Positive cases of coronavirus remain stable in Devon, with the county’s rates of eight cases per 100,000 population being well below England’s average of 21 positive cases per 100,000.
We are still experiencing isolated outbreaks in some settings, but with little evidence of the virus transmitting within those local communities. Rates are currently highest in the South Hams area. Although positive cases range across broad age groups in Devon, case rates are currently highest among our youngest population, 0 to 19 year olds.
In this update:
- Let’s be cautious over the next few weeks
- Most vulnerable offered second dose of COVID-19 vaccine earlier to help protect against variants
- Let in fresh air when meeting others indoors to reduce the spread of COVID-19
- We’re all going on a summer holiday, carefully
Let’s be cautious over the next few weeks
There’s been a significant easing of coronavirus restrictions this week, the biggest being that it is now your choice about whether to keep your distance when meeting family and friends you don’t live with.
“While coronavirus is still present in our communities, and people are still at risk of catching it and spreading it, the common sense approach is the cautious approach.
“Around one in three people who catch coronavirus do not show symptoms, so can spread the virus to others without knowing.
“And while vaccines reduce the chances of catching COVID-19 and passing it on, and of serious illness, they do not eliminate the risk as protection against the virus is not guaranteed.
“I ask people to remain ever vigilant of risk as we take in the latest easing of restrictions. We are allowed to do a little bit more now, but just because we can, doesn’t mean we must.”
You can find out more about the latest easing of coronavirus restrictions and what you can and can’t do at the moment on the government’s website.
No COVID-19 symptoms? Make twice-weekly lateral flow tests part of your routine just in case
With cases of COVID-19 continuing to decline across the county and lockdown restrictions being eased, it’s easy to think there’s very little danger of catching it.
But the recent easing of lockdown rules allowing us to socialise more, particularly indoors, mean we all need to continue with the efforts we’ve made so far to prevent case rates rising again.
As well as hands, face, space, fresh air, we also need to remember twice-weekly rapid lateral flow device (LFD) tests as part of our routine.
Regular mass testing of people without COVID-19 symptoms remains vital to helping prevent the spread of coronavirus in our communities as it allows people to check if they have the virus and are spreading it unknowingly.
The tests are free and can be picked up from community testing sites, pharmacies or sent through the post. They involve swabbing your nose and throat, adding the swab to a solution and then putting that solution into a small white device a bit like a pregnancy test that gives you a positive or negative reading within 30 minutes.
Steve Brown, Devon’s Director of Public Health, said:
“We are all in this together, and that includes everyone regularly taking a rapid lateral flow COVID-19 test to help keep friends and family safe, and prevent the spread of coronavirus in Devon.
“Even if you do not have symptoms you could still have the virus and be spreading it without realising. The only way to find out is through these rapid COVID-19 tests. They are quick, easy and free, so really there’s no reason not to do them.
“It’s important to stress that a negative test result isn’t a free pass to do whatever your like – you should still follow the national guidelines around social distancing, face coverings and hand washing.
“And even if you have been vaccinated you should still take regular rapid COVID-19 tests and stick to the rules to help keep yourself and everyone safe.”
For more information, including how to get a test to check if you have coronavirus, whether you have symptoms or not, please visit our website.
Most vulnerable offered second dose of COVID-19 vaccine earlier to help protect against variants
Second doses of the COVID-19 vaccination are being offered to the most vulnerable people earlier as part of the government’s plans to tackle rising cases of the B1.617.2 variant of concern, first identified in India.
Appointments for a second dose of a vaccine will be brought forward from twelve to eight weeks for people aged over 50 years old, frontline health and social care workers and people who are in at-risk groups (vaccination priority groups one to nine).
The news follows updated advice from the independent experts at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). They have considered the latest available evidence on the variant and recommended reducing the dosing interval to help ensure people across the UK have the strongest possible protection from the virus at an earlier opportunity.
Residents in vaccination priority groups one to nine, who have an appointment before Tuesday 25 May should attend as planned. Those with later appointments will be contacted as soon as possible to make new arrangements. There is no need to contact your GP or vaccination centre, please be patient and wait for them to contact you.
People who used the National Booking Service will receive a text message prompting them to cancel their existing second appointment and rebook an earlier one. There are currently plenty of appointments available and new appointments are being added regularly, so please keep checking.
Those not in vaccination priority groups one to nine will continue to get their first dose, with their second dose at 12 weeks in line with the current vaccine strategy.
Let in fresh air when meeting others indoors to reduce the spread of COVID-19
Now that groups of six people or two households of any size are once again able to meet indoors, and indoor hospitality, leisure and entertainment industries are reopening, it’s likely that we will begin to spend more time with friends and family inside.
Please remember, when you let friends in, let fresh air in too. It’s because fresh air helps disperse infected COVID-19 droplets in the air that may carry the virus, reducing the risk of infection.
You could open windows for short, sharp bursts of 10 to 15 minutes regularly throughout the day or leave windows open a small amount continuously to help remove any infected particles lingering in the room.
The government has produced a short film to show how coronavirus lingers in the air in spaces with no fresh air, increasing the risk of people breathing in infected particles, and how the risk can be reduced significantly by regularly ventilating enclosed areas. You can watch the video here on Vimeo.
Testing is essential to detect COVID-19 and prevent onward transmission
People who have had their vaccination(s) are more protected from becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, and early evidence suggests that the vaccine can also prevent a person’s ability to transmit the virus.
But there are no guarantees and we don’t know how effective the current vaccines may be against unknown variants of the virus.
So whether or not we have had the vaccine, we should all continue to assume that transmission is possible and keep following infection, prevention and control guidance.
Regular testing for people who show no symptoms of having the virus is one of the main ways that we can detect COVID-19 and prevent onward transmission.
The Chief Medical Director for England, Professor Steve Powis, and Professor Jo Martin, National Specialty Advisor for Pathology for England, have both spoken out about the importance of regular testing.
And our Director of Public Health Devon, Steve Brown, wants us all to make testing part of our regular week by building it into our routines.
We’re all going on a summer holiday, carefully
The ‘stay in the UK’ order was lifted on Monday 17 May, meaning people can now travel abroad for leisure. But strict border control measures, including testing and quarantine, remain in place.
Different levels of restriction apply to those returning to England from countries based on the traffic light system, which will be regularly reviewed and informed by public health advice.
People are being guided on where they can safely visit without needing to quarantine when they return to England, with a ‘green list’ of countries. People should not travel to ‘amber’ and ‘red’ countries for leisure.
Ten-day managed hotel quarantine requirements will remain in place for those permitted to return to England from ‘red’ countries, and quarantine at home alongside stringent testing will be required for those returning from ‘amber’ destinations.
People in England who have had both vaccine doses will be able to demonstrate their COVID-19 vaccination status via the NHS app. Those without access to the app can request a letter from the NHS proving their vaccination status by calling 119. GPs cannot provide letters showing your COVID-19 vaccination status.
The government has also published the Passenger COVID-19 Charter, detailing how holidaymakers can travel safely this summer. It includes information on passenger rights and responsibilities, what to do if things go wrong and how to stay safe abroad.
Don’t forget, all holiday accommodation, including hotels, hostels and B&Bs, can reopen in England now and can be used by groups of up to six people or two households of any size at the moment, so if you don’t fancy hopping on a plane just yet, you could plan a staycation.
With tourism and hospitality opening up, what can I expect this holiday season?
With the reopening of pubs and restaurants and an option to ease social distancing among family and friends, many will be planning a holiday this upcoming May half term break.
The public health advice is still to exercise caution, and that while restrictions have eased, it’s still sensible to take precautions to minimise risk to yourselves and others.
So if you’re planning a short break please continue those habits, wherever you’re going – social distancing where appropriate, wearing face coverings when indoors in public places, and washing your hands properly and regularly.
Holiday breaks are great, and time outdoors is brilliant for bodies and minds, as mentioned in our bulletin last week. But there’s more to factor in when thinking about your holidays this year.
We’ve posted some answers to questions that you may have when planning a holiday.
The pharmacist will see you now
Local pharmacies can provide expert advice and a fast route to medication for minor ailments like aches and pains, sore throat, coughs, colds, flu-like symptoms, runny noses, earache and skin rashes.
Pharmacies are open until late and at weekends with no need for an appointment, so they should always be considered as first port of call for common ailments. Most pharmacies also have a confidential consulting area for privacy.
In addition, Devon’s Pharmacy First scheme means that trained pharmacists in participating branches can issue medication which normally has to be prescribed by a GP for urinary tract infections (UTI) for women aged 18-64; impetigo; nappy rash and conjunctivitis for one-year-olds.
Pharmacists can also access basic information about a patient’s health and medication if the patient gives them permission to view their Summary Health Record.
Lets talk about apps!
There are reports this week about the NHS app and why it’s especially important to people wanting to travel abroad, because it will document whether you have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine.
The NHS app is not a new app – it’s the same app that people are already able to use to book doctor’s appointments and order repeat prescriptions.
But it’s now also able to show if you’re fully vaccinated against coronavirus. In fact, the app has two new options, to share your COVID-19 status and check your COVID-19 vaccine record.
This development is really important for travellers because some countries make proof of vaccination one of the requirements before entry. You can download the NHS app via the NHS website.
Separately, and not to be confused with the NHS app, the NHS COVID-19 app is a different app that we are all still encouraged to use when ‘checking in’ at locations and venues.
The NHS COVID-19 app is the ‘track and trace’ app. This is the app that we are encouraged to use to scan the QR codes at doors or entrances of pubs, restaurants, cafes and shops. The purpose of this is so that, should you be in close vicinity of someone who tests positive for coronavirus while you’re out and about, you’ll get a notification about it with further advice of what to do next.
The NHS COVID-19 app is still important because it helps us break the chain of infection by advising people to get tested and to self-isolate pending the result, should they have been in close enough contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. You can download the NHS COVID-19 app via the NHS website.
‘We Offer Testing to our Staff’ scheme launched
A new sticker scheme has been launched by the government to allow businesses to show customers, employees and the wider public that they are testing their staff regularly and going the extra mile to keep everyone safe.
Businesses that offer free rapid workplace testing to staff, either through on-site testing or workplace test collection, can download posters and stickers to display on their website and premises to demonstrate that the health of staff, customers and their local communities is a top priority.
Around one in three people with COVID-19 show no symptoms, so anyone could be spreading it without knowing. Regular testing helps identify staff who are carrying the virus without displaying symptoms, reducing the risk of transmission.
In addition to workplace testing, business owners and staff should all follow essential behaviours such as ‘Hands, Face, Space, Fresh Air’ and, where applicable, check customers and visitors in using the NHS COVID-19 app.
You can find local guidance and information about the impacts on our services on the Devon County Council website.