“Extreme caution” urged over North Yorkshire care home visits

This story was published 23 December 2020

Care homes and residents, families and friends are urged to exercise extreme caution over Christmas and into the New Year when organising visits to loved ones or trips out.

An elderly person using a tablet device.

North Yorkshire County Council has sent out a detailed letter and published updated advice this week about visiting for people who live in care settings.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcements on 19 December, this letter also provides information on the tier restrictions, testing and the roll-out of the vaccination programme.

Richard Webb, Director of Health and Adult Services, said: “Firstly, we want to thank everyone for all you have done since the start of the pandemic to reduce the risk of transmission. There have been huge sacrifices made by individuals and communities. Unfortunately, infection rates across North Yorkshire are up to ten times higher than they were over the summer months. The virus is still out there and increasing significantly in some parts of the County. 

“We are facing the possibility of a spike going into Christmas, and almost certainly, in the New Year. There is also a new Coronavirus strain which spreads more rapidly, although it is not believed to lead to more severe symptoms.

“All of these factors make for added complications for people living in care, given the disproportionate impact the virus has on older and disabled people. We know that people are anxious to understand what the changes mean for being able to see loved ones and we address these issues in the letter.

“Consequently, our main message is this: be extremely careful and cautious. In the words of the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer, assume that many people are likely to be infectious! We must minimise our social contacts further, and we must all stay vigilant with facemasks, hand washing and social distancing.

“It will be so tempting to hug and kiss your loved ones, but please don’t. Maintain a social distance, as hard as this will be.  We are so close to the vaccination programme being more readily available, so please do everything possible now to protect them.”

The County Council acknowledges that this news is all the harder at a time when people would normally be meeting up and celebrating with friends and family.

Richard Webb added: “As our Hindu, Jewish and Muslim communities know from recent changes to major events in the calendar, Covid-19 will mean that this Christmas will be very different to other years. All of us feel the sadness and heartbreak that comes with this situation and many of us will worry about not being able to see loved ones face to face. 

“But we are so close to the vaccination programme rolling out to keep people safe and none of us want to give Covid to our loved ones as our gift for Christmas and the New Year.”

The main points detailed in the letter are:

  • We should minimise all travel, staying local where possible, unless exempted by national legislation and guidance
  • We need to limit Christmas contact:
    • ‘Christmas Bubbles’ can continue for people living in/from Tier 1/2/3 areas but must not include anyone from a Tier 4 area
    • The initial advice on ‘Christmas Bubbles’ has changed and is now limited to up to three households on 25 December only. Overnight stays are not permitted.
  • We strongly advise against household mixing between people who live in care and family members and friends. If this does take place, we would urge that you:
    • limit the numbers of people mixing (to less than in the national rules),
    • limit the time spent together
    • take sensible precautions about the number of people in one room at any time, keeping rooms ventilated and wearing face masks if that gives greater confidence and security
  • Anyone who leaves their care setting for any overnight visit to family or friends, however short, will need to self-isolate on their return for 14 days for care home residents and 10 days in Supported Living. People and families should consider this carefully when planning visits;
  • We continue to recognise the importance of people being able to have visits in care settings. However, we ask care providers, residents and relatives, to ensure that visiting takes place on a planned and extremely cautious basis, with stringent infection control measures in place, as set out in our advice at the end of October. This includes using new rapid testing where available;
  • Where a resident does not have mental capacity to make decisions about visits, then an assessment of their Best Interests needs to take place;
  • Care providers and their Registered Managers have the final say in undertaking risk assessments and making decisions about visiting within care settings;
  • The Covid-19 vaccination programme is now under way. However, we would ask everyone to be patient until it can be rolled-out in a safe way, especially as supplies are currently limited