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Blog: Sue Forster, Director of Public Health for St Helens

19 February 2021

Dear residents,

Sue Forster

It’s fantastic that just over 90% of registered patients across St Helens Borough within categories 1-4, so that's those aged 70 and over and the clinically extremely vulnerable have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

It also great news that this week people aged 65 and over and the clinically vulnerable have been invited to receive their Covid-19 vaccinations. I am so proud of everyone involved in this enormous task. However, it is really important that we do not lower our guard – people who are vaccinated can still spread the virus.

As schools remain open for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers, we need to protect everyone these children and their teachers may come into contact with. So, we are asking families to get themselves and their children tested before returning to school after the half-term break. There are three symptom-free testing sites in St Helens Borough. We are prioritising symptom-free testing for people who cannot work from home to help to manage demand.

If you have any coronavirus symptoms, please do not attend a symptom-free testing site, instead, stay at home and book a Covid test online or by calling 119.

To protect ourselves and others, we need to continue to stay home as much as possible, and follow ‘hands, face, space’ when we do go out for essential trips or daily exercise.

We are aware that supermarkets in the area have become very busy, which has at times made it difficult for people to keep their distance from each other. We do ask that for the safety of everyone that residents shop alone if possible, wear a face covering, sanitise hands and trolleys and maintain a safe space from others.

As we eagerly await the national roadmap to outline the next steps in the fight against the virus, we will continue to keep information on our website updated to help with any queries and questions that you may have: https://www.sthelens.gov.uk/coronavirus

Stay home, stay safe, stop the spread.

 

Sue

 

 

 

Previous posts

Dear residents,

St Helens currently has one of the highest coronavirus rates in the country, so we must continue to be vigilant and continue to wash our hands, cover our faces and make space.

It’s crucial to self-isolate if you are instructed to by NHS Test and Trace, the COVID-19 app, your workplace or school. It will break the link in the chain - stopping the spread of coronavirus, protecting our NHS, and saving lives.

The vaccine rollout is going tremendously well, but the vaccine doesn’t stop the virus from spreading, and many people show no symptoms so can be passing it on without knowing.

We have been alerted to a new variant of Covid-19 that has been found across Merseyside, including here in St Helens Borough, and other areas of the North West.

There is currently no indication that this version of the virus is more transmissible or results in more serious illness but work is ongoing to identify if the variant is more resistant to antibodies.

This mutation of the virus is different to the South African variant, which has been identified in Southport and other places in the UK this week.

It is common for viruses to mutate, I don’t want people to get concerned but we need to all play our part by always ensuring we keep to the rules and get tested when we have symptoms no matter how mild. This way regardless of the mutation of the virus we will bring the infection rates down in our community.

But as part of this we are urging anyone who is feeling unwell to get a Covid-19 test, even if they aren’t showing the classic symptoms.

The three main symptoms of Covid-19 are a high temperature, a persistent cough or a loss of smell or taste.

But there are other symptoms that have been reported by people who have tested positive, such as a persistent headache, diarrhoea, fever and chills, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, sore throat, congestion or runny nose and nausea or vomiting.

You can read the other symptoms on the World Health Organisation website.

If you do feel unwell, even if your symptoms are mild, please book a traditional PCR test online. It’s important that you do not use the symptom free test sites if you are feeling unwell.

You can book a free test by calling 119, book online at www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test or through the government's NHS Covid app: www.nhs.uk/apps-library/nhs-covid-19

When you are booking a test online, say you do not have the classic symptoms, then in follow up pages choose the option which says ‘My local council or health protection team has asked me (or someone I live with) to get a test, even though I do not have symptoms’.

It’s vital we catch cases quickly and then follow the isolation rules for the entire household to prevent the spread. If you’re worried about losing out on pay if you cannot work, check to see if you are eligible for a £500 payment if you test positive.

Also, if you are isolated by coronavirus and are in urgent need or are vulnerable and you are self-isolating, call the St Helens Together helpline for support on 01744 676767 (open 8am-10pm, 7 days a week).

Stay home, stay safe, stop the spread.

Sue

Dear residents,

Firstly, it’s fantastic to see so many people following government guidance. Remember to keep washing your hands, stay two metres apart and to wear a face mask when making essential journeys. It is the best way to protect you, your loved ones and the most vulnerable in our communities from Coronavirus.

With more and more people getting vaccinated daily (thank you again to the extraordinary staff and volunteers), I would like to stress that even if you have received the vaccine, you must continue to follow social distancing and the restrictions in place. You could still spread the virus to others, so you must continue to remain within your household and support bubbles.

On Tuesday 26 January, we hit another great milestone of 50,000 symptom-free tests carried out across St Helens Borough. I am so proud and thankful for everyone who was involved. Keep up the amazing work! To get a symptom-free test, you need to attend one of the local testing centres. During lockdown, only key workers and anyone who cannot work from home should be attending this testing.

From today, if you test positive from a symptom-free test, you no longer need to complete a home testing kit (PCR swab test) as well. If you do have a positive test result you must self-isolate for 10 days. This means not leaving the house apart from if you need a test. Self-isolation is crucial to stopping the spread of the virus, protecting our NHS, and saving lives.

If you have any of the Covid-19 symptoms – a new, continuous cough, a high temperature or a loss of sense of smell or taste please do not use the symptom-free testing. If you have symptoms, then book a test online or by calling 119.

Even though there have been so many fantastic developments, we must not lower our guard. We have seen staff absences as high as 85 per cent – many of whom are staff cleaners, caretakers, and caterers, who all play a vital role in our community. Our resources are stretched, and this may mean the council has to reduce or halt some services to maintain delivery of frontline roles. Our priority is to look after our most vulnerable residents.

Please, stay home to protect everyone across St Helens.

Sue

Dear residents,

It’s fantastic to see the vaccine being rolled out to those most at risk of catching and being seriously ill with coronavirus. And this week, people aged 70 and over and the clinically extremely vulnerable are beginning to receive invitations for their vaccinations.

I am so proud of everyone involved in this enormous task. Please do not call any NHS organisation to ask about the vaccine – you will be contacted when it’s your turn.

It’s also really important that people who have received the vaccine continue to follow social distancing and the restrictions in place. You must continue to remain within your household and support bubbles because you could still spread the virus to others.

We must not lower our guard as rates are still very high in our community. Let’s dig deep and do all we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones – please stay at home as much as possible and follow ‘hands, face, space’ when we do go out for essential trips or daily exercise.

I know it is tough to be in lockdown at this time of year, but we’re all in this together and there is hope in sight. We know most people are following the rules and we thank you for playing your part. If you are struggling with isolation, or need practical help with getting food delivered, please reach out for support. If you don’t have anyone nearby to help, please call St Helens Together on 01744 676767.

Please also remember to use our testing services:

  • If you have any of the coronavirus symptoms, book a test online or by calling 119.
  • Many people may have the virus but not be showing any symptoms, so asymptomatic testing is also vital in controlling the spread of COVID-19. During lockdown, only key workers and anyone who cannot work from home should be attending this testing. Read more about the asymptomatic testing sites in St Helens, open seven days a week.

For more information on what the national lockdown means to us in St Helens, see www.sthelens.gov.uk/covidfaqs. We will continue to update and add to these questions in response to your queries.

Stay home, stay safe, stop the spread.

Sue

Dear residents,

You will know that the new year has not got off to a very good start, as the rapidly rising cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) have forced the country into another lockdown.

This means everyone should stay at home at much as possible to control the virus, protect the NHS and save lives. Only leave home for work (if you cannot work from home), essential shopping, exercise (once a day, in your local area) or medical appointments.

You must not mix with other households unless they’re in your support or childcare bubble. Schools and colleges will remain open for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers, and early years settings will remain open for all children.

Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised to shield because they are more likely to be seriously ill if they catch COVID-19. This means they should only leave home for medical appointments and exercise. If you are affected, I encourage you to register for support in accessing food, medicine and for your mental health. If you need to register by phone or you have an urgent need, the St Helens Together helpline 01744 676767 is open seven days a week from 8am to 10pm.

The drastic jump in cases is due to the new variant of COVID-19, which spreads more easily. In St Helens Borough, cases doubled from Christmas week to the following week. These figures are similar across the country – an estimated one in 50 people is now infected with the virus.

Hospitals across the UK are now under more pressure than they have been at any other point throughout the pandemic. Staying at home and following ‘hands, face, space’ are more important than ever.

We’ve coped with lockdown, home schooling and shielding before – and I know we can do it again. But this time, we have better testing, and we are already getting the vaccine to those who need it most. Please do not call your GP practice to ask about the vaccine – you will be contacted when it’s your turn.

For more information on what the national lockdown means to us in St Helens, see www.sthelens.gov.uk/covidfaqs. We will continue to update and add to these questions in response to your queries.

Stay safe,

Sue

Hello all,

This week, many of you will have been disappointed to hear the revised rules for gathering with friends and family over Christmas. This decision was made in response to the recent rise in coronavirus cases. I know you understand that we must continue to protect our most vulnerable and avoid overwhelming our NHS.

Although currently focused in the South East, the new variant of COVID-19 spreads more easily, and it may already be in our communities too. There is no evidence that it is any more dangerous or resistant to the vaccine, which is great news. But to stop it in its tracks, we really need to continue following ‘hands, face, space’, and to increase symptom-free testing, which is available for anyone in St Helens Borough. It’s crucial to find those people who could be spreading the virus without displaying any symptoms.

Another way to reduce the spread is to limit unnecessary travel and interactions, so please think carefully about who you meet with on Christmas Day. Just because you can mix with two other households, do you need to? Can you meet virtually or go for a walk rather than spending the day indoors together? If you do meet up, please try to put extra measures in place to keep your loved ones safe.

I am so thankful to our communities for pulling together to keep figures in St Helens low, but we need to keep this up for a little while longer – until the vaccine is rolled out more widely. I wish you all the best for the festive season and hope that 2021 is a more prosperous year for us all.

Stay safe,

Sue

Dear residents,

Following the review of the tier system coronavirus restrictions, St Helens Borough remains in Tier 2. This means we are still on high alert. A reminder that in Tier 2, we must continue to not mix with others indoors, apart from with our household or support bubble. The rule of six applies outdoors, and pubs and restaurants must close by 11pm. Alcohol can only be served with a substantial meal. Personal care, including gyms, hairdressers, and salons, remain open.

Everyone in St Helens Borough has worked so hard over the last few months to drive down the rates of coronavirus, which previously enabled us to move down from the highest alert level, Tier 3. With the vaccine rollout firmly underway, there is light at the end of this tunnel. We must not give up now. Please keep following the guidance of hands, face, space.

Symptom-free COVID-19 community testing in now available for everyone living and working in the St Helens Borough area. It’s important that if you have coronavirus symptoms you do not attend any of the local symptom-free testing centres. If you do have coronavirus symptoms, you should book a test straight away online or by calling 119. If you are self-isolating because you have come into contact with someone who has tested positive, please do stay at home and remember you only need to get tested if you have symptoms.

There has been much discussion in recent weeks about the plans for Christmas bubbles. The government guidance allows you to join with two other households, to form a bubble of three households, between 23rd and 27th December if you need to. Please carefully consider whether you really need to do this. If you do need to form a Christmas bubble, keep it as small as possible and maintain social distancing within the home and keep windows open. Try not to travel outside of the area where you live and avoid meeting elderly or vulnerable people.

While everyone wants to enjoy the Christmas period, we must accept that this year is not a normal one and coronavirus is still a very real threat. By keeping Christmas celebrations limited to our own households where possible, we can much better control the spread of the virus, protect our NHS, and put ourselves in a good position to start the new year. From 28th December, the tier restrictions will apply once again.

Many of us will be missing friends and family, particularly at this time of year. Make the most of technology and stay connected virtually. It is a great way to spread a bit of cheer to those who may be feeling lonely. You can find more ideas and tips on festive ways to connect this year on the St Helens Borough Council website.

Thank you for reading.

Stay safe,

Sue

Dear residents,

I am sure you will all join me in celebrating the fantastic news that the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine rollout is now underway on the NHS. I also want to share with you the details of another exciting tool we now have available to us in the fight against Coronavirus.

We are now able to offer symptom-free community testing in St Helens Borough, allowing everyone living and working in the area to get a free COVID-19 test. It involves a swab from the nose and mouth, done by yourself, and gives results in as little as 30 minutes.

Symptom-free testing will help us find people who may unknowingly be spreading COVID-19 in the community, helping to drive down rates of the virus and keep people safe. We really need your support in this. The more people without symptoms that get regular testing, the quicker we can reduce the spread of the virus and ultimately get back to doing the things we love.

Symptom-free testing in St Helens Borough is available on a walk-in basis at St Mary’s Indoor Market, Grange Valley Youth Centre in Haydock and Chester Lane Community Centre. All centres are open Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 6pm, and 10am to 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

I would like to thank the members of the military who assisted in getting these testing centres up and running over the last few days.

Remember, this is for people without symptoms of Coronavirus. If you do have symptoms, you must self-isolate at home and order a test online.

Although the vaccine and symptom-free testing are both wonderful news, we must recognise that Coronavirus is still a very real threat. We all need to continue to follow the rules and the ‘hands, face, space’ guidance by washing our hands regularly, wearing face coverings, and keeping our distance.

Thank you for reading.

Stay safe,

Sue

Dear residents,

This week, perhaps the best Christmas present we have all received is the brilliant news that a COVID-19 vaccine has now been approved. We are supporting our NHS locally with Coronavirus vaccination plans, which will be rolled out this month.

Due to a significant drop in Coronavirus cases and hospital admissions in St Helens, we are now in tier 2 restrictions, which is a direct result of our community pulling together and working incredibly hard to combat Coronavirus.

Although this is great news, we must make sure that we continue to follow the rules to limit the amount of contacts we have and the ‘hands, face, space’ guidance by washing hands, wearing face coverings, and keeping our distance. We want to make sure that the virus does not spread into our community again.

Another way to tackle the virus is by finding people who have the virus but who show no symptoms. A symptom-free test, which gives you results in as little as 30 minutes, will soon be available for St Helens Borough residents. This will really help to drive down rates even further as it will find people who may have been unknowingly spreading COVID-19.

As we roll this opportunity out, we really do need your support as the more people we test, the quicker we can reduce the spread. We can all play our part in protecting our friends, loved ones and community and by keeping us in tier 2 for Christmas.

I know we can beat this virus together, as I have seen the way St Helens has responded so far.

Thank you for reading.

Stay safe,

Sue

Dear residents,

Our local NHS is working incredibly hard to fight coronavirus in our hospitals as well as vaccinating as many people as possible, quickly and safely.

St Helens Borough still has one of the highest rates of the virus in the country and, with the increase of new variants in our community, we need to continue to support our NHS by remaining vigilant. Please continue to follow the guidance in place and keep washing hands, covering faces and keeping space from others.

To drive down cases in St Helens Borough, we are now urging anyone who is feeling unwell to get a COVID-19 test, even if they aren’t showing the classic symptoms.

We know children tend to have milder symptoms and catch the virus less easily than adults, but they can still spread the virus to others. So it is really important that if your child is unwell, you do not send them to school until they have had a negative COVID test result.

Simply call 119, book online or through the COVID-19 app. When booking online, tick to say you do not have the main symptoms. When asked ‘why are you asking for a test’ select the option ‘my local council or health protection team has asked me to get a test, even though I do not have symptoms’.

If you have booked a test and are awaiting the result or have received a positive test result, you must self-isolate and not leave the house. Self-isolation is the key to preventing the spread of the virus and saving lives.

If you are self-isolating and vulnerable or isolated by coronavirus and are in urgent need of help, call the St Helens Together helpline for support on 01744 676767 (open 8am-10pm, 7 days a week).

Many of us are finding lockdown hard on our mental health and we all know that getting out and about to do our daily exercise can really help with this. We have seen a worrying increase in the number of people in our parks and attending beauty spots, especially at weekends. It’s vital that we exercise from our doorstep only, avoiding busy and popular places where it can be harder to keep our distance and prevent the chances of spreading the virus.

We have received many reports of supermarkets becoming too busy for people to keep their distance from each other. I’d like to remind residents to shop alone if possible, to wear a face covering, sanitise hands and trolleys and maintain a safe space from other people.

Stay home, stay safe, stop the spread.

Sue