Questions that have been asked by the public about outbreak control
Questions that have been discussed at the Health and Wellbeing Board meetings and the responses are posted on this page.
See our Controlling the outbreak of Covid-19 page for information about the plan we have in place to help control an outbreak of Covid-19 and keep people safe.
If you have any COVID-19 related questions for the Health and Wellbeing Board, you can contact them at email@example.com.
Further information on the Health and Wellbeing Board, including meeting dates and papers can be found at Health and Wellbeing Board.
Questions and answers
What is the Test and Trace payment progress?
Test and Trace Support Payments scheme brought in to help people on low incomes who are unable to work from home while they are self-isolating. As at 28 February 2021 we have received and processed 1793 standard applications and 1099 discretionary applications (for those earning less than £20,065 with less than £500 in savings) - so far awarding £298,500 for the main scheme and £70,000 for discretionary payments.
What is the eligibility for vaccines for "frontline" voluntary services?
The work of the voluntary sector has been highly valued during the Covid pandemic. The voluntary sector provides a wide range of services including the delivery of health and social care to vulnerable people and support to the general population. The Government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) issued guidance on 30 December 2020 setting out the priority groups for vaccination. These apply to the voluntary sector and are based on evidence about the mortality rates and risks of vulnerable people and occupational groups. Voluntary sector staff providing "frontline" health and social care are in priority group 2. Other voluntary sector staff and volunteers would receive vaccination in line with the JCVI guidance
When can people can go further afield for travel?
The 'stay at home' rule will end on 29 March, but many restrictions will remain in place, and people should continue to work from home where they can and minimise the number of journeys they make where possible, avoiding the busiest times and routes. Travel abroad will continue to be prohibited, other than for a small number of permitted reasons, and holidays abroad will not be allowed, given that it will remain important to manage the risk of imported variants and protect the vaccination programme. The government launched a new taskforce to review global travel which will report on 12 April.
How can we access community Lateral Flow Device (LFD) Testing?
In line with the roadmap out of lockdown we are offering free LFD testing to the following groups.
- If you can't work from home and your workplace doesn't offer LFD testing.
- If you are a carer for a vulnerable person.
- If you are in a childcare bubble and can't access the education LFD testing.
- If you leave home for recreation or exercise outdoors and meet up with one person from another household (social distancing and other safe behaviours should be followed when meeting up).
In order to take part, you can book tests online. We suggest you take a test twice a week. There are no walk-in slots available. Testing is free and if you are unable to access the internet you can contact the County Durham Together Community Hub on 03000 260 260. Tests slots are available between 7.15am and 5.30pm, Monday to Friday at the following venues:
- Meadowfield Leisure Centre
- Spennymoor Leisure Centre
- Stanley Leisure Centre (Louisa Centre)
- Newton Aycliffe Leisure Centre
- Barnard Castle Leisure Centre
- East Durham College
For further information, you can visit Testing for people without symptoms.
The Track and Trace System is in place to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus. What is happening to encourage local businesses to collect this information for people who use their services?
Amanda Healy, DPH advised that we have been working with businesses throughout this pandemic, firstly to help them access funding to protect them and their staff from economic effects of coronavirus and then to providing advice, support and resources to help them re-open safely.
All business must take steps to keep workers and visitors safe, by following the 5 steps for working safely, along with sector-specific guidance laid down in the government guidance. This ensures our business are 'covid secure' and the risks of transmission are as low as possible.
For the hospitality and service sectors the collection and safe storage of contact details is a key element of their 'covid secure' measures. We continue to engage with all businesses on a countywide basis providing advice and guidance, but also on a one to one basis where we have been asked for help or have been advised of poor practice.
Our approach is always one of engagement, education and if necessary, enforcement.
Amanda Healy advised that this was a good opportunity to remind everyone that if you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace that by following instructions to self-isolate, people who have had close recent contact with someone with coronavirus will be protecting their family, friends, colleagues and other people around them, and will play a direct role in stopping the spread of the virus.
How can we encourage people to follow social distancing guidelines in venues, for example, restaurants, pubs and clubs?
Dr Jonathan Smith advised that we all have a vital role to play in protecting ourselves and our loved ones from coronavirus. In restaurants, pubs and clubs you will see changes to make sure that people are socially distanced, such as limiting the number of people allowed into a venue at any given time; tables spaced apart; monitoring of both indoor and any outdoor space; lots of signs reminding people about social distancing, queueing and hygiene practices.
He reminded people that we need to play our part too; it's about adjusting to a new normal; the coronavirus has not gone away and it's vital that we don't let our guard down. We must continue to follow government guidance and be responsible if we are going out. This includes the new guidance that from Monday 14 September, when meeting friends and family that people do not live with they must not meet in a group of more than 6, indoors or outdoors. We're going to be with friends or family, so we need to help each other. If they forget to keep their distance, give them a friendly reminder and ask them to do the same if they think you're getting too close to them. It's about protecting each other.
It's important we trust our instincts too. If you feel uncomfortable by how many people are in one venue, don't take a risk; go somewhere else. It's the same if someone you're with feels uncomfortable.
The national guidance on operating indoor performances is unclear. Can you please provide clarity on whether a karaoke show in a local public house is allowed to take place?
Steve Helps, County Durham Fire and Rescue Service advised that there is no specific government COVID-19 guidance related to karaoke performances in public houses. Activities such as karaoke should ensure that they are conducted in line with COVID secure guidance as there is a high risk of transmission due to the sharing of microphones and potential increased volume - Gov.uk: working safely during coronavirus. The microphone should be stationary and remain in a microphone stand at all times. Performers should be asked not to touch the microphone or stand. The microphone and stand should be cleaned and disinfected after every use. In the government guidance, 'Guidance for people who work in performing arts, including arts organisations, venue operators and participants', it states that if equipment has to be shared, regularly disinfecting it (including any packing cases, handles, props, chairs, microphones and music stands) and always between users, following UK Government guidance - Gov.uk: Handling props, musical instruments, technical equipment, and other objects
Therefore, if a decision is taken to hold a karaoke event in addition to the regular disinfection of the microphone and stand, numbers in the public house should be limited, the volume of the speakers should be low with no background music. The aforementioned guidance states to consider alternatives to using live music.
What jurisdiction does the Council have for events taking place on both their own land and also private land?
Jane Robinson, Corporate Director Adult and Health Services, DCC advised that up until 14 September 2020, the current guidance from the Government is that outdoor events should go ahead where they can do so safely. Many outdoor events are already permitted provided they have carried out a thorough risk assessment and taken all reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of transmission. Where those steps have been taken, outdoor events that are organised by businesses, charitable organisations, and public bodies, are not restricted to 30 attendees. The new government guidance released on the 9 September 2020 on ' Meeting with others safely' will be fully reviewed to understand the implications on future events going ahead both on private and DCC land after the 14 September 2020.
Event organisers are encouraged to speak to local authorities as soon as possible to discuss plans for their events and how they can be managed safely. Councils can advise on safe working practices, support events to comply with relevant requirements, and help address any concerns.
This council has a well-established Safety Advisory Group which brings together representatives from the local authority, emergency services and other relevant bodies who can help advise event organisers on the safety of large events taking place in the area.
An Events Licensing Group has also been set up to look at events in County Durham during COVID. The group decides collectively if events should be permitted to take place and decisions are fed back to the Council's Corporate Management Team.
With the exception of large sporting events, current government guidelines allow for outdoor events that are organised by businesses, charitable organisations, and public bodies to take place provided they have carried out a thorough risk assessment and taken all reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of viral transmission, in line with COVID-19 secure guidance.
The COVID-19 Secure guidance itself is not legally enforceable, however the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, provides a framework for considering the steps businesses should take to ensure they are operating in a way that is safe and can help to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Large outdoor events may apply for, or have an existing licence, under the Licensing Act 2003. In the absence of a health objective councils' powers to refuse or revoke a premises licence on the basis of concerns about COVID-19 may be limited, as the refusal would need to relate to one of the Act's licensing objectives, as follows:
- the prevention of crime and disorder
- public safety
- the prevention of public nuisance and
- the protection of children from harm.
In some cases, event organisers have applied for Temporary Event Notices which gives councils the opportunity to review an application for an event, although, objections would still need to relate to the four licensing objectives.
There are limited circumstances where a council can clearly refuse permission for, or request organisers to cancel an event, however the newly introduced Gov.uk: Local authority powers to impose restrictions: Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.3) Regulations 2020 give county, unitary and metropolitan councils powers to restrict access/ close individual premises or public outdoor places as well as prohibit certain events from taking place where there is a serious or imminent threat of transmission of coronavirus, for example a local spike where a large event would risk further transmission of the virus.
Regulations need to be met before these directions can be issued, therefore they should only be issued where councils can successfully demonstrate it has met relevant criteria, to resist any challenge. When considering whether this power could be applied in relation to a planned event, councils will need to discuss with public health leads, and potentially the police.
The local authority as landowner is able to determine whether or not it will grant permission for an event to take place on its land, and could refuse permission to allow the use of the land for an event without the need to issue a direction.
Beyond this, however the intention is that outdoor events should take place where it is safe to do so with the focus on these being supported to operate safely.
To help people in this area to know the nature and extent of the local risk, can we make public the postcode level information on current reported infections?
Richard Chillery, Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust advised that the Durham Insight Covid-19 Dashboard on Durham Insight (underneath the COVID-19 Surveillance header) is updated weekly using Public Health England, NHS England and ONS statistics and now contains publicly available Middle Layer Super Output Areas (MSOA) data based on counts of cases.
The dashboard shows the number of positive COVID-19 cases in a week by MSOAs which are a standard statistical geography of approximately 7,200 people. Some MSOAs have the same name as local electoral wards and figures within this map should not be compared with ward data you may see published elsewhere.
Cases from pillar 1 and pillar 2 of the Government's testing programme are included.
What assurance can the Board give to residents with non-Covid-19 related illnesses who are worried about whether to book an appointment with their GP?
Dr S Findlay assured the public that GP Surgeries are extremely safe, and staff are all used to wearing masks in public spaces and are all socially distancing, not only from patients, but also from other staff members. He explained that staff were wearing the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when in contact with patients and during consultations. Most surgeries had either set up "hot site" branch surgeries or "hot areas" within their surgeries so that patients with suspected Covid-19 and those without suspected Covid-19 could be separated. Anyone attending a GP Surgery is triaged via telephone first, with consultations via telephone or video conferencing wherever possible.
Of the antibody tests carried out so far on primary care staff (over a 1,000), only nine percent of staff had been infected with Covid-19, a lower rate than in most Acute Trusts, demonstrating that the Practices have been protecting their staff as best they could. There had been no new recorded cases of COVID-19 for a number of weeks within primary care practices. The worry was that people were not contacting GPs with potentially serious illnesses and need to be encouraged to return to their GP with illnesses that potentially could become serious if left untreated.
In addition, GPs were resuming some of their routine activities, such as cervical screening and shingles vaccine, and continuing with other important activities such as the children's vaccination programme. Dr S Finlay assured the public that GP Surgeries had taken all necessary precautions so that the risk of contracting Covid-19 in a GP Surgery was extremely low.
What advice can we give residents about whether they need to be tested for Covid-19 before working actively with and within their communities as some people are worried that if they are asymptomatic, they could spread the virus without knowing it?
The Chief Executive, CDDFT noted the specific reference to asymptomatic carriage, and advise anyone in those circumstances to be very vigilant and aware of the signs and symptoms of Covid-19: the recent onset of a new and continuous cough; a high temperature; and loss of, or change in, normal sense of taste or smell. In terms of testing, anyone with symptoms could get a test, however asymptomatic testing is only available to essential workers in England, a list of those being on the Government website.
There are many strategies designed to limit transmission within communities including keeping one's distance from those outside of one's household and keeping 1m "plus" away from people as a precaution and taking additional mitigating steps, included avoiding being face-to-face with those from outside of your household or support bubble, trying to stay side by side; keeping one's hands and face as clean as possible, washing hands often with soap and water and drying them thoroughly; and using hand-sanitiser outside of the home in particular when one enters a building or has contact with surfaces, together with avoiding touching one's face. If in an indoor space, one should ensure it is well ventilated, with windows kept open where possible.
People should avoid crowded space and should work from home wherever possible, using technology to reach out to community groups. If there is a need to travel, try to walk if possible or cycle, and if using public transport try to avoid peak times.
Face coverings should be worn in enclosed public spaces where one could not socially distance and where one would come into contact with people one would not normally meet. Face coverings do not replace social distancing, and it is important to ensure people do both. Shouting and singing close to people outside of your household or support bubble should be avoided and people should reduce the amount of time they spend with in those groupings.
Advice was shared in relation to washing clothes regularly, as the virus can live on fabrics for a few days. When meeting those community groups within business or public premises the advice specific to those premises should be followed, those buildings having advice available to the public.
During the Covid-19 response there has been a reliance upon access to Information Technology (and residents being IT literate) or having access to a car for those vital services that local people need, like health care and shopping which has impacted disproportionately on the most disadvantaged. What would the Health and Wellbeing Board's message be to those people who have experienced these challenges?
The Corporate Director of Adult and Health Services thanked residents of County Durham for their actions during the pandemic, with our communities making an immense contribution to the County Durham Together response to support our most vulnerable residents. The Council made available £1.5 million to support local community groups to provide assistance to residents in need that required help to deal with the impact of Covid-19 on their lives. Over £1 million of this was allocated to a plethora of schemes across the County in addition to the critical assistance that over 30 mutual aid groups that spontaneously sprang up over the County had provided, as well as the many acts of kindness provided by friends and neighbours over the last few months. In addition The Hub had been contacting vulnerable individuals to understand their needs and put them in touch with staff or external agencies that could provide the help that they need. Anyone that telephoned The Hub with access issues had been supported through a combination of either Council staff that had been redeployed, volunteers or NHS GoodSAM volunteers. Deliveries had been provided to people's door to enable those self isolating to do so and the County's voluntary and community service had been responsive in supporting people in local communities with many undertaking "door-knocks" to those thought to be potentially more vulnerable.
The Hub supported those with IT challenges and guided them in many activities, such as setting up priority online shopping. It was recognised that not everyone was comfortable using technology or had access to it and therefore a variety of media had been utilised to communicate the support available to communities such as social media, printed media, radio, and directly addressed mailshots to those known to have multiple social vulnerabilities, as well as the County's shielding population. Promotion of The Hub had also taken place through other existing routes such as pharmacies, primary care, secondary care, housing providers and social care.
The support put in place had been done quickly and comprehensively and demonstrated the effectiveness of both partnership working and the local communities within the County.
Social isolation has been a by-product of the Covid-19 lockdown that has impacted on many people's mental health. What provision is available for those who need additional mental health or social support?
The Corporate Director of Children and Young People's Services noted that in terms of the support offered to children and young people and their families, there was a range of resources to support their mental health and emotional wellbeing, and resources were targeted at parents, carers, teachers and other professionals, together with additional resources targeted specifically for children and young people. It was recognised that it was a challenging time for many young people and their families, and some may continue to experience difficulties as restrictions continued to take effect and we moved into the next phase.
For many, the impact of social isolation and the impact upon their mental health and wellbeing, may not yet be manifesting itself and therefore it was important to continue to have a service offer going forward and the Council was shaping its services in that way accordingly. All the Council's key resources were available on the Council's updated local offer, a dedicated page on the Council's website, and within that there is a section on social, emotional and mental health support. The Council has been working very closely with our schools and looking at how to support children and young people back into learning and to look at the impact there would be for many children and young people who would have had many months out of school by the time that they return.
Guidance around returning safely and settled provided a whole range of information that could be used by children and young people and their parents and also by schools, teaching staff and governors, again available via the local offer and also circulated out to schools for their use. The information is broken down into blocks, with a number of activities in terms of guidance and support for the curriculum, re-engaging young people in learning, as well as professional development for staff and governors. Broader support through the Council's Family Support Service and One Point Centres, which had continued to operate during the lockdown period, providing activities, social support into families, with some excellent examples of the work they had done and the impact that had for families. The One Point Service was also available to connect families into community resources and we are very lucky in County Durham to have the breadth and quality of local community resources available and the One Point Centres had been able to support children and young people and their families to access those resources and would continue to do so as we progressed into the next phase.
Councillor O Gunn explained that, as mentioned, there were a number of documents circulated to schools, with one relating to children returning to schools safe, happy and settled. This has been developed within the Council with a particular focus on encouraging health and wellbeing and there is quite a rich array of information including sources of advice and help and direct support, together with staff development. It was known that, even prior to Covid-19, research had suggested that many children and young people could find the transition between schools unsettling and stressful so following Covid-19 it was more than likely, given information from parents themselves too, that many children and young people would experience quite similar feelings in respect of returning to school after social isolation. Councillor O Gunn noted she had received emails from parents expressing their concerns about this and emphasised that it was important that the Council had done what it had in terms of getting that information out to schools. It is important to support a successful and "soft landing" back into school, and this is a process, not a single event, and there is not one particular agency involved, rather a number of partners all coming together as a team to effectively support children and continuing to do all they could to support our children and young people.
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