Statement by five Devon County Councillors calling for more assertive social distancing measures against the Coronavirus

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Photo Claudio Furlan/Lapresse 10 March 2020 Brescia (Italy) Tents and emergency structures of the Civil Hospitals of Brescia for the coronavirus emergency

We are gravely concerned that the people of Devon are being excessively exposed to the threat of death through the coronavirus, because the Government is failing to introduce the social distancing measures needed to contain the epidemic.

The UK has fewer hospital beds, fewer Intensive Care Unit beds and fewer specialist respiratory beds than other European countries. In Devon we have more than our fair share of the elderly population who will be especially vulnerable to the epidemic.

A Government adviser, Dr David Halpern, has suggested that we can ‘cocoon’ the vulnerable while the epidemic runs through the rest of the population. This is false, because if there is a high level of contagion, the elderly will inevitably catch the virus too, and it is NOT true that the young and fit people are safe. In Italy, people of 20, 30 and 40 are also suffering life-threatening pneumonias, and hospitals are are leaving people over 60 to die because there is not enough specialist equipment (such as ventilators) to save all the victims.

It is estimated that we have four weeks before we are in the extreme situation currently faced in Italy. As Jeremy Hunt, chair of the Health Select Committee and former Health Secretary, has suggested, we should be using this time to introduce radical social distancing measures to protect our population. These have been shown to slow down and contain the epidemic in China and South Korea and they should be used here while we have the chance.

If we can slow down the epidemic even for a few months, we have a better chance of restricting the severe cases to the numbers which the NHS can treat. Meanwhile, medical researchers may identify drugs which can help treat the worst cases, and a vaccine to protect against the virus.

Boris Johnson has said that many more families will lose loved ones. But his policy is unnecessarily condemning many people to die when the NHS becomes unable to cope. We cannot stand by and allow this to happen. Until we can vaccinate against this virus, we need to accept radical restrictions to our lives, in order to save lives. We call on our Devon MPs and Councils to press the Government to immediately change direction.

This statement is issued on behalf of County Councillors:

  • Hilary Ackland (Exeter, Pinhoe and Mincinglake)
  • Marina Asvachin (Exeter, Wonford and St. Loyes)
  • Martin Shaw (Seaton and Colyton)
  • Nick Way (Crediton)
  • Claire Wright (Otter Valley) 

(All members of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee, but this statement is issued in our personal capacities.)

Dealing with Coronavirus (3): My policy on home working as a County Councillor

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As of today I am working from home and will not be attending meetings until further notice. I have taken this decision because I believe that it is in the interests of the community that direct social contact, which places people in close proximity with each other, be reduced as far as possible, so as to reduce transmission of the disease.
I am also taking account, of course, of the fact that I am over 70 and therefore in a vulnerable category. I want to emphasise, however, that I think that there is a common interest in people of all ages in reducing opportunities for the virus to spread. I don’t want to be an agent spreading the virus within the community.
Younger people
While many cases are mild, COVID-19 has proved to be a dangerous disease, not only for older people and those with particular conditions, but also for many people in younger age groups. In Milan today, at least one major hospital is not providing ventilators to people over 60, because there are so many people under that age who need them.
Pressures on the NHS
In the UK we have fewer acute beds, Intensive Care beds and specialist respiratory beds than in Italy and most other Western European countries, and we in Devon risk a particularly severe crisis because of the age profile of our population.
Minimise contact
I think it is in all our interests to minimise contact, including meetings, in order to help slow the progression of the virus. We should all make the decisions that fit our situations and remember the need to support those around us who are in need of help.
 
While I am working from home, I will of course be available as usual by email and phone if you need any kind of assistance. 

Dealing with Coronavirus (2): Helpful advice for the symptom-free on how to change your lifestyle

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This advice is taken from the US publication, The Atlantic. They interviewed 3 public health professionals but this advice from Carolyn Cannuscio, the director of research at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, seemed most consistently useful.If you’re confused about what to do right now, The Atlantic says, you’re not alone. This guide is aimed toward those who are symptom-free and not part of an at-risk group. If you are symptom-free but are over 60 years old; have asthma, heart disease, or diabetes; or are otherwise at risk, experts recommend defaulting to a conservative response to each of these questions.

There is a general consensus that while young and healthy people who are at lower risk for personally suffering severe illness from the coronavirus don’t have to be locking themselves in their homes for the next month, they do need to dramatically alter their daily lives, starting now.


If I’m Symptom-Free:

Cannuscio: People should avoid gathering in public places. People should be at home as much as possible. The measures that have worked to get transmission under control or at least to bend the curve, in China and South Korea, have been extreme measures to increase social distancing.

CAN I HAVE A SMALL GROUP OF FRIENDS OVER TO MY HOUSE FOR A DINNER PARTY OR A BOARD-GAME NIGHT?

SHOULD I STOP DATING?

Cannuscio: It is a time to be very cautious about initiating contact with new people. This seems like a great time to get creative with your text messages. [Or] take it to FaceTime or a phone call.

CAN I GO TO THE GYM?

Cannuscio: If you’re going to go to the gym, try to go at a time when there are very few people there and definitely wipe down the equipment. However, as the weather warms in many parts of the United States, I would instead recommend that people go outside for walks or runs or bike rides in areas where there are not other people. This is really about depriving the virus the opportunity to move from one person to another.

SHOULD I BE WORRIED ABOUT GOING TO THE SUPERMARKET?

Cannuscio: I would say try to shop at times when there are very few other shoppers there. That [could mean] going first thing in the morning when the store opens, or late at night. I think many people will rely on delivery, and that’s just the nature of our lives right now. For delivery workers, I would say, leave the food on the doorstep and ring the bell, rather than interacting face-to-face with the person who’s ordered the food.

SHOULD I TAKE PUBLIC TRANSPORT?

Cannuscio: First of all, people who have the opportunity or the option of working at home should absolutely use that option right now. For people who have essential functions and have to be at work, if they have any flexibility in their schedules they should try to ride at non-peak hours. On subways or buses, people should try to stand as far away from other people as possible. I think it’s important for planners to think about, for example, putting more buses on the most heavily traveled routes, to maybe thin out the crowds on those buses. In cities where it’s possible to walk, that would be a better option.

For people who can afford to use ride-sharing services, you’re limiting the number of people you’re in contact with as the rider, so to me that seems like a reasonable step to take. Of course, I worry about all those drivers who have people in and out of their cars all day long.

SHOULD MY FAMILY BE CANCELING EVENTS LIKE BIRTHDAY PARTIES AND WEDDINGS?

Cannuscio: One of the best ways we can show love to the people we care about is to step back and to stay away. In many cases that takes courage, and it takes speaking out over these social norms that dictate that we should be polite and we should be together and we should celebrate and gather. Really seriously consider whether now is a joyful time to gather family members for a wedding celebration.

Cannuscio: I think if we are fortunate enough to live near our elders and we get into the mode of seriously isolating our own families, then one person should be designated to go and visit. If we’re not in a situation where we can truly limit our own social contact, then we will be putting that elder at risk by going to visit.

Dealing with coronavirus (1) The Government’s advice on what to do if you have symptoms – when to stay at home, and when to call 111

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Stay at home if you have coronavirus symptoms

Stay at home for 7 days if you have either:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough

Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. You do not need to contact 111 to tell them you’re staying at home.

Tips for staying at home

It’s important to stay at home to stop coronavirus spreading.

Do

  • try to keep at least 2 metres (3 steps) from other people in your home, particularly older people or those with long-term health conditions
  • ask friends and family and delivery services to deliver things like food shopping and medicines – but avoid contact with them
  • sleep alone if possible
  • regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds
  • try to stay away from older people and those with long-term health conditions
  • drink plenty of water and take everyday painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, to help with your symptoms

Don’t

  • do not have visitors (ask people to leave deliveries outside)
  • do not leave the house, for example to go for a walk, to school or public places

URGENT ADVICE: Use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service if:

  • you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home
  • your condition gets worse
  • your symptoms do not get better after 7 days

As I prepare to join the Health Scrutiny Committee this week, Claire Wright sums up the health crisis in Devon (before the coronavirus hits).

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On Thursday, I attend my first meeting as a member of the Devon Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee.

My colleague Claire Wright, who has been on the committee for seven years and has done more than anyone to highlight the problems of the health and social care system in Devon, writes about the current situation on her blog.

Devon County Council’s advice on the coronavirus crisis, including for schools and families

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Go HERE for full advice

We would like to reassure you that the government and NHS are well prepared to deal with this virus. The council is monitoring the situation closely and coordinating with Public Health England. We are taking all possible steps to keep you safe.

You can view the number of UK cases, broken down by region, and the latest test figures, and you can view the number of cases by local authority area.

You can also follow Public Health England’s Facebook page or Twitter feed for the latest updates, information and advice.

Schools and families

You can check for current school closures and subscribe to school closure notifications in Devon. Schools can update any closures by logging in directly.

We’ve been in regular contact with headteachers and are issuing frequent updates, as well as guidance on managing health and safety in schools, illness prevention and public relations. We’ll continue to provide support to all Devon schools.

Refer to the latest advice for schools and other educational settings, published jointly by Public Health England and Department for Education, including posters for use in schools.

View BBC Newsround’s video for children about Coronavirus: Why it might not be as scary as it sounds.

Should I send my child to school?

Yes, unless they’re unwell or have been advised to self-isolate. The safety, welfare and wellbeing of everyone in our schools community is our primary concern.

Please also be aware that media speculation is rife about the coronavirus (COVID-19) and not everything you read in the newspapers and online is accurate.

At the present time, there’s a low risk for anyone attending our schools. On advice from the Chief Medical Officer, the risk has been declared as “moderate.” This level allows the government to plan for all eventualities but that ultimately, the risk to individuals remains “low.”

The release of trusted and accurate information will always be done initially by the Chief Medical Officer. Further guidance will then be issued by Public Health England, the Department for Health and Social Care or the NHS. The local authority will also support those messages.

You can find the latest information and advice on coronavirus from Public Health England.

Department for Education coronavirus helpline

There is a helpline to answer questions about COVID-19 related to education. Staff, parents and young people can contact the helpline as follows: