COVID-19 case rates in Devon have continued to fall in the last reported week, and are now below the national average. Case numbers are highest in our 0 to 19 year old age group.
In this update:
- Government reveals COVID-19 Winter Plan
- Devon’s Director of Public Health warns that there are challenging times ahead
- COVID-19 booster jabs to start next week
- Working from home helps curb COVID-19 cases
- Devon’s enhanced response area status helps target areas with higher COVID-19 case rates and lower vaccine take up
Government reveals COVID-19 Winter Plan
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, this week outlined the government’s COVID-19 autumn and winter plan.
- coronavirus booster jabs to be offered to adults over 50 years old, younger adults with health conditions and frontline health and social care workers
- coronavirus vaccines are to be offered to young people aged 12 to 15
- NHS Test and Trace will continue their work to identify contacts of people who test positive
- free PCR tests will continue
- flu vaccine take-up will be encouraged for all over 50s
- and public health messages including the expectation to wear face coverings in crowded places, remain all important
But the Prime Minster also revealed a Plan B – additional measures that could be introduced if circumstances warrant it.
Those circumstances, built on data, would include the number of hospitalisations; how quickly any surge in case numbers happens; and the overall condition of the NHS, and its ability to cope, at that time. The Plan B toolbox includes:
- compulsory face coverings in some settings
- people asked to work from home
- vaccine passports could be introduced, requiring proof of vaccine take-up before being allowed entry to some venues.
Devon’s Director of Public Health warns that there are challenging times are ahead
“We can expect a challenging next few months into autumn and winter,” warned Steve Brown, Devon’s Director of Public Health, after the Prime Minister’s Winter Plan announcement.
“Coronavirus is still with us, and while case rates in Devon have fallen in recent weeks, they are likely to rise again,” he said.
“Clearly the health and care system nationally and locally is already under strain, and the additional winter pressures will only make the delivery of those services even more challenging.
“The Prime Minister refers in his plans to the role of local authorities in helping to curb any surge in case numbers.
“We have excellent data on coronavirus cases in the county. We are monitoring that carefully, and right now working really closely with schools and colleges following their return to the classroom last week.
“And we are prepared, should the data require it, to support the implementation of any additional measures we are required to put in place locally or at a county level, in order to halt any spread of coronavirus.
“In what shape or where those additional measures will be, will depend on the data, and whether any surge in cases is relatively localised or wider spread. More testing, self-isolating, and the wearing of face coverings – these are all measures that will be on the table should we need them.”
COVID-19 booster jabs to start next week
COVID-19 booster vaccinations will begin to be offered across the UK from next week.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunology (JCVI) recommended that around 30 million people should be offered the third dose.
The programme will be rolled out to the same priority groups as previously, with those eligible receiving their booster from six months after their second doses. They include:
- people living in residential care homes for older adults
- adults over the age of 50
- frontline health and social care workers
- people aged 16 to 49 years old with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19
- adult household contacts of people who are immunosuppressed
The move will ensure the protection vaccines provide for those most at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 will be maintained over the winter months.
The latest data from Public Health England and Cambridge University shows vaccines have saved more than 112,300 lives and prevented 143,600 hospitalisations and 24 million cases in England.
Data published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) this week shows people who have not been vaccinated account for around 99 per cent of all deaths involving COVID-19 in England in the first half of this year.
The NHS will contact people directly to let them know when it is their turn.
12 to 15 year olds to be offered the vaccination
The NHS is preparing to deliver a schools-based vaccination programme, supported by GPs and community pharmacies following the announcement this week that young people, aged 12 to 15, are to be offered the COVID-19 vaccine, it is reported.
Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, has a teenage child. He said:
“If your 12 to 15 year old child has underlying health concerns, the advice is clear – take the vaccine when it’s offered to you.
“For parents of children without underlying health concerns, it’s potentially a more difficult decision.
“While I can’t make parents’ minds up for them, I can tell you what I will do, and that is to give consent for my teenage child to receive the vaccination.
“I’d encourage parents to talk with their child about the decision and why the Chief Medical Officers are recommending that the vaccine is offered to them.”
Working from home helps curb COVID-19 cases
Advisors to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said last week that a high level of people working from home has been important in helping to contain COVID-19 cases, and that a significant decrease in homeworking in the next few months would result in a rapid increase in hospital admissions.
Since July, people are no longer asked to work from home, and businesses have to manage risks to staff and customers. But many organisations, this council included, have maintained that their staff whose jobs allow it can continue to work from home.
“Being airborne, coronavirus thrives on social contact,” explains Steve.
“And working from home instead of the office has done a lot to reduce social contact.
“I would certainly encourage it, and for people whose employers allow it now, I recommend doing it whenever you can and for the foreseeable future.
“But we should all now act cautiously. Case numbers in Devon have fallen, but we expect them to rise again.
“Have the vaccine when it’s offered to you; test yourself regularly with a lateral flow device if you don’t have COVID-19 symptoms; get a PCR test as soon as possible if you do have symptoms, even mild ones, and self-isolate if your result is positive; wear a face covering in crowded places; minimise your close contact with people you don’t live with; make sure you’ve got good ventilation indoors; and keep your hands clean – these actions should all be engrained in our minds.
“Please continue to do your bit.”
Devon’s enhanced response area status helps target areas with higher COVID-19 case rates and lower vaccine take up
Devon’s Public Health teams have continued to work closely with government departments to address the high case rates of coronavirus, following the award of enhanced response area status earlier this month.
We’ve been targeting areas of the county known to have higher COVID-19 case rates and lower vaccine take-up, so you may have heard or seen adverts in the local media and ‘ad vans’ around encouraging you to take up the COVID-19 vaccine and regular COVID-19 testing.
The government is also deploying volunteers in coming weeks, again to those parts of the county with poor vaccine take-up, to engage with people on the streets, to encourage those who haven’t yet been vaccinated, to do just that.
Operationally, Devon now has additional capability to monitor waste water and to ensure sufficient number of positive samples are being sequenced to detect any variant of concern.
Steve Brown, Devon’s Director of Public Health Devon said:
“COVID-19 case rates in Devon have fallen in recent weeks, but we anticipate a rise in cases again now that schools and colleges are back and as we head into the colder autumn and winter months.
“That’s why it’s vital that we reset the clock and get back into the mindset that coronavirus has not gone away.
“We all need to do everything we can to protect ourselves and others, through vaccination, testing, and following public health advice.”
Government shielding programme ends
More than 52,000 people in Devon previously identified as clinically extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 will be informed by the government that the national shielding programme has ended.
It means that their details will no longer be held on the Shielded Patient List and they will not be advised to shield in the future. The government will also not be providing specific national guidance for them to follow, and instead advise that, as a minimum, they should continue to follow the same guidance as everyone else.
However, if you have a health condition you may want to consider, alongside any advice from your clinician, if additional precautions are right for you. This could include:
- get all recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine if you have not done so already
- meeting people you don’t live with outside where possible
- making sure the space is well ventilated if you meet inside; open windows and doors or take other action to let in plenty of fresh air
- washing your hands regularly and avoiding touching your face
- considering whether you and those you are meeting have been vaccinated – you might want to wait until 14 days after everyone’s second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine before being in close contact with others
- considering continuing to practice social distancing if that feels right for you and your friends
- asking friends and family to take a rapid lateral flow device (LFD) test before visiting you
- asking visitors to your home to wear face coverings
NHS Volunteer Responders are still available to help with things like collecting shopping, medication, or other essential supplies, and with transport to medical appointments. They can also provide a regular, friendly phone call. There are also lots of local community groups listed on our PinPoint website.
If you are struggling financially or with returning to work, there are a range of government services that may be useful, depending on your eligibility. Access to Work offers mental health support for people returning to work after a period of furlough or shielding, and travel to work support for those who may no longer be able to safely travel by public transport. If you are struggling financially, you may also be eligible to apply for Universal Credit or Employment Support Allowance. For more information on benefits, please visit the government’s website.
Protect you and your baby by having the COVID-19 vaccine
Pregnant women are being reassured that having the COVID-19 vaccination is the best and safest way to protect them and their baby from the serious complications that can be caused by the virus.
Chief Nurse, Susan Masters, said:
“It is important for all sectors of the community to receive the vaccine to reduce the number of people who are seriously ill with COVID-19. This is no different in pregnancy and the COVID-19 virus can make women very unwell in the later stages of pregnancy.”
Sarah Bird, one of our Public Health consultants, is pregnant, and her husband caught COVID-19 shortly after Sarah’s second dose.
“Seeing my husband feeling so poorly with COVID-19 made me feel even more relieved that I had got both doses as soon as possible,” she said.
“He had a cough, shortness of breath and fatigue for weeks, but I tested negative and felt completely fine. I hate to think what it could have been like if I’d been severely ill from COVID-19 during my final trimester.
“There’s lots of good data now that shows that the vaccines are just as safe and effective for pregnant women as for anyone else, whereas we know that catching COVID-19 can be very serious for mum and baby. If you have any personal concerns, talk to your GP or midwife or look online, just make sure it’s a trusted source of information.”
To find out more about the COVID-19 vaccine, including how to get it, please visit the NHS website.
You can find local guidance and information about the impacts on our services on the Devon County Council website.