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Get your free rapid COVID-19 tests, car sharing linked to increase in workplace COVID-19 outbreaks in Devon and new fund launched to boost local economy and tackle inequality 

Positive coronavirus case rates in Devon have continued to fall across the county and in all age groups. Levels now are similar to those seen last September, but still higher than they were during the summer. However, we are seeing some outbreaks across Devon in work settings, caused in many cases by car sharing.

In this update:

  • COVID-19 restrictions – what can I do now?
  • New fund launched to boost local economy and tackle inequality 
  • Meal boxes delivered to families with young children across Devon
  • Next phase of vaccine roll-out starts early so if you’re aged 45 to 49 book now!
  • Car sharing linked to increase in workplace COVID-19 outbreaks in Devon
  • Have you got your free rapid COVID-19 tests yet?

COVID-19 restrictions – what can I do now?

This week we’ve been able to do a little bit more as COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease in line with the government’s roadmap.

Residents across Devon have been visiting local high streets, getting back to the gym, enjoying beer gardens and sorting out lockdown locks with long awaited haircuts.

However, many restrictions remain in place, and are underpinned by law, so don’t get carried away just yet. 

You must not socialise indoors with anyone you do not live with, unless you have formed a support bubble with them, or another exemption applies. Stick to meeting outdoors for now, in groups of up to six people or two households of any size.

Tina Henry, Deputy Director of Public Health Devon, said:

“We welcome the easing of restrictions and the opportunities it presents to re-start our local economy, but urge people to remain vigilant and to continue to act responsibly.

“Devon is still in a good place, with one of the very lowest rates of coronavirus in England. But we must stay alert as the virus is still circulating in our communities.

“Please do not be tempted to move too fast. We are not yet in normal times, and we must not allow ourselves to behave as if we are. To keep case rates down in Devon, we must all continue to follow the rules, and support each other to stay safe and well. And that way, help us to recover quicker.”Find out more about what you can and cannot do at the moment on the government website.

New Community Renewal Fund launched to boost local economy and tackle inequality 

A new national fund has been set up to help kickstart local economies. Applications for funding opened in Devon this week. 

We’re looking for organisations with great ideas to help boost Devon’s economy, and help people and businesses hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. 

It’s to encourage innovative schemes that will invest in skills, help people into employment, supporting local businesses to grow and develop, and help local communities become more resilient and sustainable. 

And specifically we’re inviting bids in line with set priorities – key themes include digital inclusion; schemes that encourage business and employment growth in sectors such green engineering, health and agritech; encourage entrepreneurship and business start-ups; and that focus on the green economy. 

The Community Renewal Fund is a one-year pilot, potentially worth up £24m across Devon this year, and is a trial for the Government’s ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’. 

Interested organisations are being encouraged to find out more and make bids via our website.

Meal boxes delivered to families with young children across Devon

We’re delivering two thousand meal boxes to families with young children this Easter holiday in an initiative designed to help those who are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.

We’ve called them Goodie Boxes, and they include ingredients and simple recipes for a range of tasty and nutritional meals. They also include a fun book with activities and useful information, and cress seeds for planting.

There are tips on how to swap or add ingredients, advice on healthy eating and how to prevent food waste. The ingredients are widely available, and many are consistent with food available for purchase with Healthy Start vouchers (should families be eligible).

Ruby Entwistle of Public Health Devon, and coordinator for the Goodie Box initiative, said:

“We know a lot of families with very young children have found the coronavirus pandemic extremely challenging. Many families’ incomes have changed and they have been faced with new sources of stress, which can affect both mental and physical health. These pressures can make it difficult for families to eat healthily.

“The Goodie Boxes are designed to help connect children and parents with food, and provide some inspiration for recipes which are healthy for people and planet. The recipes themselves are simple, and good fun for families to make together. And there are tips on how to eat up the leftovers, so that there’s no food wasted.

“So these boxes are about eating well, but they’re also about having fun as a family and learning important skills, from planning and preparing healthy meals, to minimising food waste.” The Goodie Boxes have gone down extremely well with families. You can read what they said on our website. We’ve also shared all the Goodie Box recipes online too.

Next phase of vaccine roll-out starts early so if you’re aged 45 to 49 book now!

Due to the incredible efforts of vaccination teams across the country, including here in Devon, the government has confirmed that everyone in priority groups one to nine (those aged 50 and over, health and care workers and clinically vulnerable) have now been offered a vaccine.

These groups accounts for 99 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic, so offering them the vaccine first means the most vulnerable are protected from the virus.

The latest figures show that more than 650,000 people in Devon have been given their first dose of the vaccine, which includes 90 per cent of all adults aged over 50 years old.

The rollout has been boosted by the first delivery of the Moderna vaccine in Devon this week, and now phase two of the vaccination programme is underway with people aged 45 to 49 years old being invited to book their appointments through the NHS booking service

The NHS will continue to offer vaccines to people in priority groups one to nine who have not yet come forward and will also be contacting people about getting their second doses within 12 weeks of their first jab. 

The speed of the vaccination programme means even more people will soon develop strong protection from getting seriously ill if they catch COVID-19. This will save countless lives and significantly reducing pressure on the NHS, which supports the Prime Minister’s roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions.

All vaccines being used in the UK have undergone robust clinical trials and have met the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s (MHRA’s) strict standards of safety, effectiveness and quality.

The vaccines are available free of charge from thousands of NHS vaccine centres, GP practices and pharmacies and we strongly encourage you to have the jab when offered. 

Car sharing advice

Car sharing linked to increase in workplace COVID-19 outbreaks in Devon

While the number of positive cases of coronavirus in Devon remain relatively low, and well below the national average, we are still seeing a number of outbreaks in work places.

Cases are spreading between colleagues, and it’s often not because of the work place practices themselves, it’s more a consequence of social interaction between colleagues who are car sharing.

Car sharing is not permitted with someone from outside your household or your support bubble unless your journey is undertaken for an exempt reason, for example, if car sharing is reasonably necessary as part of your work.

The best option is not to car share because it is difficult to socially distance, but if you have an exempt reason to car share, please do everything you can to minimise the risk of catching and spreading the virus between passengers. You can reduce the risk of transmission by:

  • sharing the transport with the same people each time
  • minimising the group size at any one time
  • opening windows for ventilation
  • travelling side by side or behind other people, rather than facing them, where seating arrangements allow
  • facing away from each other
  • considering seating arrangements to maximise distance between people in the vehicle
  • cleaning your car between journeys using standard cleaning products – make sure you clean door handles and other areas that people may touch
  • asking the driver and passengers to wear a face covering.
lateral flow test

Have you got your free rapid COVID-19 tests yet?

Alongside the vaccination rollout, regular testing of people without symptoms of coronavirus is at the heart of easing restrictions and reopening society and the economy safely.

It’s so as many positive cases as possible can be found and isolated to stop the virus spreading, particularly as one in three people don’t know they’ve got it as they don’t have any symptoms so could be passing it on without realising. 

That’s why every adult in England is being encouraged to take a free rapid COVID-19 test (known as a lateral flow device (LFD) test) twice a week. They are easy, quick and convenient, and the results are usually available to you within the hour. 

We are running a mobile community testing service in Devon so you can get tested or collect home-testing kits at a range of locations across the county. We’ve published a timetable on our website, but please bear in mind that this schedule is subject to change as we make new locations available and to accommodate any operational issues. To avoid disappointment, please check our website each time you plan a visit.

You can also order home-testing kits from the NHS by post or collect home-testing kits from NHS testing locations, and any of the 133 pharmacies that are part of the Pharmacy Collect scheme so far.

If the test is negative, you can carry on with your day while still following the public health guidance about social distancing, hand washing and wearing face coverings. If the test is positive, you need to self-isolate immediately and arrange a confirmatory PCR test via the NHS. 

Remember, these rapid lateral flow tests are to be taken regularly if you do not have any symptoms of coronavirus. If you do develop any symptoms, you should immediately self-isolate and arrange a PCR test via the NHS.

COVID-19 test

Reminder to take COVID-19 tests before returning to school or college next week

Secondary school pupils and college students are being reminded to take their lateral flow device (LFD) COVID-19 tests before returning to the classroom next week.

This twice weekly testing, which is available to everyone without COVID-19 symptoms, helps identify positive cases that would otherwise have gone undetected.

For schools and colleges this means reducing the likelihood of positive cases spreading and leading to whole class bubbles having to isolate, which disrupts face-to-face teaching. 

It’s important to ensure the rapid COVID-19 tests are taken as close to the start of the summer term as possible to minimise the risk of the virus being brought in to school or college and spreading when everyone goes back next week.

crowd of people connected by dots

We’re contact tracing in Devon

We’ve been supporting the national NHS Test and Trace service for some time, contacting people in Devon who have tested positive for coronavirus. We’re doing that to identify others who they’ve been in contact with and providing advice and support to people who need to self-isolate.

Until recently, we’ve shared that task with the national tracing team, and they have started the tracing process. But now, we are contacting cases in Devon immediately. We’re finding that the local number and knowledge is proving invaluable to identify potential outbreaks and signpost to local support.

We’ve contacted hundreds of people since we started. The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has recommended that at least 80 per cent of close contacts of positive cases must be reached for the contact tracing system to be effective. We’re doing better than that. In Devon, we’re successfully reaching around 90 per cent of people who tested positive. We still work within the national system to ensure information across our boundaries is shared.

Enjoy Iftars safely

Reassurance given over receiving COVID-19 vaccination during Ramadan

Ramadan is one of the holiest months of the Islamic lunar calendar, and this year is from Monday 12 April to Wednesday 12 May. 

With COVID-19 restrictions still ongoing, Ramadan will once again be a very different experience for Muslims in Devon, with many of the usual practices normally observed, such as going to the mosque for Iftar and visiting friends and family indoors, sadly will still not be possible.

The Muslim Council of Britain has published guidelines, advice and signposting resources to help people make the most of the blessed month while staying safe and supporting the fight against coronavirus.

Medical leaders and Islamic scholars have also stressed that Ramadan should not stop anyone from getting the COVID-19 vaccination and that the jab does not break the fast observed by Muslims during daylight hours. 

The British Islamic Medical Association, an affiliate of the Muslim Council of Britain, has issued specific advice recommending the vaccine and reassuring people it is okay to have during Ramadan as it is not nutritional, nor does it contain any animal or foetal products.

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 when you’re invited to is the best way of protecting yourself and your loved ones. It could help save your life so it is vital you don’t delay your appointment. If you have concerns about the vaccine, please talk to a healthcare professional and make an informed decision.

We extend our best wishes to all for the month of Ramadan – Ramadan Mubarak.

Register to vote

Elections are coming – don’t lose your chance to vote

Coronavirus has changed a lot of things over the last year, but it won’t stop you from being able to vote in the local elections on Thursday 6 May – only not being registered to vote will do that!

You only have until 11.59pm on Monday 19 April to make sure you are registered to vote. You only need to register to vote if you have never voted in a UK election before, or if you have moved home since the last election.

There are a number of ways to vote, including voting by post, voting by proxy (by asking someone trusted to vote on your behalf), or voting in person at a polling station.

This year it is advised that those who can, vote by post. Once you are registered to vote, the deadline to apply for a postal vote is 5.00pm on Tuesday 20 April.

Polling stations will still be open, and measures will be in place to ensure that they are COVID-secure. These measures will include social distancing and availability of hand-sanitiser, as well as asking voters to wear a mask and bring their own pencil to use on their ballot paper.

You can find out more about using your voice in the Devon County Council elections on Thursday 6 May on our website.

Lets take this next step safely

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.