This week’s coronavirus column

Published Thursday 4 November 2021 at 9:51

In his Coronavirus column this week, Prof Dominic Harrison, our Director of Public Health and Wellbeing, comments on Household Transmission, Self-isolation & Testing.

Covid case rates across Lancashire local authority areas are showing increasingly wide variations. Fylde Borough Council area is currently highest on 624 cases per 100,000 whilst Blackburn with Darwen is at 305 cases per 100,000.

As of Tuesday, 2 November, Blackburn with Darwen was 31st lowest out of 149 Upper Tier Local Authorities in England. The borough is in the lowest 25% of local authority areas for Covid case rates. The national range this week is that Westminster is lowest in England at 170 per 100,000, and Bath is highest at 783.

Within all local authority areas, the cases by electoral ward also vary dramatically – Blackburn with Darwen’s highest ward case rate this week was at 462 per 100,000, and lowest was at 139.

Covid-19 has a very strong tendency to ‘cluster’.  During previous peak pandemic waves in Blackburn with Darwen, data was showing 50% of all cases clustering in households.

The continuing evidence of clustering at household or postcode levels means that the government’s recently altered advice that ‘close contacts’ of cases  (including household contacts) who are fully vaccinated now do not need to self-isolate is a growing risk. At the moment close contacts are advised to get a PCR test but do not have to immediately self-isolate and can continue to socially mix until, if and when, they test positive for Covid. PCR results most often come back within 24 hours, during which time, if cases are positive, they have avoidably spread the virus. Similarly, their household members, very likely as close contacts to be cases, will not have self-isolated. If positive, they too will have also avoidably spread the virus.

If we want to effectively control the continued spread of the virus into the winter higher risk period, we really need to revert to the previous common sense guidance. That is that close contacts should self-isolate until they get a confirmed negative result on a PCR test.

Whilst Blackburn with Darwen and Burnley rates remain much lower than the national average, the number of Covid hospital admissions in East Lancashire Hospitals Trust is still rising. On Monday, 1 November, there were 53 Covid in-patients in East Lancashire Hospitals Trust, of whom 14 were Blackburn with Darwen residents. Nine out of these 14 patients were double jabbed, three had had no vaccine, one had one dose, and for one person records were incomplete.

The percentage of hospitalised double-dosed in-patients is rising. Most double-dosed hospital Covid admissions were for older or clinically vulnerable residents with weaker immune systems and consequently more rapidly waning immunity – this is a strong signal that we need to increase the uptake of the booster jab rapidly.

From this week, anyone six months past their second Covid vaccine dose can just turn up at those vaccine centres offering walk-in sessions, and get their booster without booking an appointment.

My strong advice for this week is this:

Whatever the national guidance is says, if you do have a new Covid case in your household, the safest response is to get a PCR test and self-isolate until confirmed negative, if you can.

Also, if you are over 50 or clinically vulnerable, work out your six months from second jab date, and mark that clearly in your diary so you can get your booster jab that day!

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