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Routine testing identifying asymptomatic COVID-19 cases in Devon, a plea to take up the vaccine to help protect others and we need families for brothers and sisters

There has been a slight rise in COVID-19 case numbers in Devon over the latest recorded week, although overall rates are still well below the national average. Case numbers are currently highest in the Exeter area, and case rates highest within the school age and working age population, with some household transmission. There have been very few outbreaks across the county, but where they have happened, case numbers have been small.

In this update:

  • Routine testing is identifying asymptomatic cases in Devon
  • Take up the vaccine to help protect others
  • Exeter’s COVID-19 vaccination centre moves to Greendale Business Park
  • We need families for brothers and sisters
  • Study shows drop in COVID-19 infections in schools
  • An invitation to get involved!

Routine testing is identifying asymptomatic COVID-19 cases in Devon

Coronavirus case numbers in Devon have risen slightly again this week. That’s to be expected though, because of the increase in regular testing of people without symptoms identifying cases that otherwise would have gone undetected.

These cases are picked up through routine rapid, lateral flow device (LFD) testing, either at our assisted mobile testing sites, or by people self-testing at home. 

Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, said: 

“Overall, coronavirus case numbers in Devon are still very low, which is good. But with restrictions continuing to gradually ease, it’s vital that everyone steps up their regular asymptomatic testing. 

“These rapid lateral flow device tests are important because they are identifying people without symptoms of coronavirus who otherwise wouldn’t know they’ve got it. It means they can then self-isolate, rather than unknowingly spreading the virus to others, particularly those more vulnerable.

“Please make twice-weekly COVID-19 testing, either at home or at a testing site, part of your regular routine. It doesn’t take long, and the results are usually back within the hour.”

We are working hard to make sure it is convenient to access symptom-free testing at a range of locations across Devon. You can:

To find out the days, times and locations of a testing centre near you, visit our website. It is regularly updated with any changes to the community testing service schedule so please check before you set off.

Take up the vaccine to help protect others

Evidence is building that suggests having the COVID-19 vaccine not only protects you from becoming seriously ill should you catch coronavirus, but it also reduces the likelihood of you transmitting it to others.

There’s been a lot of studies on the impact that the vaccine is having on our population. Analysis has found that infections reduced by 65 per cent after a single dose of the vaccine, and that people who have been vaccinated but still caught the virus, tend to have much milder symptoms.

But a study by Public Health England has also found that people who have been vaccinated and who go on to catch the virus, infect fewer people than those who have not had the vaccine.

It supports the principle that COVID-19 vaccines weaken the virus’s transmission, and therefore by getting vaccinated, you are helping to protect those around you too.

Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, said:

“We are learning more and more about the vaccines and their impact, not just on protecting the individuals who have had their jab, but also on the transmission of the virus.

“I know that younger people may think that they’re less likely to be seriously ill if they catch coronavirus because of their age and general good health, compared say to older and more vulnerable people. And that may be true.

“But don’t let that persuade you not to have the vaccine. You might still catch coronavirus, and studies are now suggesting that those who have been vaccinated are less likely to transmit the virus to other people. 

“Please take up the vaccine when it’s offered to you, if not just to protect you, but to also help protect others.”

Everyone aged 40 years old and over (or will turn 40 before 1 July 2021) is now being invited to book a life-saving COVID-19 jab. You can book your vaccination at the click of a button through the national booking service or by calling 119 if you can’t get online.

Exeter’s COVID-19 vaccination centre moves to Greendale Business Park

The large NHS COVID-19 vaccination centre at Westpoint in Exeter is moving to nearby Greendale Business Park tomorrow (Friday 7 May).

It comes as the vaccination programme enters its next phase and Westpoint starts to return to its commercial events calendar following the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Greendale is just over two miles from the existing site, and clear signage will be in place to guide people.

The dates and times of all existing first and second vaccine dose appointments booked for Westpoint will remain the same, just the venue will change. So if you have a vaccination appointment that you originally booked for Westpoint anytime from tomorrow (Friday 7 May) onward, please make sure that you go to the new site at Greendale Business Park on the date and time of your appointment. There is no need to contact the NHS.

Business at Greendale will remain open as normal while the vaccination centre is there and the site has been designed to ensure as little disruption as possible to customers over the coming months.

When you’re invited to, please book your vaccination through the national booking service or by calling 119 if you can’t get online.

Ofqual confirms autumn assessment arrangements

Students who receive a teacher assessed grade this summer will be eligible to take GCSE, AS or A level exams in the same subject in autumn 2021, Ofqual has confirmed.

This also applies to those students who exam boards believe would have sat exams in summer 2021 had they not been cancelled.

Following a consultation on the arrangements for this autumn’s GCSE, AS and A level exams, Ofqual has also decided that:

  • exam boards will have to offer exams in all GCSE and A level subjects and AS exams in biology, chemistry, further maths, maths and physics; exam boards will be able to offer AS exams in other subjects if they wish
  • exams will be in their normal format, with no adaptations made
  • grades will be determined by a student’s performance in an exam for all subjects, except for art and design qualifications
  • AS and A level exams will be held in October, while GCSE exams will take place in November and December.

We need families for brothers and sisters

We’ve all had time over the past year to think more about life, and to reflect on what is important. Many people have used this time to seize the opportunity and make that next step to adopting a child.

During lockdown Adopt South West, our regional adoption agency, received lots of enquiries from prospective parents, but now restrictions are easing and people’s focus is possibly elsewhere, the enquiries have dropped.

But there are still children in Devon waiting to be adopted, and just under half of them are in family groups of two or more siblings. Right now there are 20 sibling groups waiting to be adopted in Devon. On average siblings wait 17 months for their adoptive families, which is 36 per cent longer (or 135 days more) than individual children. 

Many potential adopters are concerned about the financial affordability of adopting brothers and sisters as well as not having enough space at home or that it would be too challenging. But there’s an irreplaceable bond between siblings, and most understandably want to stay together. While adopting a family group of children may be a daunting prospect, the benefits and rewards for both parents and children are huge.

There is a significant amount of support available to potential adopters and the vast majority of parents that adopted family groups say challenges are far outweighed by the positives. Many go as far to say that adopting brothers or sisters has been the most beneficial factor in their children’s adoption journey because together the siblings feel more reassured, have companionship and comfort and settle into family life more quickly.

If you can provide a safe, stable, and loving home for a child or children, and have a spare bedroom, we would be keen to hear from you. For more information, please visit the Adopt South West website or call 0345 155 1076.

Care homes residents allowed more out-of-home visits

All care home residents can participate in more out-of-home visits without having to isolate on their return.

Since Tuesday 4 May, residents have been able to leave their care homes to visit a friend or family member’s garden, or go on walks in places such as parks, public gardens and beaches without needing to self-isolate when they return.

Residents must be accompanied by either a care worker, or nominated visitor, and follow the government guidelines of washing hands regularly, keeping social distance, and remaining outside, in line with step two of the government’s roadmap.

The changes come as the data shows COVID-19 cases nationally continuing to fall, meaning it is now much safer for care home residents, who are among the most vulnerable to severe illness from coronavirus, to leave their homes. Keeping visits outdoors will ensure any risk is minimised as much as possible.

Each care home is unique and will have developed suitable plans and processes to protect residents, visitors and staff, so please speak to them directly to find out more about out-of-home visits for your loved one.

Study shows drop in COVID-19 infections in schools

The latest round of the government’s Schools Infection Survey (SIS) suggests a significant reduction in the percentage of secondary school pupils and staff testing positive for COVID-19 since schools reopened compared to last November.

The research is jointly led by Public Health England, the Office for National Statistics and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. They tested 7,271 secondary school pupils and 2,744 staff at schools from across 14 participating local authorities for COVID-19 between 15 and 31 March, just after schools in England fully reopened for all pupils.

The results found that 0.34% of secondary school pupils and 0.19% of secondary school staff tested positive for current coronavirus infection. 

The findings are reassuring and show the risk of transmission in schools is low. It also indicates the importance of public health measures in schools for reducing transmission, so lets keep up with the twice-weekly symptom free testing, regular hand washing, social distancing and wearing a face covering when required.

Schools in Devon are doing all they can, following government COVID-secure guidelines to minimise transmission of the virus. But we have seen some positive coronavirus cases among school-age children recently, so continued personal efforts are crucial to limit infections entering schools and preventing transmission within the school site.

Limit on mourners at funerals to be removed

Families and friends will shortly be able to gather to pay their respects to loved ones in greater numbers.

Under current restrictions funerals can go ahead with up to 30 people attending, but the government has announced that this legal limit on the number of mourners will be removed as part of step three of the roadmap, to take place from 17 May at the earliest. 

Instead, the number of people who can attend a funeral will be determined by how many people the venue, such as the relevant place of worship or funeral home, can safely accommodate with social distancing. This includes both indoor and outdoor venues. Capacities of venues will vary, but many will allow significantly more than 30 people to attend.

Limits for other life or commemorative events, such as weddings and wakes, are expected to remain at step three as set out in the government’s roadmap.

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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.