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We need to keep COVID-19 case rates as low as possible to enable as many children as possible to stay in school, says Devon’s Director of Public Health

COVID-19 case rates in Devon have increased over the last week and are now 276 per 100,000 of the population, which is below the national average (333). 

The highest rates are currently in the 10 to 14 year old age group and in the South Hams.

In this update:

  • Public Health Devon advice to parents of school-age pupils 
  • “We need to keep COVID-19 case rates as low as possible to enable as many children as possible to stay in school”
  • Free business support for Devon businesses
  • COVID Pass medical exemptions: proving you are unable to get vaccinated or tested
  • COVID-19 booster jabs for health and social care workers
  • Arrangements for GCSEs, AS and A levels in summer 2022

Public Health Devon advice to parents of school-age pupils 

With children and young people back in the classroom, and more mixing now possible with a change to the guidance around things like bubbles, we’re seeing a rise in coronavirus cases among the school-age population, and it’s likely that this will continue. 

In almost all of the cases the young person has shown no sign of having the virus, or only very mild symptoms. 

It’s important that we all work together and continue to take precautions to help stop the spread of coronavirus in our schools.

If your child has symptoms of coronavirus, they should not go to school. They should take a PCR test – not a lateral flow device (LFD) test – and they should self-isolate pending the result of that test. LFD tests are only for people who show no symptoms of having the virus. 

If your child is identified as a close contact, including if someone in your household tests positive, they should take a PCR test. However, unless they have symptoms of coronavirus, they are not required to stay off school while they wait for the test results. 

If your child tests positive with a routine LFD test, they should stay at home and arrange a PCR test. They should isolate while they wait for the result. If the PCR test is positive, they should continue self-isolating. If the PCR test is negative, they can return to school, but they should continue to routinely take the LFD tests twice a week. 

All secondary school age pupils and their teachers, should be taking LFD tests twice a week. 

“We need to keep COVID-19 case rates as low as possible to enable as many children as possible to stay in school”

Like elsewhere in the country, Devon is seeing a rise in coronavirus cases among the school-age population, and it’s likely that this will continue. 

We know that parents are concerned about the rising cases of coronavirus among school-age children.

Steve Brown, our Director of Public Health, offers some reassurance. He said:

“We all know how much learning has been disrupted these last 18 months.

“What’s important now, while we are all living with coronavirus, is that we try to keep case rates low, to enable as many children as possible to stay in school.  

“Where we see large outbreaks in schools, we and those schools work closely together to agree any additional control measures to put in place to help control the spread of the virus. 

“However, with the national change in guidance around close contacts and self-isolation, schools will only ask classes or year groups to stay at home, to be taught remotely, as a very last resort. 

“There is also a lot of seasonal illness among young people at the moment. If your child has symptoms such as fever, diarrhoea and/or vomiting – even if they test negative with a PCR test for coronavirus – please keep your child off school or nursery to avoid spreading other infections.”

Free business support for Devon businesses 

Research by Devon and Plymouth’s Chamber of Commerce suggests that businesses that are members of the Chamber are three times more likely to survive than those that are not. 

“We want to help more businesses not just survive but thrive as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic,” said Stuart Elford, Chief Executive of the Devon and Plymouth Chamber, announcing a new drive to support Devon firms. 

Last year, more than 100 businesses took up the Chamber’s offer of a fully-funded membership. And now the Chamber is inviting thousands more businesses in Devon to do the same. 

For the next few months, the Chamber is offering a fully funded three-month introductory scheme, giving businesses the opportunity to be part of the Chamber network, with access to events, support, international trade advice and networking opportunities, at no cost. 

“The last 18 months have been incredibly difficult for everyone and we have helped countless businesses survive this challenging period,” he said.

“We want to again do something tangible that would help as many businesses as possible succeed as we start to recover and grow again.” 

Find out more about the free membership period on Devon and Plymouth’s Chamber of Commerce website

Booster jabs begin for most vulnerable

COVID-19 booster vaccinations have begun in Devon for those who are most vulnerable to coronavirus.

The programme is being rolled out to the same priority groups as previously. This means care home residents, health and social care workers, people aged over 50 years old, those aged 16 to 49 years old with underlying health conditions, adult carers and adult household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals will be prioritised.

Eligible people will be offered a booster dose at least 26 weeks (six months) after they had their second COVID-19 vaccine dose.

The majority of people who are currently eligible will receive their invite within the next three weeks. Please wait to be contacted via letter, text or email before trying to book and don’t contact the NHS until you are invited for your booster.

Once you have received an invitation, you can book your appointment using the National Booking Service via the NHS website or by calling 119.

Coronavirus verses regular cold symptoms 

There’s recognition now of a crossover of current symptoms between coronavirus and having a cold. 

We’ve all known about the main three symptoms – the high temperature, the continuous cough and the loss of your usual sense of taste or smell. But studies have shown there to be more symptoms of coronavirus, including headache, runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. 

So with those symptoms similar to having a regular cold, it’s difficult to know what’s making us unwell. 

The people who brought you the ZOE COVID Study app, have now published their tips for how to tell the difference between the viruses, and when you should get tested. 

Please visit our website for guidance about how to get a test to check if you have coronavirus – whether you have symptoms or not.

COVID-19 vaccination National Booking Service opens for 16 and 17 year olds

Young people aged 16 and 17 years old are now able to book their COVID-19 jabs through the National Booking Service.

Thousands of text messages from ‘NHSvaccine’ have been sent to teenagers in Devon that include a web link to the NHS website to make a booking.

Almost three quarters of a million young people in England – around 60% – have already received their vaccine thanks to the NHS ‘Grab a Jab’ campaign, where the NHS online site finder helps people find their nearest walk-in vaccine clinic.

The online booking service now offers an additional way for people aged 16 and 17 years old to get a single shot of Pfizer in line with advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

COVID Pass medical exemptions: proving you are unable to get vaccinated or tested

The government has published guidance on how people can apply for official proof that, for medical reasons, they are unable to be vaccinated and/or tested for COVID-19.

The possible reasons for exemptions are limited, and include:

  • people receiving end of life care where vaccination is not in the person’s best interests
  • people with learning disabilities or autistic individuals, or people with a combination of impairments where vaccination cannot be provided through reasonable adjustments
  • a person with severe allergies to all currently available vaccines
  • those who have had an adverse reaction to the first dose (for example, myocarditis)

Short-term exemptions will also be available for those with short-term medical conditions.

All exemptions will be confirmed by a doctor, specialist clinician or midwife and if approved, your NHS COVID Pass can then be used wherever you need to prove your COVID-19 status within England.

The domestic NHS COVID Pass will look and work the same for people with medical exemptions as it will for people who are fully vaccinated. The pass will not show that you have a medical exemption.

To apply for a COVID Pass medical exemption, you need to phone 119 and ask for an application form. If you’re eligible to apply, you’ll get an application form by post.You can find out more about COVID Pass medical exemptions on the government’s website.

COVID-19 booster jabs for health and social care workers

Frontline health and social care workers can now book their COVID-19 booster vaccinations through the NHS website or by contacting 119.

There are also two special walk-in clinics for health and social care workers, with no need to book. The first is at Newton Abbot Racecourse on Saturday 2 October from 8.30am to 12.50pm, and the second is at the English Riviera Centre in Torquay on Friday 8 October from 1.30pm to 5.30pm.

You’ll need to make sure that six months have passed since you had your second vaccination.

When you arrive at your appointment you’ll need to show proof of your employment, such as a workplace photo ID, a letter from your employer from the past three months, or a payslip from the past three months which shows your employer.

Arrangements for GCSEs, AS and A levels in summer 2022

For the past two years, summer exams haven’t been able to take place due to the coronavirus pandemic, and instead students have been awarded grades by their teachers.

Now exam regulator Ofqual has put in place arrangements for GCSEs, AS and A levels due to take place in summer 2022 to support students and make exams fairer for them because they’ve had their education disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The government has introduced a choice of topics or content in some GCSE exams and exam boards will give advance information about the focus of the content of exams, designed to provide guidance for revision for students ahead of summer exams, and study aids will be allowed in some exams.

You can find out more about Ofqual’s approach to grading exams and assessments due to take place in autumn 2021 and summer 2022 on the government website.

The latest national advice on coronavirus (COVID-19) is available on the
government website and NHS website.

You can find local guidance and information about the impacts on our services on the Devon County Council website.