Debs Harkins, Director of Public Health at Calderdale Council describes her first 4 months in the area, helping to steer the council’s response to the coronavirus and her reaction to the latest lockdown.
The first of August was four months to the day since I started working in Calderdale. I began my work here at the beginning of April, a couple of weeks into national lockdown. I marked my 4-month anniversary with the introduction of local restrictions, brought in because the borough has one of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the country. I have to say, that these four months have been some of the hardest times in my 30 years working in public health.
Just to give you some perspective, the only time that compares to this for me, was the 6 months, I worked from a hospital isolation room being treated for an aggressive form of Leukaemia, that I only had a 20% of recovering from. Being the voice of doom doesn’t come naturally to me. I try and find the positives in every situation, even being treated with a life-threatening illness! But I’m sorry to say that I’m writing to you all today to stress how serious the situation in Calderdale is, and to ask for your help to tackle covid-19.
I have been out and about in the borough, talking and listening to people in our communities, and I have heard from many people how shocked they are that coronavirus is still here with us. I heard that people made enormous sacrifices to keep infection rates low, and when the restrictions were lifted in June, they believed that things would start to return to normal and we could all start to enjoy the things we used to take for granted. I also heard that
people in areas of high incidence feel stigmatised and blamed for the situation we find ourselves in.
It’s clear when we look at the trends in confirmed cases in the borough, that too many restrictions were lifted too quickly in Calderdale. In parts of Halifax particularly, the infection rates are amongst the very highest in the country. The situation can change rapidly, and at the time I’m writing this, there are no areas in Leicester, Blackburn with Darwen or Luton, where the infection rates are higher than those we can see in some parts of Halifax. Infection rates in Calderdale are currently increasing faster than in any other borough in the Yorkshire and Humber region.
There’s no evidence at all, that these higher rates are because people in Calderdale are less likely to observe social distancing that people in other areas of the country; in fact, the opposite is true. During lockdown we had some of the lowest infection rates in the country. Although we only have limited information about how and where people become infected, the data we do have indicates that we are seeing Covid-19 cases in people who have been working in essential roles right throughout the lockdown. These are the people who care for us, feed us, serve us and transport us. Since lockdown has eased, these are the people who are more likely to come into contact with Covid-19. These are the people who should be celebrated rather than blamed!
We don’t know why each case of Covid-19 happens, but we do know what we can do to slow the spread. Partners in Calderdale are determined to bring our infection rate back down to the national average. Informed by the evidence over many years, and learning from other areas in the current crisis, we have agreed that we will:
Prevent Covid-19 cases and outbreaks, by:
– Sharing clear and consistent messages with the public
– Engaging with communities particularly in areas of high incidence
– Supporting businesses and employers implement Covid secure working practices.
Identify Covid-19 cases quickly, by:
– Increasing the amount of testing undertaken in the borough
– Improving access to testing for residents
– Using intelligence to target testing at people in high risk areas, settings and occupations, whether or not they have symptoms.
Reduce transmission of the virus, by
– Delivering local contact tracing to enhance the national test and trace service
– Providing support to people to enable them to self-isolate
– Enforcing coronavirus restrictions.
Our infection rate will increase before it reduces. This is because we need to find more people with Covid-19, so that they can be supported to isolate to reduce the spread of virus. This increase before the decrease has been seen in other areas that have successfully reduced the infection rate.
Because of our high infection rate, Calderdale has been given the opportunity to deliver a local Covid-19 contact tracing service to work hand-in-hand with the national NHS Test and Trace service. This will be launched on Friday 14 August, subject to approval at a meeting with Government on that day. Local contact tracing will work by details of contacts of people who have tested positive for Covid-19, that have not been reached by the national service within 48 hours, being passed to the local public health team. We will then try to contact them, by text, phone or by knocking on their doors, to give them advice and support to self-isolate. The local service will be delivered by a partnership between Calderdale Council, local NHS organisations, local businesses and local voluntary and community groups, all of whom have in-depth knowledge of local communities, that no national service can ever be
expected to have.
For those if us who have symptoms or have been in contact with someone with the virus, the advice is:
– If you get symptoms, stay at home for 10 days, self-isolate and book a test online by visiting the NHS website, there are different ways you can get a test to suit your circumstances, including walk-up, home delivery and drive in
– If you are contacted by the test and trace service and told you have been in contact with a confirmed covid-19 case, follow the advice you are given. This will be to stay at home for 14 days
– If you need support because you have been advised to self-isolate visit Calderdale Council website and click on coronavirus on the front page if you can’t get online call 01422 392890.
The Council and Police are working hard to support local businesses and workplaces implement the restrictions to protect their staff and customers. We are visiting premises across the borough to offer support, but if we find organisations that are breaching the regulations, and that are unwilling to implement the improvements we recommend, we will take enforcement action.
You can keep up to date with the Covid-19 situation in Calderdale on the Council’s coronavirus webpages here
Contact us through firstname.lastname@example.org