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More outbreaks likely, new films share experiences from vaccination centres and high attendance in Devon schools

The picture in Devon this week - 158 positive COVID-19 cases

Coronavirus case numbers in Devon have been falling, and remain below the national average, but the rate of decline is slowing.

Recently there have been some outbreaks in workplaces and care homes and positive case rates across the county are currently highest in those aged 20 to 39 years old.

In this update:

  • Vaccine incredibly successful, but more outbreaks likely
  • High attendance in Devon schools
  • COVID-19 testing as vital as ever
  • Shielding advice for the clinically extremely vulnerable to stop from April
  • New film shares experiences from Devon vaccination centres
  • What do you think about COVID-status certification?
  • Consultation on autumn exam series 2021
Steve Brown

Vaccine incredibly successful, but more outbreaks likely, says Director of Public Health Devon 

Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon responded to questions this week following outbreaks of coronavirus in two East Devon care homes. 

Asked how residents and staff in the homes contracted the virus, with some of the most vulnerable becoming very unwell and a small number tragically dying, even after their first dose of the vaccine, Steve Brown said that the vaccination overall has been incredibly successful. 

“We’ve seen the number of people in hospital and the number of people dying reduce significantly,” he said. 

The latest data shows that the vaccination protects people from hospitalisation by about eighty per cent. And protection from dying from about eighty-five per cent. 

“But no vaccine is one hundred per cent effective, so there will still be people who catch coronavirus, and particularly those most vulnerable – the elderly and those who have clinical risk – who will potentially get coronavirus and still become seriously ill,” said Mr Brown. 

Asked whether outbreaks like these can happen again, he said: 

“We are going to continue to get small outbreaks in settings such as care homes, workplaces and schools. But whenever we get an outbreak, the response is quick and swift. 

“Agencies, including Public Health Devon, Devon County Council, NHS Devon and Public Health England, come together. We look at how we can put in additional resources, such as additional staff or other appropriate resources, and we step up the cleaning regime, for example. 

“Such measures are designed to protect and safeguard those people in that setting, and to try to reduce any onward transmission. 

“Even when you’ve been vaccinated, it’s still really important that you continue to adopt public health measures – and for now, stay at home as much as possible. If you do need to go out, make sure that you keep social distancing, wear a face covering when indoors in public spaces, and wash your hands regularly.”

You can watch Steve Brown’s message in full on our YouTube channel.

school children in classroom with teacher

High attendance in Devon schools

The return to face-to-face teaching in Devon has been really positive across the whole of the county.

More than 95 per cent of children were back in school in Devon at the end of last week, which reflects a normal year.

Primary schools fully re-opened on Monday 8 March and at the end of the week they recorded a 97 per cent attendance rate.

Some secondary schools staggered their start in order to test all their students for coronavirus but, at the end of the week, 95 per cent of students were in.

And in Devon’s special schools, which opened for all pupils throughout the last lockdown, the attendance rate was 91 per cent last week.

Schools have done a tremendous job in building confidence and welcoming pupils back and we have had some great responses from pupils, parents, headteachers and their staff. 

Everyone has done a remarkable job over the past year and we’ve had positive reports about how well children are continuing to manage all the changes and how good it has been to see them enjoying lessons and meeting their friends again.

Dont be the one who takes COVID to work

COVID-19 testing as vital as ever

Regular testing for coronavirus is the cornerstone of our transition back to normal life. It’s a vital part of keeping the spread of coronavirus under control, especially as around one in three people don’t have any symptoms and could be spreading it unknowingly.

A COVID-19 test usually involves taking a sample from the back of your throat (where your tonsils are) and from the nose, using a long cotton bud.

There are lots of way to get a COVID-19 test in Devon, depending on whether or not you have any symptoms. You can find out more on our website, including a map of where the various types of test sites are located.

Anyone with coronavirus symptoms should self-isolate immediately and arrange a free NHS test straight away by visiting the government’s website or calling 119.

It’s also important to get tested regularly, even if you don’t have any symptoms. This is in order to identify whether you are carrying the virus so if you are, you can self isolate immediately to break the chain of transmission. This is known as asymptomatic testing.

We’ve set up community testing sites across Devon so it is quick and convenient for people without symptoms of coronavirus to get tested. At the moment this service is for:

  • anyone whose job or volunteering work requires them to leave the house and be in contact with others
  • anyone who cares for others, either paid or voluntary
  • members of a household, childcare bubble or support bubble of school or college staff and pupils.

Home testing kits are also available to order online or collect from an NHS test site.

The government has said regular asymptomatic testing is also available for:

The government policy and guidance around testing is changing rapidly so please check our website as we will update it to to reflect any changes in Devon.

groceries on a supermarket conveyor belt

Free supermarket vouchers for 15,000 children

During the Easter school holidays, families of more than 15,000 primary, secondary and sixth form college pupils in Devon who currently receive free school meals will automatically be sent supermarket vouchers to help them buy food.

It’s part of a £2 million programme we’ve organised to combat holiday hunger. 

The vouchers – worth £30 per child (£15 for each week of the two week break) can be redeemed in major supermarkets across Devon including Sainsburys, Tesco, Morrisons, Asda, Aldi, M&S Food and Waitrose. Arrangements are in place for families who cannot get to a supermarket.

Over the next week or so parents and carers of children currently receiving free school meals will be sent a letter or email with information about how to access their vouchers. Please look out for it nearer the time and get in touch with our free school meals team if you were expecting to receive vouchers but didn’t. You can email them at freeschoolmeals@devon.gov.uk or call our education helpline on 0345 155 1019.

If your child does not currently receive free school meals but you think they qualify due to a change in your family circumstances, please apply online through our website as soon as possible in order to receive the vouchers for the Easter holiday.

This is the quickest and easiest way for your eligibility to be assessed and you will get an instant decision. Alternatively, please call our education helpline on 0345 155 1019.

If you received a voucher code for the February holidays and haven’t used it to get your supermarket vouchers yet, please do so by Sunday 25 April 2021 before it expires. 

More detailed information about our free school meals holiday voucher scheme is available on our website.

elderly man stood at door smiling

Shielding advice for the clinically extremely vulnerable to stop from April

More than 38,500 clinically extremely vulnerable people in Devon will be informed by the government that they are no longer advised to shield from Thursday 1 April 2021 as coronavirus infection rates continue to fall.

In line with the government’s COVID-19 Response – Spring 2021 roadmap published last month, those on the shielded patient list can begin to follow the national restrictions alongside the rest of the population, but are still advised to take extra precautions to keep themselves safe from coronavirus.

Letters with updated guidance will be arriving over the next two weeks. These set out practical steps people can follow to reduce their risk of catching the virus, including continuing to maintain strict social distancing and to keep their overall social contacts at low levels, such as working from home where possible.

The move follows the steady decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations across the country for the last couple of weeks.

With the success of the UK’s COVID-19 vaccination programme, more than 9 in 10 clinically extremely vulnerable people are now vaccinated with their first dose, but it’s still important that people continue to follow the national rules and take the additional precautions set out in the guidance to keep themselves as protected as possible.

film about vaccination centres in Devon

New film shares experiences from Devon vaccination centres as vaccination programme marks 100th day 

Earlier this week, on Wednesday 17 March, the NHS marked 100 days since they gave the first COVID-19 vaccination and broke ground in the global race to protect people against coronavirus.

More than 25 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine so far and will soon develop strong protection from serious illness, saving countless lives and significantly reducing pressure on the NHS. This includes 95 per cent of people aged 65 years old and over and nine in ten of people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus.

Everyone who has already been invited for their vaccination is urged to take up the offer as soon as possible.

New invitations are now going out nationally to millions of people aged 50 to 54 years old in the latest stage of the programme, the biggest in NHS history and fastest in Europe.

Text messages from ‘NHSvaccine’ are being sent to eligible people containing a link for them to click and pick a convenient slot at an NHS vaccine centre, or pharmacy through the national booking service website. They will arrive in advance of the standard letter, meaning this could enable the NHS to react faster to changing vaccine supplies and fill appointments quickly.

The text alerts will be followed up with letters landing on doorsteps later in the week and people who cannot go online can call the service on 119. 

NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group has made a new film highlighting the experiences of patients, volunteers and staff across the county’s vaccination centres. 

Getting the Coronavirus vaccine – A Message from Devon aims to reassure people about both having the vaccination and the process of attending a centre. It encourages others to take up the opportunity when they are invited. 

The vaccination rollout is continuing at pace and the government has said the UK is on track to achieve the Prime Minister’s target of offering the first dose of the vaccine to all over-50s by 15 April, as well as all adults by the end of July.

someone pushing a lady in a wheelchair in a sunny field

And the winner is…. Devon scoops top award for supporting unpaid carers

A new project that supports unpaid carers in Devon has received a national award for its ‘outstanding contribution to healthcare’ during the height of the pandemic.

The Carers Hospital Service received the accolade at the Health Service Journal Awards 2020 this week for supporting thousands of unpaid carers. 

While support for unpaid carers is available, reaching them has always been difficult because people’s caring roles are often not identified. 

So Devon Carers, who we commission with NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, started working within hospitals, and as patients came forward and their situations were assessed, it was possible to see whether they had anyone, like a family member, looking after them at home.

They also work alongside hospital teams to determine what support the patient’s unpaid carer needs. Sometimes emotional help and supportive calls is enough; on other occasions being put in touch with local groups or individuals who have shared experience of caring helps. Immediate short term and simple practical help often makes all the difference and if longer-term help is needed, this is provided by Devon Carers, or where social care is needed, by Devon’s health and social care services.

By supporting unpaid carers, they are more able to look after themselves as well as caring for their loved one, neighbour or friend. In turn, support prevents further hospital admissions and reduces the length of time that patients are in hospital because they are able to return home sooner.

Between April 2019 and January this year, 3,900 carers were helped by the Carers Hospital Service, three quarters of whom were not previously known to be carers.

Read the full story on our News Centre.

Devon NHS produces video to support people with learning disabilities to access Covid vaccine

Vaccination video for people with learning disabilities

The NHS in Devon is supporting people with learning disabilities to take up the
potentially life-saving coronavirus vaccination.

The government’s vaccine advisory committee has said that all people on the GP
Learning Disability Register should be invited for a COVID-19 vaccine as part of
priority group six. GP surgeries are contacting people about booking the vaccine.

A short film has also been produced by The Turning Tides Project, in partnership with NHS Devon and NHS England, to support people with learning disabilities to have the COVID-19 vaccine.

The film features ‘Michelle’ and her carer ‘Holly’ who were filmed at Mid Devon
Healthcare Primary Care Network’s vaccination site at Lords Meadow Leisure Centre in Crediton. 

When contacted for their vaccination, people with learning disabilities should let their GP or community learning disability nurse know if they need extra support or reasonable adjustments to make them feel more confident about having the vaccine.

COVID-19 vaccine

UK regulator confirms that people should continue to receive the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca

Following suspensions by some countries of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine over suspected blood clots, the government’s Medicines and Healthcare products
Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has confirmed that the benefits of the vaccine in preventing COVID-19 far outweigh the risks. People should still go and get their COVID-19 vaccine when invited to do so.

Following a rigorous scientific review of all the available data, the MHRA said that the available evidence does not suggest that blood clots in veins 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.

COVID certification

Have your say on COVID-status certification

The government is reviewing whether COVID-status certification could play a role in reopening our economy, reducing restrictions on social contact and improving safety as the UK recovers from the coronavirus outbreak.

COVID-status certification involves using testing or vaccination data to confirm that a person has a lower risk of getting sick with or transmitting COVID-19 to others. Such certification would be available both to vaccinated people and to unvaccinated people who have been tested.

The government will assess how effective certification would be in reducing risk, and its potential uses in enabling access to settings or relaxing COVID-secure measures.

The review is considering the ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational aspects of a possible certification scheme, and what limits, if any, should be placed on organisations using certification.

The consultation is open until 11.45pm on Monday 29 March. Please visit the government’s website for details on how to take part.

empty exam hall

Consultation on autumn exam series 2021

The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) has announced a two-week consultation on how an autumn exam series for GCSEs, AS and A levels should run this year.

They are keen to hear from students, teachers, exam boards and the wider education sector on the proposals, which include:

  • the autumn series being open to any student who entered or who had intended to enter to take exams in summer 2021
  • holding AS and A level exams in October and GCSE exams in November/early December
  • grades being determined by a student’s exam performance only
  • students being able to use the better of the summer or autumn grade
  • the use of the normal reviews of marking and appeal arrangements

The consultation follows the cancellation of GCSEs, AS and A level exams this summer because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. When the government set out its policy on how grades would be awarded it also confirmed it wanted students to have the opportunity to take exams in the autumn.

The consultation is open until Friday 9 April 2021.

Cars at traffic lights

A year like no other

It has been a year since people across the UK were told they should limit their non-essential contact with others and stop all unnecessary travel.

To mark this, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published research which looks at how the pandemic and the limiting of social contact has changed our lives over the past 12 months.

From deaths and the pressure on hospitals, to the number of hours worked and people’s rising fear of unemployment, the figures show how the past 12 months is like no other year.

Census 21 March 2021

The latest national advice on coronavirus (COVID-19) is available on the
government website and NHS website.

You can find local guidance and information about the impacts on our services on the Devon County Council website.