Positive cases of coronavirus remain stable in Devon, with the latest rate of nine cases per 100,000 being well below the 24 cases per 100,000 seen nationally.
We are experiencing isolated outbreaks in some settings but with little evidence of the virus transmitting widely within those local communities.
Across Devon positive case numbers are low compared to previous months in all age groups, although rates are slightly higher in those aged under 40 years old. Case rates are currently highest in the South Hams area.
In this update:
- Enjoy the bank holiday and half-term break safely
- Advice if you’re travelling to areas of the UK where the new variant of concern is spreading
- Rise in COVID-19 cases in the South Hams
- Drive to combat children’s holiday hunger in Devon gets £250,000 boost
- 30 year olds now invited to book COVID-19 vaccine
- Getting the help you need this bank holiday weekend
Enjoy the bank holiday and half-term break safely
It’s a bank holiday this weekend, followed by the May half-term break next week, and we are encouraging everyone to enjoy the time safely, whether at home or away, by continuing to follow the advice and guidance to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
This includes the familiar social distancing, regular hand washing, wearing a face covering when required, but also making sure you know what the latest rules are for socialising and following COVID-secure guidelines if you are visiting places like shops and restaurants.
We can meet with people we don’t live with indoors now, in groups of up to six from any number of households, or a group of any size from just two households, which is a big step. But remember socialising outdoors is always the safest option where possible, and we can meet outside in groups of up to 30 people. If you are having visitors or visiting others, make sure you let fresh air in.
You should also add that extra layer of safety and take a free rapid lateral flow device (LFD) test to check you don’t have coronavirus before you see more people and travel further, just in case you do and you spread it unknowingly. They are quick and easy to do and making them part of your regular weekly routine – especially when catching up with friends and family – will help to identify positive cases among people who may not be showing symptoms, so that they can self-isolate.
Secondary school pupils, college students and staff working in all education settings have been taking these tests regularly for a while now. Even though schools and colleges are closed for the half-term holiday, please continue to take your lateral flow tests twice a week and report your results. And don’t forget to test the night before or morning of the first day back.
With tourism and hospitality reopening, many will be planning a holiday this bank holiday and half-term, so we’ve rounded up some commonly asked questions so you know what to expect.
Advice if planning to travel to areas of the UK where the new variant of concern is spreading
There are no known cases of the new variant of coronavirus (COVID-19) within Devon at the moment, but as people plan to visit friends and families during the half term holiday, Public Health Devon is advising people to be cautious.
The new variant, which was first identified in India, spreads more easily between people.
Currently cases are highest in council areas of Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Bolton, Burnley, Kirklees, Leicester, London Borough of Hounslow, and North Tyneside.
Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, said:
“If you must travel to any of those locations, please be extra cautious.
“Try to meet outside with family or friends rather than inside where possible. And please keep two metres apart from people that you don’t live with, unless you have formed a support bubble with them.
“If you are away visiting friends and family this holiday, remember to take tests with you, and take them again on your return home. Testing and self-isolating if positive are how we stop the virus spreading.”
We also would like people to make getting tested regularly, using the rapid lateral flow device tests, a routine part of their week.
So, when you know you’re going to meet up with friends, please take a few moments earlier in the day to take a test first. You’ll know the results within half an hour, and it might prevent you from unknowingly spreading the virus to others. These tests are really quick and easy to do, and they are free.
Rise in COVID-19 cases in the South Hams
Positive cases of coronavirus remain stable in Devon, and well below the national average in most areas.
But there’s been a rise in cases in the South Hams over the last week or so, and the rate there is now 25.3 per 100,000 which is slightly above the national rate of 22.5 per 100,000.
Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon said:
“We have a low coronavirus case rate across Devon, and that is thanks to the effort everyone continues to put in to complying with the restrictions and following the guidance around regular asymptomatic testing, social distancing, hand washing and wearing a face covering when required.
“We need to be cautious though, because outbreaks can and do still happen and when numbers are low, even a small rise can cause a big jump the case rate.
“There’s a spike in cases in the South Hams at the moment because of a small outbreak in a school. It’s being well managed by the school and our public health team.
“Although the number of cases in the rest of the South Hams is still comparatively low and all other cases in the area are single positive cases, it highlights the importance of continuing to take care as restrictions ease to reduce the risk of catching or transmitting the virus as much as possible.”
Drive to combat children’s holiday hunger in Devon gets £250,000 boost
Almost 17,000 food vouchers worth over a quarter of a million pounds are being distributed to families this half-term as we continue to combat holiday hunger in Devon.
Families of children currently receiving free school meals have automatically been sent supermarket vouchers to help them buy food over the holiday to replace the meals their children would normally have in school.
The vouchers – worth £15 a week for each child – can be redeemed in major supermarkets across Devon and arrangements are in place for families who cannot get to a supermarket.
If your child currently receives free schools meals you should have your vouchers for the upcoming May half-term holiday already – please get in touch with us as soon as possible if you don’t yet have them. Also, don’t forget to redeem your Easter vouchers before they expire.
The coronavirus pandemic has put a real strain on many family budgets and many have seen their financial circumstances change suddenly. We’ve seen a big increase in the number of families claiming free school meals over this last year.
If you didn’t previously qualify for free school meals but your income has reduced or stopped, please apply online through our website to check if you are eligible for this support as soon as possible. It’s the quickest and easiest way for your eligibility to be assessed and you will get an instant decision. Alternatively, you can call our education helpline on 0345 155 1019.
30 year olds now invited to book COVID-19 vaccine
The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective and gives you the best protection against coronavirus, and nearly three-quarters of adults in Devon have now had one dose.
If you’re aged 30 years old or over, or if you turn 30 before Thursday 1 July 2021, you can now book your COVID-19 vaccine.
As the vaccination rollout reaches younger age groups, more women of childbearing age are becoming eligible for their first jab. The government has offered reassurance that the vaccines are safe for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive.
Two doses are needed for strong protection, particularly with the new variant of concern first identified in India now circulating in some regions of the UK, so don’t delay getting your second jab when it’s offered.
Over-50s, frontline health and social care workers and people who are considered most vulnerable if they catch coronavirus (vaccination priority groups one to nine) are having their second doses brought forward to eight weeks after their first – rather than 12 – to help ensure they have the strongest possible protection from the virus at an earlier opportunity following concerns about the variant.
Text invitations appear as an alert from ‘NHSvaccine’, with a weblink to the NHS website. There are currently plenty of appointments available and new appointments are being added regularly, so please keep checking and if you cannot go online you can call 119 to book.
You cannot catch coronavirus from the COVID-19 vaccine. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, so make sure you’re getting it from a trusted source. For more information on the COVID-19 vaccine, visit the NHS website.
Vaccines highly effective against B.1.617.2 variant after two doses
A new study by Public Health England shows that two doses of the COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective against the B.1.617.2 variant first identified in India.
The results after two does are similar to the B.1.1.7 (Kent) variant which is dominant in the UK. The study found that, for the period from 5 April to 16 May:
- the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 88 per cent effective against symptomatic disease from the B.1.617.2 variant two weeks after the second dose, compared to 93 per cent effectiveness against the B.1.1.7 variant
- two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were 60 per cent effective against symptomatic disease from the B.1.617.2 variant compared to 66 per cent effectiveness against the B.1.1.7 variant
- both vaccines were 33 per cent effective against symptomatic disease from B.1.617.2, three weeks after the first dose compared to around 50 per cent effectiveness against the B.1.1.7 variant.
The difference in effectiveness between the vaccines after two doses may be explained by the fact that the rollout of second doses of AstraZeneca was later than for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and other data on antibody profiles show it takes longer to reach maximum effectiveness with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
As with other variants, even higher levels of effectiveness are expected against hospitalisation and death.
Sewage testing ramped up to help tackle COVID-19 outbreaks
Exeter is the home of one of the biggest wastewater processing labs in the world, and it’s at the forefront of pioneering research.
The government has ramped up testing of wastewater for traces of COVID-19, to help detect outbreaks of variants of concern.
Testing sewage for coronavirus now covers more than two thirds of England’s population, and is helping identify where variants of concern may be circulating undetected in communities.
Exeter’s lab opened last month and is dedicated to analysing waste water as part of the government’s programme.
Insights from the programme have already been used in Bristol and Luton to provide timely understanding of the spread of variants in their communities and help to provide reassurance that local outbreak control measures are working.
You can find out more on the government’s website.
Which COVID-19 test do I need to take, and when?
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 about one in three people who catch it don’t develop any symptoms so could be spreading it unknowingly.
That’s why it’s so important you take the right test when you need to, and know the different sorts of tests available and how to access them.
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. You can do the swab yourself (if you are aged 12 years old or over) or someone can do it for you.
There are two main types of test to check if you have coronavirus now:
- polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are mainly used for people who have symptoms. It checks for the genetic material of coronavirus in the sample and is sent to a lab for processing. Most people get their results via text or email the next day, but it can take up to three days.
- rapid lateral flow device (LFD) tests are only for people who do not have symptoms. It uses a device similar to a pregnancy test to give a quick result, usually within 30 minutes of taking the test. It detect proteins called ‘antigens’ produced by the virus and recent research has found them to be very accurate and reliable with extremely low false positive results.
If you have coronavirus symptoms (high temperature; new, continuous cough; loss or change to sense of smell or taste) then you should use the government’s website to arrange a PCR test that is provided by the NHS test as soon as possible. You can order a PCR test kit to be sent to your home or book an appointment at a walk-in or drive-through test site. You and everyone you live with must immediately self-isolate. Do not leave home until you get your test results, except to post a test kit or for a PCR test appointment.
If you do not have symptoms then you are encouraged to take a simple rapid lateral flow device (LFD) test twice a week to check if you have coronavirus. The tests are free and can be done at one of our walk-in test sites or picked up from community testing sites, pharmacies or sent through the post for you to do yourself at home.
For more information about coronavirus testing in Devon, please visit our website.
Getting the help you need this bank holiday weekend
The NHS in Devon is reminding people how to access health services and get the care they need this bank holiday.
The long weekend traditionally puts extra pressure on health services when most GP practices are closed and more people are outdoors enjoying everything Devon has to offer. Most GP practices will be closed over the three-day weekend with normal opening hours resuming on Tuesday 1 June.
For urgent advice over the long weekend people are encouraged to ‘Think 111 First’ and contact NHS 111 from anywhere, either by phone or online, any time of day or night. If you need further care or medication, NHS 111 advisors will direct you to the most appropriate service. They can book you in for an appointment at your nearest Minor Injury Unit or Urgent Care Centre. If you need emergency care, they will arrange for you to be seen at a local Emergency Department and will ensure that staff in the department are expecting you and will see you as quickly as possible.
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. They are open until late and at weekends with no need for an appointment, and most have a confidential consulting area for privacy. Visit the NHS website to find your nearest pharmacy and check opening times, or call the free helpline NHS 111.
New pilots launched to help people self-isolate
The government announced nine pilots to test new ways to help ensure that people abide by the self-isolation rules.
It’s working with local councils in areas in the country with high prevalence of infection, and the pilots will include a range of initiatives such as providing alternative accommodation for people living in overcrowded households. There’ll be additional social care support for vulnerable people, and language and communications support for people where English isn’t their first language.
The pilots are to encourage people most at risk of catching and spreading coronavirus to come forward for testing and to self-isolate properly if they test positive.
We have information and guidance on our website about self-isolating – when to do it; how to prepare for it; how long you need to do it for; and what help and support is available to you if you are self-isolating.
You can find local guidance and information about the impacts on our services on the Devon County Council website.