Care homes must stay on the alert and keep vigilant over visits from friends and family, even as the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out begins in care settings across North Yorkshire.
With the pandemic entering its most dangerous phase due to a more transmissible variant, infection rates in the County continuing to rise (over 500 per 100,000 population in some districts) and 79 of 235 North Yorkshire care settings with one or more Covid-19 cases among residents or staff, care homes are advised to do all they can to help to stem this increase.
In particular care homes, residents and their families and friends are being advised to “keep it local” when it comes to visits and outings during lockdown.
North Yorkshire County Council has written to providers, residents, and relatives this week urging continuing caution over the nature of visits and patience for the coming vaccination programme.
“These are really tough times” said Richard Webb, North Yorkshire’s Director of Health and Adult Services, “and everyone in the care sector has shown tremendous resilience amidst the highs and lows that we have all felt. We thank them for their huge endeavours to keep people in their care as safe as possible.
“Though it’s hard with a new lockdown, the vaccines have arrived and in the coming weeks and months more and more people in our settings will have much greater protection against the virus.
“But for now, we have to assume that the new, more transmissible variant of COVID-19 is in our county so, although everybody is tired, we must redouble our efforts to stay safe and to protect our care home residents and staff. Above all we must all stay vigilant with facemasks, hand washing and social distancing.”
Despite the new national lockdown, the government has stated that visits by family and friends to care homes can still take place as long as arrangements such as substantial screens or visiting pods are in place or visits take place behind windows. Close-contact indoor visits will not be allowed, and no visits can be permitted in the event of an outbreak.
Richard Webb said: “We know how crucial these visits are for people’s wellbeing and we wish to thank families for the careful and sensible approach they have taken to visiting arrangements in recent weeks and to thank providers for the huge amount of hard work undertaken to make them happen.
“We continue to support and encourage regular, safe, planned visiting and trips out. But given we are all now expected to stay at home as much as possible and only travel locally when necessary, we urge that visits should take place from designated visitors within a reasonable radius (usually up to 20 miles in a rural area and up to 10 miles in an urban area) and trips out for fresh air and exercise should be very local to the resident’s home.”
The County Council, in partnership with the Independent Care Group, is also calling on providers to come forward with any ideas they might have to support care settings and ease pressures on the system.
Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group said: “The latest figures show that Covid-19 hasn’t gone away, and, despite take up of the vaccine, we cannot become complacent and let our guard drop.
“We support North Yorkshire County Council in repeating the message that care providers and the community must keep up the pressure on Covid-19 – avoid social contact, use PPE, maintain good hygiene and observe social distancing.
“We haven’t got this virus beaten yet. It’s an aggressive and easily spread strain and we must fight with everything we have to keep our residents, our staff, and our communities safe.
“To care providers, I say we must all look at how we can help the NHS, whether that is by taking in Covid-19 discharges, freeing up capacity to take in other people, making staff available for other roles, or whatever it is. The care sector is known for its flexibility, resilience and imagination and I know I can rely on providers to respond during this hour of need.”
Day services and respite services can continue according to the new lockdown guidance, but again, providers are urged to exercise extreme caution and only offer these services when they have been thoroughly risk assessed. Individuals who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised to continue following shielding advice.
This situation will continue to be reviewed as additional Government guidance is issued.
The county council is continuing to work with providers through training webinars and other support to make the most of the testing arrangements that are available for staff and people who use services. It has created extensive availability of fixed site and mobile testing across the county and believes that the PCR (full swab) tests are still the most effective means of testing.
Richards Webb said in the letter: “Coronavirus and regular testing using PCR should be your testing priority for both people using your services and for your staff – lateral flow tests are a useful tool for identifying covid-19 in people without symptoms, and you should start using them, if you can, but regular PCR testing is paramount and the best indicator of potential outbreaks at the moment.”
He also urges care settings to continue to have stringent infection control measures, including appropriate PPE and hand hygiene, and risk assessments in place to protect “staff, people using your service and your business”. He said: “Social distancing for staff whilst at work and outside of work remains the most effective way of preventing the spread of Covid-19 and failure to comply with this has been identified as the main source of several outbreaks.”
The county council has also urged caution on relaxing visiting rules once people start to be vaccinated and has asked care providers and families to be patient about the roll-out of the vaccination programme. Richard Webb added: “It is great news that the Pfizer and Astra Zeneca vaccines are now approved by the medicines regulator and that people across North Yorkshire are already being vaccinated.
“My main message to providers today is please be patient: the vaccination will be made available to people using your services and to your staff and this will happen in the coming weeks as more doses of the different vaccines become available. It is better that the vaccination programme is implemented in a safe way, than rushed.
“Local NHS colleagues are working around the clock and, as soon as the national distribution system delivers new vaccine batches to North Yorkshire, they will be contacting people to vaccinate them. In most cases, GPs and their teams will be contacting you. However, in some cases, your local hospital may also offer vaccinations to staff and to people using services. “
The County Council and its partners continue to operate hardship and other funding schemes for care providers and to ensure that nationally designated funding is invested in the care sector.
The Council also continues to offer round-the-clock monitoring and support to care settings.