t live with, or with members of your household or support bubble.

This could include having a picnic or a drink while sitting on a bench or on the grass, weather permitting! Please remember, you still need to socially distance yourself from anyone who’s not in your household or support bubble, so ideally keep two metres apart at all times.

If you are queueing for hot drinks or food, please also remember to keep plenty of space between you and other customers waiting to be served.

There continues to be no separate household mixing outdoors or indoors at this time. 

Vaccinations update 

The latest figures provided by the NHS show that by the end of February almost 70,000 people in Barnsley have now had their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. This is really positive and a great bit of news for us here in Barnsley.

For the next couple of weeks in March, we’ll see that number jump even higher. The Barnsley GP vaccination service will continue to work through everyone in priority group six, which includes those with certain health conditions. I know we’ve got lots of people in this group who are keen to get their vaccine.

There are around 30,000 people across the borough in this group, so you can see why it is taking a few weeks to get to everybody. We know that as soon as vaccine comes into Barnsley new clinics are being put on all the time..

Towards the end of March, the GP vaccination service will have worked through the majority of people in group six. They will then start to invite people aged 60-69, who haven’t booked themselves into one of the larger vaccination centres on offer.

If you are aged 60-69 you can book vaccine appointments at the large vaccination centres, and I’d encourage you to do so if you are able to travel.

As well as the tens of thousands of people who will be contacted for their first dose throughout March, the NHS will also start to contact people due for their second dose.

Second doses are given in week 11-12 from your first dose. It is extremely important that you have this second dose to ensure you get longer-term protection, so when you are contacted, please accept and attend the appointment you are offered. The vaccination service will contact patients to schedule their second dose around a week before their appointment. Please do not contact your GP practices, you will be contacted. 

Thank you again for all your continued support of the vaccination programme – we are all responsible for what happens next with regards to living alongside COVID-19

Expanded symptoms of COVID-19

We all know the classic symptoms that suggest we could have COVID-19 – a new cough that won’t stop, a high temperature, or things tasting or smelling strange. If you experience these, it is crucial you get a test and self-isolate.

However, if you have new onset symptoms such as fatigue, sore throat, headache or diarrhoea that feel different to usual and you think you may have COVID-19, please book a test.  An example of why you may believe you have COVID-19 could include you, or someone in your household, having contact with a person that tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks.

If you are self-isolating due to symptoms, the people you live with, and anyone in your support bubble must also stay at home until you get your result.

Please note when completing the form to book a test, you will be asked "Why are you getting tested?" when completing this section, please select: My local council or health protection team has asked me (or someone I live with) to get a test, even though I do not have symptoms.

New variants 

All viruses, including coronaviruses, can change over time, which can lead to different strains of the virus with different characteristics.

I’m sure you will have read reports in the news about The UK (Kent), the South African and the Brazilian variants of COVID-19.

There is currently no evidence to suggest these variants are more serious, or that the vaccines we have would not protect against them.  

You may have also seen that some areas of the country are taking part in surge testing, where residents in targeted postcodes are being encouraged to get a test to see if they are carrying a new strain of virus but not displaying any symptoms. This is taking place where a number of cases of a particular variant have been found, that cannot be linked to travel, and is requested by the government.

While we currently have no reason for concern in Barnsley, a lot of work has been taking place between the council and its partners in case we are ever requested to carry out surge testing, to make sure people are given information quickly and know exactly what to do.

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