In this update:
- Prevention measures still vital in Devon
- More community testing rolls out across the county
- Plans to ease lockdown met with cautious welcome
- What we can and can’t do from Monday 8 March
- Local support available for clinically extremely vulnerable residents
- Care home residents to be allowed one regular visitor
- Devon’s schools prepare for return to face-to-face education
- Support the vaccine roll out via your social media
Prevention measures still vital in Devon
People’s attitude towards coronavirus, and the parts we all play in getting through this pandemic, are changing as we look ahead to a time without restrictions.
The vaccine roll out to priority groups is helping people see a way out of the pandemic, and a return to normality. But please remember we’re not there yet.
“We’ve done well to follow the rules in Devon since last year, which have kept our case numbers to one of the lowest in the country and undoubtedly saved lives. But I fear these rules are now becoming less of a priority in some people’s minds,” he said.
“But coronavirus testing for those with and without symptoms, and self-isolating for ten full days if the result is positive, is as important today as it always has been. And it will continue to be so for some time. As will washing your hands, covering your face and giving people space.
“We must not let the vaccine, and the hope it brings, persuade us that these measures are no longer necessary. They are. Even those who have had their jabs will still need to follow them.
“For now, we must all continue to stay at home as much as possible, but with many employees and volunteers who can’t work from home having to go out to work, there is a risk of catching the virus and spreading it to others without realising it if you don’t have any symptoms.
“That’s why rapid community testing is so important. We are offering free lateral flow tests, that deliver results typically within the hour, for anyone whose job or volunteering work requires them to leave the house and be in contact with others, including people caring for others. I urge these people to use our community testing twice a week, two to four days apart. This will help to identify infection early and reduce risk to others.”
More community testing sites roll out across Devon
More areas of Devon are benefitting from community testing to help identify people unknowingly spreading coronavirus because they are carrying it but don’t have any symptoms.
Rapid testing sites have been rolled out in East Devon and West Devon as areas of the county currently with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
- Exmouth’s Foxholes car park is the first stop for one of our brand new state-of-art mobile testing centres this Saturday (27 February) and every Saturday and Tuesday thereafter.
It will also visit:
- Axminster’s West Street short stay car park on Sundays and Wednesdays
- Honiton’s Blackdown House car park on Mondays and Thursdays
From Thursday 4 March our second mobile testing centre will make weekly visits to:
- Tavistock’s Riverside car park on Mondays and Thursdays
- Okehampton’s Mill Road car park on Tuesdays and Fridays
- Ivybridge’s Leonards Road car park on Wednesdays and Saturdays
A fixed community testing centre has also opened at Exe Valley Leisure Centre on Bolham Road in Tiverton, staffed by Mid Devon District Council.
These free rapid tests are recommended to be taken twice a week by anyone without coronavirus symptoms who must leave home to attend work or volunteer, and people who are in contact with vulnerable individuals. They are quick, easy to book and the results are back within an hour via text or email. If you test positive, you must self-isolate for ten full days to avoid transmitting the virus to anyone else.
Community testing is also available in Exeter at County Hall on Topsham Road and in Barnstaple at the Civic Centre.
Another site is planned to open in Newton Abbot soon.
Plans to ease lockdown met with cautious welcome
No doubt you will already be aware that earlier this week the Prime Minister announced plans to ease lockdown in England, starting on Monday 8 March with one named visitor for care home residents and the return of face-to-face teaching for all school pupils and college students.
We sent you a summary of the 4-step plan, which the government is calling the ‘COVID-19 Roadmap 2021’. If you missed it, you can find a copy on our website.
The plan has been met with a cautious welcome by leaders in Devon, including Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon.
He said: “While it was good to see this week the publication of the government’s roadmap, which does set out dates for restrictions to be eased, it’s really important to remember that these dates are ‘no earlier than’ dates.
“Each step-down will obviously have to look at the science and the data and information, and those dates may well be pushed back if the science tells us the best thing to do is to delay those step-downs.
“At this stage, the most important thing to do is to continue to follow the national lockdown restrictions.”
Devon’s latest data shows confirmed cases of coronavirus falling across all age groups, with highest case numbers among 20 to 39 year olds.
Case numbers overall in the county are falling, but that decline has slowed, with cases currently highest in Exeter, Mid Devon and West Devon.
What we can and can’t do from Monday 8 March
From Monday 8 March, some of the rules on what you can and cannot do will be changing as lockdown begins to slowly ease.
- You will be allowed to spend time in outdoor public spaces for recreation on your own, with one other person, or with your household or support bubble. This means you can sit down for a drink or picnic. You must continue to maintain social distance from those outside your household. This is in addition to outdoor exercise, which is already permitted.
- Schools and colleges will re-open for all pupils, and they will be able to return to face-to-face education.
- Wraparound childcare can reopen and other children’s activities can restart for all children where it is needed to enable parents to work, attend education, seek medical care or attend a support group. Vulnerable children can attend childcare and other children’s activities in all circumstances.
- Students on practical courses at English universities will be able to return to take part in practical teaching and assessments and access specialist facilities so they can complete their courses.
- Care home residents will be able to have one regular named indoor visitor, providing they are tested beforehand, wear personal protective equipment and avoid close contact.
- There will continue to be restrictions on international travel. Holidays will not be a permitted reason to travel. Those seeking to leave the UK must complete an outbound declaration of travel form ahead of departure.
- Those who have been identified as ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable’ are advised not to attend work or education settings until at least Wednesday 31 March.
No further significant changes will be made on Monday 8 March and restrictions requiring you to stay at home will remain in place.
Later changes, including from Monday 29 March, are set out in the government’s roadmap, and we will summarise them in this email nearer the time.
Local support available for clinically extremely vulnerable residents
New research has identified a further 19,200 Devon residents at increased risk of becoming seriously unwell if they catch coronavirus.
This means the government has added them to the ‘shielded patient list’ for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable so they can receive their COVID-19 vaccination quickly.
They are also advised to stay at home as much as possible, except to exercise or to attend health and vaccination appointments and to work from home until at least 31 March.
We’re contacting these residents to let them know about local support that is available while they are following the shielding guidance, including priority supermarket delivery slots and help collecting and delivering essential food, household supplies and medicines if they have no friends or family to ask.
There’s also financial support available for those who need short term help to afford to pay for basic household essentials, and there are a number of foodbanks and community larders in Devon that provide emergency food and support to individuals and families. You can find out more on our website.
Care home residents to be allowed one regular visitor
Care home residents will be able to have one regular indoor visitor from Monday 8 March as part of the government’s roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions in England.
A single, named visitor can hold hands indoors with their relative or friend in a care home, and make repeat visits under carefully designed conditions to keep residents, staff and visitors safe.
They will be tested prior to each visit and need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as avoid close contact, such as hugging.
Outdoor, pod and screen visits will be able to continue in line with the government’s published guidance which has been in place during lockdown, meaning there will be chances for residents to see more than just the one person they nominate, if they want to.
Visiting is a crucial part of maintaining quality of life for residents, but it inevitably brings infection risk. Every home and every circumstance may vary, depending upon the risk of exposure to coronavirus on vulnerable residents and care home staff. So please check with the care home before visiting to understand whether visits are permitted right now, and what they require for a safe visit.
Please don’t let the preventative measures dissuade your visit. It’s vitally important to maintain contact with loved ones, and care homes are doing all they can to enable visits to happen safely.
Schools prepare for return to face-to-face education
Schools and colleges in Devon will reopen for face-to-face teaching for all pupils from Monday 8 March and we are working with headteachers to ensure this will be done as safely as possible.
Our schools are experienced at managing risk and are well practiced at keeping staff, children and their families safe in line with government COVID-19 guidelines.
Alongside the range of protective measures introduced last year, the government has asked primary and secondary school and college staff to continue to take two COVID-19 tests each week at home.
The guidelines also include offering all secondary school and college students three COVID-19 tests on their staggered return to the classroom following their first negative test result. The government has requested that students then take two rapid tests each week at home. There are currently no plans to carry out regular asymptomatic testing for primary school pupils.
Testing is voluntary and secondary school pupils and college students will not be tested unless they (if they are aged over 18) or their parent or carer has given informed consent.
The government has also advised staff and students in secondary schools and colleges to wear face coverings in all areas, including classrooms, where social distancing cannot be maintained and as a temporary extra measure. They are also required to wear one when travelling on dedicated school transport, unless they are exempt.
We know some parents and children will be feeling anxious about the return to face-to-face teaching. If you have concerns, please discuss these with your school or college. They will be able to explain the protective measure they are using to help keep everyone safe.
People with learning disabilities prioritised for vaccines
People who are on a GP register for learning disabilities will now be prioritised for a coronavirus vaccination, following updated advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
It’s because they are at greater risk of severe illness from coronavirus and need to be protected as soon as possible.
Those with severe learning disabilities are already included in the vaccination priority group six, while adults with less severe conditions have not been prioritised until now.
It means that at least 150,000 more people with learning disabilities will be offered the vaccine more quickly, which is great news.
Second edition of Devon Together newspaper
We have teamed up with NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Devon and Cornwall Police to produce a second edition of a free newspaper, called Devon Together.
It’s filled with important news and information regarding the coronavirus pandemic in Devon, including how to get a vaccination and where our community testing centres are located.
We’ve included interesting interviews with people who have stepped up to become care workers during the pandemic, and with the Chief Executive of the Devon and Plymouth Chamber, who describes the challenges facing local businesses and the tourism sector.
It’s been created to bring information about coronavirus to people who tend not to receive their news digitally. We produced a first edition last summer and were pleased with the feedback we received from residents who were unable to access news online and therefore rely on newspapers.
We’ve published it with colleagues at Archant, and they’re distributing it over the next few via their newspapers, Royal Mail, and local supermarkets.
Although it’s designed as a printed newspaper, there’s a digital version as well, however it may not be fully accessible to anyone using assistive technology such as a screen reader.
Psychological First Aid training
Public Health England (PHE) has launched a new free training course on how to provide practical and emotional support to children and young people affected by coronavirus, or other emergencies or crisis situations.
The course aims to help people to better identify children that are in distress and provide support to help them feel safe, connected and able to take steps to help themselves.
The course is free and available for all frontline workers such as teachers, health and social workers, charity and community volunteers and anyone who cares for or is regularly in contact with children and young people aged up to 25, including parents and caregivers. You can sign up via the Future Learn website.
Proxy voting in local elections for those self-isolating
Residents who need to self-isolate because they test positive for coronavirus or are identified as a close contact of someone who has, will still be able to vote in the upcoming local elections on Thursday 6 May through new emergency proxy voting measures.
The new legislation will allow anyone who is self-isolating due to COVID-19 to access an emergency proxy vote, up to 5.00pm on election day.
As usual, anyone can also secure a postal vote in advance of the May elections. The deadline for all postal voting applications is 5.00pm on Tuesday 20 April. Anyone who wants to vote by post is encouraged to apply to do so as early as possible and not wait until the deadline.
The government has published a plan setting out guidance on how the polls will be delivered in a COVID-19 secure and effective way.
Support the vaccine roll out via your social media
During the pandemic social media has been a vital tool for people to connect and share updates with their loved ones. And now the power of Facebook and Instagram is being used by the government and the NHS for people to show their support for the vaccine roll-out.
The Premier League, the Beano and much loved author, artist and illustrator Charlie Mackesy, have all helped create a range of specially designed profile frames and graphics for people to use on social media to say “I’ve had my vaccine” or make a pledge that “I will get my vaccine” when their time comes, as well as say thank you to the hard work of our NHS heroes.
To add one of the COVID-19 vaccine frames to your Facebook profile picture via a desktop, go to the profile picture frames page, search ‘NHS Covid Vaccine’ frames and select the one you want to use, then click ‘Use as Profile Picture’ in the bottom right of the screen to save.
If you’re using the Facebook app just open your profile and click your profile picture, click ‘Add frame’ and search ‘NHS Covid Vaccine’ frames and select the one you want to use, then click ‘Use as Profile Picture’ to save.
To use one of the COVID-19 vaccine stickers on your Instagram story, add a photo or video of your choosing, then tap the ‘add media’ button or swipe up to add stickers from GIPHY and search ‘NHS Covid Vaccine’ to scroll through the options and select a sticker you want to use, then position this on your story image or video and don’t forget to use the hashtags #CovidVaccine and #WeAreDevon when you post it.
You can find local guidance and information about the impacts on our services on the Devon County Council website.