Devon’s coronavirus case rates have fallen further this week and, while they remain high, are approaching the national average. However it is likely that with schools and colleges returning, we will see a rise in cases among those age groups.
Case rates are currently highest in the 0 to 19 year old age group, but these rates are much lower than they were in mid-August.
Cases remain high across the county generally, and are highest in Mid Devon.
In this update:
- Public health experts working with schools and colleges to reduce transmission
- Free fruit and vegetable boxes offer Devon’s children a healthy start
- Consultation on compulsory vaccination for frontline health and care staff
- COVID-19 impacts and increased demand for health and social care services
- Cycle September is back!
Public health experts working with schools and colleges to reduce transmission
With most schools and colleges back this week, students will be familiarising themselves with new routines.
Our Director of Public Health, Steve Brown, has been asked what additional measures are in place in schools because of Devon’s high case rates and recent designation as an Enhanced Response Area.
Secondary school and college students are being asked to take two in-school assisted lateral flow tests, before continuing to test themselves twice weekly at home. And with the new Enhanced Response Area designation in Devon, pupils are expected to wear face coverings when on school grounds in communal areas, such as corridors and other shared spaces.
“Schools and colleges have worked hard over the holidays to prepare for the safe return to the classroom, with coronavirus still in our communities,” said Steve.
“One-way systems, and routes around school or college to aid social distancing will be in place in many schools. And a requirement for schools and colleges to maintain good ventilation will mean windows and doors should be left ajar to encourage fresh air flow.”
Asked about the what additional measures are in place in schools because of the recent Enhanced Response Area designation, Steve said:
“Public health teams are working closely with schools and colleges and we are monitoring the situation carefully.
“Coronavirus cases have been falling in recent weeks across the county, but because schools and colleges are a good barometer of what’s happening in their local communities, the expectation is that we are likely to see a rise in cases among school and college-aged people, even among those who may now have had their COVID-19 vaccination.
“Face coverings in communal areas are required, albeit it optional for pupils in the classroom. We will review this measure in two weeks and will make a decision whether to continue that, or whether additional face covering measures are required, depending on the data.
“By monitoring the data closely, we will also be able to advise schools and colleges on any additional measures required to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading within the classroom.”
Plans approved to boost social worker retention
Recruitment and retention of a high quality workforce has long been a challenge for our children’s social care services, and with the coronavirus pandemic, it’s become even more difficult as applications have fallen and competition for staff has increased.
At the same time, we, like our neighbouring authorities, have seen rising numbers of children being referred to us since the second lockdown ended, higher numbers of children in care and children subject to child protection plans.
So this week, our Cabinet agreed a £3.4 million package to deal with the significant shortage of children’s social workers in some of our key areas.
The new measures include better pay for key roles, retention payments, more administrative support to free up social workers to focus on doing direct work with children and families, and expanding training schemes and workforce development.
Free fruit and vegetable boxes offer Devon’s children a healthy start
The past 18 months have been a struggle, particularly for those families with young children who face financial challenges of being on low incomes.
Worrying about money can have a real impact on someone’s physical and mental health, and make it difficult for families to eat healthily. So we’re encouraging two and a half thousand eligible families in Devon to sign up to receive a seasonal fruit and vegetable box this Autumn as part of an initiative to help raise awareness of the government’s Healthy Start scheme, which is due to go digital later this year.
The ‘Get a Healthy Start’ box contains fresh fruit and vegetables and simple plant-based recipe ideas, with tips on how to swap or add ingredients (including meat and fish) and prevent food waste. The box will also contain free vitamins and information on how to apply and make the most of the Healthy Start scheme.
The Healthy Start scheme provides eligible families who are pregnant or have children under the age of 4 years old, with financial support to spend on cow’s milk; fresh, frozen or tinned fruit and vegetables; fresh, dried, and tinned pulses; infant formula, and free vitamins.
Recent research has shown that just under a third of households in Devon with children are experiencing food insecurity, but at the moment, only around half of eligible families are signed up to the scheme, which means many are missing out on much needed support.
For more information on Healthy Start please visit the NHS website or fill in this online form to order a ‘Get a Healthy Start’ box.
Consultation on compulsory vaccination for frontline health and care staff
The government has previously said that staff working specifically in care homes, and visitors – such as trades people and professionals who access those care homes – will need to be double COVID-19 vaccinated by Monday 11 November, unless exempt.
But now the government is also proposing compulsory COVID-19 and flu jabs for frontline NHS and care workers.
They have launched a six-week consultation to look at whether the requirements should apply for health and wider social care workers – those in contact with patients and people who receive care.
If agreed, it would mean that only those staff who are fully vaccinated, unless exempt, would be able to be deployed to deliver health and care services.
The government says that 92 per cent of NHS staff have had their first dose, and 88 per cent have had both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Ministers are urging the remainder to take up the offer now, to keep themselves and those they care for safe.
COVID-19 impacts and increased demand for health and social care services
Like elsewhere in the country, Devon is seeing an increase in people admitted to hospital with COVID-19, which means there are fewer beds available for other patients. Those in most urgent need are being prioritised, but some patients will wait longer for treatment.
Services across the health and care system are affected by the number of staff isolating due to COVID-19 and job vacancies that haven’t been filled. Pressures from the ongoing pandemic are affecting care providers ability to resource care packages, which makes it harder to discharge patients from hospital in a timely way.
So in order to keep caring for those most in need, the NHS has had to temporarily stop undertaking some routine work, including operations, outpatient appointments and some follow-up appointments for patients with long-term conditions.
The NHS is asking people to help by using services wisely and doing their bit to reduce the spread of COVID-19:
- keep hospital emergency departments for emergencies. If your condition isn’t an emergency, choose a different service
- use your local pharmacist for minor conditions such as insect bites, ear ache and skin rashes – they can provide expert advice and a fast route to medication
- use the HANDi paediatric app for advice on common childhood illnesses
- use NHS 111 online or by phone if you need advice or medical treatment quickly and can’t wait to see your GP. If you need to be seen by a minor injuries unit or emergency department they can book you in
- get vaccinated against COVID-19
- continue to maintain social distancing, good hand hygiene and meet outside where possible to reduce the spread of the virus
- collect friends or family members from hospital as soon as possible when they are ready to leave. It means their bed can be given to someone who needs it
Cycle September is back!
The coronavirus pandemic has seen many people dig a bike out and get on two wheels for the first time in years. And now with more and more people returning to the office, it’s a great time for workplaces and communities in Devon to promote active travel by taking part in Cycle September.
Cycle September is a fun and friendly global bike challenge where individuals, businesses and communities compete to see who can get the most friends, family and co-workers to ride a bike during the month.
It’s all about cycling anywhere and anytime and encouraging others to ride too! Every ride counts, even a 10-minute ride around the park will help you climb the leader boards. There are prizes to be won and leader boards are split by size and industry – so even a small team can still aim for the top spot.
So far, the annual challenge has engaged around 400 organisations and encouraged over 1,600 new riders to take up cycling in Devon!
Riding a bike has so many benefits for our physical and mental health. It helps to tackle stress and anxiety and strengthens our immune systems. It’s a great way to exercise, get out in the fresh air and feeling connected with the world around you. So what are you waiting for?
If you’re feeling a bit nervous about getting on a bike, why not book one of our free two hour adult cycle confidence sessions. The sessions are one-to-one and completely tailored to your requirements. Find out more on the Travel Devon website.
Schools and colleges to receive carbon dioxide monitors to improve ventilation in the classroom
Last month the government announced that they would be making carbon dioxide monitors available to schools and other education settings in England to help improve ventilation, to lessen coronavirus outbreaks.
The portable monitors could be used to identify areas where more air-flow is needed to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading and provide reassurance that existing ventilation measures are working, helping balance the need for good ventilation with keeping classrooms warm.
The first deliveries to state-funded special schools will start this week. Special schools, alternative provision and residential schools have been prioritised to receive their monitors first, given their higher-than-average numbers of vulnerable pupils. All schools and colleges are expected to receive at least partial allocations during the autumn term.
90% of Devon’s over 16s have had COVID-19 vaccine
Latest figures show that more than 1.75 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been given in Devon, with nine in 10 over 16 year olds having had their first dose since becoming eligible last month.
Teenagers are being encouraged to ‘grab their jab’ as the new school term starts and they return to school or college to give them the best possible protection against coronavirus.
It has never been easier to drop in and get your life-saving vaccine: it is safe, effective and will provide vital protection for you and your family and friends. Find your nearest vaccination site through the NHS online walk-in finder. Those who are within three months of their 18th birthday can book in through the national booking service.
Children aged 12 to 15 years old who are clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 or who live with adults who are at increased risk of serious illness from the virus are also being contacted by the NHS and invited for their vaccine.
Guidance on NHS COVID-19 pass updated
Earlier this week the government updated the guidance on how to get the NHS COVID-19 Pass and demonstrate COVID-19 status when travelling abroad and domestically at events and venues in England.
The update includes information highlighting that children under 18 years old do not have to demonstrate their COVID-19 status for entry to domestic events or venues in England. It also confirms that young people aged 16 years old or over can get an NHS COVID-19 Pass for travel but should follow the entry requirements of the country they are travelling to.
Please visit the government website for more information about the NHS COVID-19 Pass, including what it is, how to get it and what you can use it for.
You can find local guidance and information about the impacts on our services on the Devon County Council website.