The number of cases of coronavirus in Devon is currently lower than the national average, but rising rapidly in all age groups and we expect to see rates increase considerably in the coming weeks.
In this update:
- A new year message of hope from Devon’s Director of Public Health
- Help reduce risk for the sake of others
- Confirmatory PCR tests temporarily suspended
- Plenty of capacity at Devon COVID-19 vaccination sites
- Returning to school safely
New Year message of hope as COVID-19 cases rise in Devon
Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, wishes everyone a very Happy New Year, with hopes for a brighter and safer year ahead of us. He said:
“Cases of COVID-19 in Devon are among the lowest in England, but are rising and much higher than previous points in the pandemic, with the highly infectious Omicron variant now dominant in all areas.
“Devon has lagged behind the national trend by a few weeks with coronavirus, which allows us more time to get booster jabs and be better protected. Cases of Omicron have so far been less severe for most people, compared to earlier variants, and our uptake of the vaccinations is high, which is all good news.
“However cases here in Devon are rising in all age groups and with the return to schools this week, we expect to see rates increase considerably in the coming weeks.
“At the same time, there are huge pressures within local health and social care services, including hospitals and ambulances. NHS Devon report that the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 and the number of hospital staff absent due to the virus have both risen by one third in the last fortnight, and the pressure on those critical services is expected to get worse over coming weeks.
“My New Year’s message is simple. We are not out of the woods with coronavirus, and we have an immediate hill to climb over the next few weeks to get us over this current Omicron surge. We know what to do. Please follow the guidance, and do everything you can to minimise risk to yourselves and others.”
- Take up the vaccine as soon as you’re eligible – it’s not too late to have your first, second or booster jab
- Test regularly with lateral flow device tests if you have no symptoms, and take a PCR test if you do have symptoms
- Self-isolate if you have symptoms, and if you test positive
- Wear face coverings when indoors in crowded spaces, including on public transport and in shops
- Keep indoor spaces well ventilated
- Wash your hands properly and regularly
Director of Public Health Devon urges people to help reduce risk for the sake of others
Steve Brown, Devon’s Director of Public Health, was asked this week, with coronavirus cases in Devon already high and predicted to get considerably higher this month due to the Omicron variant, what more should people in the county do?
“This latest surge demonstrates that coronavirus is still very much with us, and still a serious health risk to many people,” he said.
“The Omicron variant, while extremely infectious, may not be leading to the same extent to high levels of illness or death, but the health risk to people who may be immuno-supressed or who have other underlying health conditions is still extremely serious.
“Add to that the risk to health, or at best disruption to day jobs while self-isolating, for the thousands of front line staff in health, social care and other essential workers, and such high levels of coronavirus are likely to have a dramatic impact on the delivery of the services we rely heavily upon.
“We know what helps reduce risk – it’s taking up the vaccine when invited, including the booster; wearing face coverings where appropriate and self-isolating when we need to.
“So I’m asking people to follow the guidance, if not for yourself, but for others – for those people who are more likely to get seriously ill from having coronavirus; and people whose professions we rely on to keep essential services running.”
Critical workers to take daily lateral flow device tests to keep services running
From Monday 10 January, free COVID-19 lateral flow tests will be given to 100,000 critical workers in England, to help keep essential services and supply chains running.
Critical workers will be asked to take a test on every working day, for an initial five weeks.
Lateral flow tests are for people who show none of the three main symptoms of coronavirus, so daily testing by critical workers is to help identify people who are carrying the virus and could spread it unknowingly and limit the risk of outbreaks within those workplaces.
‘Critical workers’ in this case include people who work in critical national infrastructure, national security, transport, and food distribution and processing. It includes roles in Border Force, police, fire and rescue services control rooms, electricity generation, test kit warehouses and test surge labs.
Not included in this scheme are workers within adult social care or education, who already have a testing allocation with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
The government is contacting organisations included in the scheme directly this week ahead of roll out starting on Monday.
No home-test kits available from our community testing vans
Difficulties with the supply of lateral flow tests to our community testing vans means that we now have to prioritise the stock we have towards health, care and other key public sector services.
Our pop-up test units will continue to provide on-site lateral flow device tests, without the need for appointments, at locations across the county.
However, for the time being, we will unfortunately no longer be able to hand out home test kits from our vans to members of the public.
If you represent a voluntary or community organisation that is providing essential support to local people and rely on our pop-up service to access lateral flow tests, please speak to a member of staff at one of our pop-up sites who will seek to help you.
For more information about COVID-19 testing in Devon, please visit our website.
Confirmatory PCR tests temporarily suspended
From Tuesday 11 January, people in England who test positive for coronavirus with a lateral flow device test will be required to self-isolate immediately, but won’t need to take a confirmatory PCR test.
The temporary change comes because COVID-19 rates currently remain high across the UK, so when people are now testing positive with a lateral flow, there’s a strong degree of confidence that they’ve got COVID-19.
But lateral flow tests should still only be used by people who show no COVID-19 symptoms. Anyone with a new and continuous cough, high temperature, or change to their usual sense of taste or smell, should stay at home, self-isolate and take a PCR test. And if that’s positive, they continue self-isolating for the duration.
Under the new guidance, anyone testing positive with a lateral flow device should report their result on GOV.UK, and must self-isolate immediately. They don’t need to take the confirmatory PCR test.
Are lateral flow tests accurate?
Yes! Rapid lateral flow tests are most useful at identifying coronavirus in people without symptoms, and are over 80 per cent effective at finding people with high viral loads who are most infectious.
NHS Test and Trace have found that for every 10,000 lateral flow tests carried out, there are likely to be fewer than three false positive results.
Right now, with the high prevalence of infection, it’s highly likely that a positive lateral flow test will be a true positive, therefore a confirmatory PCR test isn’t necessary.
For more information about COVID-19 testing in Devon, please visit our website.
Plenty of capacity at Devon COVID-19 vaccination sites – get boosted now!
Over 80 per cent of eligible people in the south-west have now had their COVID-19 booster jab, which is excellent. It means that we are much better placed as the Omicron variant drives up COVID-19 cases. Earlier this week the Prime Minister said that 90 per cent of patients in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) across the country are unvaccinated and 60 per cent have not had their booster jab.
January is always a busy time for the health and care system and this year is definitely no exception, and in Devon we anticipate a very busy few weeks ahead.
While cases locally are lower than many other parts of the country, they are still far higher than at previous times in the pandemic. As a result, health and social care services are being impacted by an increase in the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 and the number of staff off work due to the virus, in addition to the winter pressures seen in a normal year.
There is plenty of capacity for walk-ins and booked appointments in Devon so anyone who has not come forward is urged to Get Boosted Now to protect against Omicron. All adults can now have their booster dose three months after their second dose.
Details of walk-in clinics are being regularly shared on NHS Devon CCG’s Twitter channel. You can find your nearest walk-in clinic on NHS England’s site finder and appointments can be booked via the National Booking System.
Dr Michael Marsh, South West Medical Director NHS England and NHS
“Why not start the New Year with a resolution to keep
healthy and get a life-saving booster jab. It’s the best way to protect
yourself and your loved ones against Omicron. Also if you haven’t had your first or second dose yet, please come forward as it’s not too late and we would be pleased to see you.”
Devon schools rise to the challenge
Devon County Council schools have reported a 94 per cent pupil attendance this week, following a staggered start to the new term. Prior to Christmas, pupil attendance was around 90 per cent.
All our schools reopened this week, with many secondaries providing on-site testing for pupils ahead of the term start.
Our schools have encouraged the wearing of face coverings in communal areas since last summer due to the high number of positive cases, but now, the national guidance expects secondary school pupils to wear them in the classroom as well, unless exempt.
Steve Brown, our Director of Public Health, said:
“I want to thank pupils and parents for their continued support in helping to follow the national guidance, to help contain the spread of the virus.
“With schools back this week, and with the highly infectious Omicron variant getting a stronger foothold in Devon, we expect case rates to rise over coming weeks.
“I ask that pupils continue to wear face coverings in the classroom, as well as in communal areas, and to keep up with the regular lateral flow tests when showing no symptoms.
“We are continuing to work very closely with our schools and colleges, especially where we see outbreaks, to help reduce risk to pupils and staff.”
Pre-departure testing removed for vaccinated travellers
The government has announced that COVID-19 testing and border measures are changing for fully eligible fully vaccinated travellers arriving in England.
From 4.00am on Sunday 9 January, eligible fully vaccinated travellers and over five year olds will be able to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR on or before day two of their arrival in England. Lateral flow tests for travel can be booked from today (Friday 7 January) and taken upon arrival, by the end of day two.
Lateral flow tests for international travel must be purchased from a private provider as NHS Test and Trace lateral flow tests cannot be used for international travel. Passengers who have already bought a PCR to use for travel do not need to buy another test as PCRs can still be used.
Since 4.00am today (Friday 7 January) eligible fully vaccinated passengers and under 18 year olds no longer need to take a pre-departure test or self-isolate on arrival in England, but must continue to take their post-arrival tests.
Anyone who receives a positive result on their lateral flow test must self-isolate immediately and order a NHS PCR test from the government website. Positive PCR tests for arrivals will be sequenced to understand if and where variants are emerging around the globe in order to protect the UK public.
Unvaccinated passengers must continue to take a pre-departure test, PCR test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8 and self-isolate for 10 days. ‘Test to release’ remains an option for unvaccinated people to shorten their self-isolation period.