Message from Julia Burrows, Director of Public Health, Barnsley – 7 August 2020

Cases update and stats

The data being made available to us from a wide range of sources is getting richer every day and helps give a detailed understanding of what the Barnsley position is.

Over recent weeks, Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Barnsley has been at lower levels, with around three to six cases being detected a day. 

You may have seen figures showing the overall Barnsley rate as 817 per 100,000 cases. Please be aware this is the cumulative rate since the beginning of the pandemic. The figure is high - one of the highest in the country - however, it is a historical picture.

What’s important is to understand the current weekly rates as they show what is happening now with the transmission of the virus and guides any action we need to take.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen between zero and four cases per week, per ward. No one area of Barnsley has been disproportionately affected – our numbers are spread out across different parts of the borough.  

Some cases have been associated with workplaces and care homes, but these have been in small numbers and there have been no particular hotspots. As always, we will continue to monitor figures and areas.

So while new Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Barnsley have been lower, the figures continue to fluctuate.

Our latest seven-day average is 11 per 100,000 of the population, which is an increase from last week. We will, of course, pay this figure close attention but it does not put Barnsley back on the national watch-list. Just for some context, our weekly rate at the beginning of July was 54.7 per 100,000. 

Another important figure I pay close attention to is the ‘testing positivity rate’ i.e. how many positive results we get per numbers of tests done. We may see more actual positive results as we do more testing, but if the testing positivity rate stays low and steady, it is a useful sign that the virus is under control. I watch that rate carefully and am reassured that over recent weeks it has remained stable at around one percent of tests done. 

I will provide updates on the most recent weekly rates via this regular message, and we will be also be sharing a local summary of information every Monday, from next week.

As you know, it is impossible to predict with any accuracy what will happen with this new virus. However, while we are at a relatively low rate now, it is likely cases will start to rise over the late summer as we approach autumn. We may then see much more pressure as winter arrives. 

If we experience bigger clusters or outbreaks in the meantime, these will create spikes in our numbers. It is very unlikely we will avoid those completely, but we will keep working with all settings to minimise the risk and ensure any increase in cases is managed very proactively. And as we have recently seen elsewhere in the country, things can change very quickly, even within a matter of days.

A lot will depend on how everyone in Barnsley follows the guidance to keep good physical distance from each other; wash their hands regularly, wear face coverings and get tested, and self-isolate as soon as they experience any symptoms. I know this can be much more difficult for some people due to pressures around income, housing, and family circumstances and we want to support everyone to follow the guidance. 

We need to keep the transmission of the virus as low as possible while safely opening the economy to safeguard jobs and to make sure we can open schools in September to avoid lasting disadvantage to our children and young people through missing out on their education.

Face coverings update

The government has now extended the requirement to wear a face covering to other indoor settings where you are likely to come into contact with people you do not normally meet, such as museums, galleries, libraries, cinemas, and places of worship.

This will become enforceable in law from tomorrow (Saturday 8 August.)

Here in Barnsley, we are asking people who can wear masks to do so in our libraries and museums. 

Our staff whose role includes making home visits, such as our Public Health nursing service and social care staff will now be wearing face coverings and asking the people they visit aged 11 and over to do the same if they feel comfortable doing so. We want to do all we can to reduce the potential for virus transmission wherever possible.

Government guidance says that those who have an age, health, or disability reason to not wear a face covering should not be routinely asked to provide any written evidence of this. Written evidence includes exemption cards. However, some people may feel more comfortable showing something that says they do not have to wear a face covering. This could be in the form of an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign. This is a personal choice and is not necessary in law.

There is more information on face coverings, including exemptions, here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own

We have seen good adherence to the wearing of face coverings across the borough by Barnsley residents and I thank each of you for playing your part as this will help keep our numbers lower. 

Getting a test in Barnsley

The testing unit is still place at lower County Way (S70 2EQ) and we intend to keep a testing facility there for the foreseeable future. You can walk in or drive to this testing site and are advised to book a test online in advance with the NHS or call 119 if you are having problems using the internet. The opening hours are Monday to Sunday, from 10am to 4pm.

We are making plans to reintroduce mobile testing units to move across the borough and are finalising the locations for these. We will publicise dates and locations as soon as they are available. We encourage anyone who has concerns to get a test. 

In symptomatic people Coronavirus (COVID-19) is most infectious just before, and for the first few days after symptoms begin. If you display any symptoms, it’s really important that you self-isolate straight away and get a test. 

Thank you to everyone who is playing their part to keep themselves, their families, and our community safe. I wish you all continued good health. Please carry on being vigilant and helping us to #KeepBarnsleyMoving

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