Positive COVID-19 case numbers across Devon are very stable at the moment and still much lower than the national average. The latest week’s data shows highest case rates among people aged under 40 years old and those in the South Hams area.
In this update:
- Hugs are back! But please remain cautious
- GO FOR THE FLOW – take twice-weekly rapid COVID-19 tests
- One million milestone reached in Devon as over 38s invited to book vaccination
- Devon schools encouraged to take learning outdoors
- Vaccination centre volunteers needed
- Update on face coverings for secondary schools
Hugs are back! But please remain cautious
After well over a year now of keeping our distance from those we don’t live with, many of us will be looking forward to giving our nearest and dearest a long awaited hug next week. But please remain cautious and continue to follow health protection measures where you can.
Even as restrictions ease, including the relaxing of social distancing rules between friends and family, the science still indicates that along with washing our hands regularly and wearing face coverings in enclosed public spaces, keeping your distance from others is an important measure in preventing the spread of coronavirus.
Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon said:
“The rules relax a bit more next week, but please remember the government has not given a green light to dropping social distancing completely just yet. It’s still an important measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus. From Monday we will be allowed to be close enough to friends and family members to hug, but my advice, and that of other public health professionals, is to err on the side of caution.
“The vaccine programme, while progressing well, has not reached all adults yet, and we know that one in every three people who catch coronavirus do not show any symptoms of having it. So there is still cause for us to be cautious, even among our closest friends and family.
“I also urge everyone to take the free rapid lateral flow device (LFD) COVID-19 tests twice a week – they’re quick, convenient, and can be done yourself at home, or with assistance at any of our mobile sites. Regular testing means that people with the virus, but without symptoms, can be identified quickly and can self-isolate, preventing the spread of the virus to other people.”
Easing of COVID-19 restrictions from Monday 17 May
The government has said their roadmap out of lockdown is on track and confirmed that the planned ‘step three’ easing of restrictions will go ahead on Monday 17 May.
It comes as the UK’s Chief Medical Officers recommended the country’s COVID-19 alert level move from level four down to level three. This means that, although coronavirus is still in general circulation, transmission is no longer high or rising exponentially, and so restrictions can gradually be relaxed.
So, from Monday 17 May:
- There’s new guidance on meeting friends and family which emphasises personal responsibility and caution rather than instructing you to stay two metres apart from anyone you don’t live with.
- You can socialise indoors in a group of up to six people or two households, including for overnight stays, and up to 30 people can meet outside.
- Indoor hospitality, such as restaurants, pubs, bars and cafes, can reopen. Venues will not have to serve a substantial meal with alcoholic drinks nor will there be a curfew. However, customers will have to order, eat and drink while seated.
- Indoor entertainment venues, including cinemas, museums, and children’s indoor play areas, can reopen with COVID-secure measures in place.
- Organised indoor sport, including group exercise classes, will be able to take place.
- All holiday accommodation, including hotels, hostels and B&Bs, can reopen and be used by groups of up to six people or two households of any size.
- Up to 30 people will be able to attend significant life events such as weddings, bar mitzvahs, christenings, receptions and wakes, depending on the capacity of the venue.
- Funeral attendance will no longer be limited to 30 people, but will be determined by how many people the COVID-secure venue can safely accommodate with social distancing.
- The government will also allow people to attend some larger performances and sporting events indoor and outdoor, with restricted numbers.
- Care home residents will be allowed up to five named visitors (two at any one time), provided visitors test negative for COVID-19.
- There will no longer be a legal restriction on travelling abroad, but a traffic light system with strict testing and quarantine rules depending on whether you return to England from a red, amber or green list country.
- You should continue to work from home if you can. When travelling within the UK, you should aim to do so safely and plan your journey in advance.
GO FOR THE FLOW and take twice-weekly rapid COVID-19 tests
We’ve all been doing our bit for Devon since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone has played their part, and together we’re edging closer to normality. But it’s important for us to continue keeping each other safe as restrictions across the county are easing.
One way you can do this is to ‘GO FOR THE FLOW’ and take rapid COVID-19 tests (known as lateral flow device (LFD) tests) twice a week.
It’s because one in three people who catch coronavirus don’t show any symptoms, meaning they could spread it without realising. These rapid tests help detect such cases so they can self-isolate and reduce the risk of passing the virus on, especially to someone more vulnerable.
We want everyone to feel as safe as possible as the coronavirus restrictions continue to ease. That’s why, to prevent further transmission of the virus, we’re encouraging everyone in Devon over the age of 16 to include twice-weekly rapid lateral flow testing as part of their routine. It’s free, painless and the results are available within the hour.
Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, said:
“You might think it’s inconvenient, but for the sake of a few minutes out of your day, you will be helping to control the spread of the virus and keep Devon safe.
“Before you head out – to see friends or family, to the shops or the pub, take a rapid COVID-19 test… just to be safe.
“Case rates throughout Devon remain low, but with restrictions lifting and socialising returning, now is the time to remain vigilant. If we can all participate in regular symptom free testing as a part of our routine – like taking the bins out, or popping to the shop – then I’m optimistic about a better summer and a brighter future for us all.”
One million milestone reached in Devon as over 38s invited to book vaccination
Two-thirds of UK adults have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and in Devon vaccinations have passed the one million milestone.
Residents aged over 38 years old are now being invited to book their vaccination appointments via the NHS website or by calling 119.
Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the preferred vaccines for pregnant women of any age who are coming for their first dose, and improvements to the National Booking Service mean that, following a series of screening questions, they can now book appointments at sites that offer those vaccines.
Following a review of evidence and with the latest advice, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised a preference for adults aged 30 to 39, who don’t have any underlying health conditions, to receive an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine where available, and only if this does not cause substantial delays in being vaccinated.
The NHS in Devon and Healthwatch are currently working together to ask adults under 40 years old to share their views on the vaccination, so that they can understand what, if any, barriers there might be to uptake among younger people. They’re asking people between 19 and 40 years of age, who have not yet had their vaccination, to take a few minutes to complete a short survey.
If you are eligible for a vaccination, you can use the National Booking Service website or call 119 to make an appointment. People in many areas of Devon will also be contacted by their GP practice about an appointment.
Update on face coverings for secondary schools
From Monday 17 May, in line with step three of the government’s roadmap, face coverings will no longer be recommended for pupils in classrooms or communal areas in schools.
However, children and young people aged 11 years old and over must still wear a face covering on public transport and when travelling on dedicated secondary school or college transport, unless exempt.
Face coverings will also no longer be recommended for staff in classrooms, however they still should be worn by staff and visitors in situations outside of classrooms where social distancing is not possible, for example when moving around in corridors and communal areas.
College students may be asked to wear face coverings where the teaching setting is more similar to, or is, a workplace environment or where students are likely to come into contact with other members of the public.
More restrictions eased for care homes
From Monday 17 May care home residents will be able to have more named visitors and more opportunities to make visits out with no need to self-isolate when they return.
As part of step three of the government’s roadmap, the number of named family members or friends able to visit their loved ones in care homes will be increased from two to five, as the visiting restrictions continue to ease. A maximum of two visitors will be allowed at any one time or on any given day.
This follows a reduction in COVID-19 cases and the ongoing successful vaccine rollout with 95% of older care home residents receiving their first jab.
As well as low-risk outdoor visits out, such as a trip to the park, a garden or the beach, residents will also be able to go to medical appointments, a workplace, educational setting and day centres without having to self-isolate on their return.
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 visiting your loved one safely.
Guide for students released by Ofqual
Students taking GCSEs, A levels and many other qualifications this year are being offered important support with a new guide from qualifications regulator Ofqual.
The easy-to-use ‘Student guide to awarding: summer 2021’ contains advice on where students in England and their families can go for more information and support, including with mental health concerns, and reminds students, parents and carers not to put teachers under pressure over grading, please.
This year students will only be assessed on what they have been taught because of differing levels of lost learning due to COVID-19-related disruption. The arrangements follow a public consultation in January, which attracted more than 100,000 responses – mainly from students, parents, carers and teachers.
GCSEs, A levels and AS levels will be graded by teachers’ judgements using evidence from mocks, tests, coursework, or other work. They will be signed off by school, college and department heads before going to the relevant exam board no later than Friday 18 June.
Schools, colleges and exam boards will then carry out quality assurance checks so that students, their parents, employers and the wider public can have confidence in how this summer’s grades are determined. After grading, all centres will send samples of some students’ work to exam boards, which will carry out further checks at random or where there are concerns.
The new guide also outlines how students can appeal if they believe a grade is wrong. For most qualifications, students will have the option of sitting exams this autumn to improve their summer grade.
Arrangements for many vocational and technical qualifications follow similar principles, although assessments will still be needed for qualifications that require students to demonstrate occupational or professional competence or proficiency. This is explained further in the guide and Ofqual’s qualification explainer tool. The guide also contains advice for private candidates, who do not study in a school or college, such as home educated students.
Vaccination centre volunteers needed
With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions allowing many people to return to work, vaccination centres in Exeter and Plymouth need to recruit some more volunteers to help things run smoothly.
The stewarding role involves work inside and outside doing things like directing people as they arrive and leave and checking their appointment details.
Shifts are currently 8.00am to noon; noon to 4.00pm and 4.00pm to 8.00pm. Days and shift allocation can be arranged to suit you once applications are processed.
Applications for both sites can be made via the Our Plymouth website, and because so many people have now had at least their first jab, there is less risk faced by older age groups, which means offers of volunteering can be accepted from those aged over 69 years old.
Devon schools encouraged to take learning outdoors
Schools across Devon are being encouraged to take lessons outside next Thursday (20 May) as part of Outdoor Classroom Day.
The pandemic has reminded us all of how important spending time in nature is for both physical and mental health.
Outdoor Classroom Day is a global movement aiming to make time outdoors part of every child’s day. Thousands of pupils in Devon have taken part since it first started in 2012.
The Devon Local Nature Partnership is encouraging schools to get involved. Their website has a map of providers that can support schools in getting their class learning outside.
Devon County Council’s Head of Education, Dawn Stabb, said:
“Many Devon schools already make outdoor learning an integral part of their curriculum with forest schools, gardening clubs and a whole range of learning experiences.
“But this past year has reminded us all how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place as Devon but, also, how important getting outdoors has been for both our physical and mental health.
“I hope more Devon schools than ever will find the time to mark Outdoor Classroom Day this year.”
New enterprise centre to launch in June
A new Enterprise Centre on the outskirts of Barnstaple will be opening next month.
It’s a centre designed to offer flexible office accommodation for small and medium size businesses that are looking to grow. That includes start-ups, freelancers and local workers in Barnstaple and the surrounding areas of North Devon.
It’s an exciting development for Devon’s economy, because of the devastating impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on local businesses.
The enterprise centre is called Node, and it’s been built on our Roundswell Enterprise Park development. It has space for 37 small and medium offices, a co-working space for up to 50 people, and a number of meeting rooms.
It’s being run on our behalf by TownSq, which has a proven track record in supporting the development of vibrant start-up business communities across England and Wales. They’ve recently appointed its Community Manager, Julian Dymond. He’ll be responsible for finding and supporting new members, sourcing and organising business mentors, arranging events and the general day-to-day running of the hub. He said:
“It’s not just about having somewhere different to work. We support our members with a number of different mentoring and workshop schemes, and I’d encourage anyone with an idea or a desire to start their own business to get in touch with us.”
All remaining university students to return to in-person teaching
The government has confirmed that all remaining university students can return to in-person teaching from Monday 17 May.
Some students, including those doing practical courses such as science and engineering, and who need to access specialist facilities and equipment, are already back on campus.
Before returning, students are encouraged to take a free COVID-19 test either through home or community testing at least one day before they travel back to their term time accommodation. And when they arrive, they will be encouraged to take three free supervised lateral flow devices (LFD) tests, three to four days apart, at an on-campus asymptomatic testing site, and will be expected to be tested twice a week throughout the rest of the summer term. Home testing kits will be available to help those who are unable to attend the on-campus testing facilities.
And finally… Give yourself a big hand
It was World Hand Hygiene Day this month.
Washing our hands regularly and properly is still a huge part of the way that we prevent the spread of coronavirus. We mustn’t forget it.
Try to make it part of your day, especially when you’ve been out and about.
To mark the day, the Community Infection Management Service in East Devon invited care home providers to take part in a short video. You can watch it on YouTube.
You can find local guidance and information about the impacts on our services on the Devon County Council website.