[To receive a verbal update from the Director of Public Health on the latest information regarding Covid-19 in the City of Wolverhampton].
The Director for Public Health gave an update on Covid-19 in the City. The weekly case rate per 100,000 in the West Midlands was currently at 319.2. In Wolverhampton it was at 330.0. He expected that figure to rise to somewhere between 360.0 to 365.0 the following day. He showed a graph showing the rise in cases from the 30 August 2020 across England, the Black Country and Wolverhampton. Towards September and October 2020 there was a significant rise in the curve in Wolverhampton. The dip on the graph from 13 November 2020 could probably be explained by the lag in lab results coming through. The case rate in Wolverhampton had not accelerated at the rate of its Black Country neighbours, it was doing comparably better, although cases per 100,000 still remained high and it was still accelerating. Wolverhampton’s case rate was higher than the average for the Country. The average for England for the 7 days up to 16 November was approximately 250 Covid-19 cases per 100,000. Dudley and Sandwell had the highest rates in the Black Country.
The Director for Public Health presented a slide on Covid-19 case rates by ward area in Wolverhampton in the 14 days up to 16 November 2020. The key point from the slide was that if there was a ward which was showing a low number of Covid-19 cases, this didn’t mean the infection wasn’t within the ward area. It was often a sign that more testing was required. As an example, Heath Town ward had been showing a low rate a few weeks ago. When targeted testing was undertaken, a higher amount of cases was found within the ward area. The Covid-19 infection had spread across the City, it was not contained to any particular wards. It was key to encourage people to undertake a PCR test if they had symptoms and when they did not have symptoms they could receive a lateral flow test at one of the pilot areas.
The Director for Public Health displayed a heat map showing the Covid-19 age specific confirmed case rate per 100,000 in Wolverhampton in the 7 days up to 12 November 2020. Where there was a darker shade it indicated a higher rate for each of the five different age groups differentiated. The 60 plus age group was starting to show a darker bracket, which was the group which needed to be the most protected. This was because this age group were more likely to have to receive hospital treatment and to have poorer outcomes if they caught the virus. Protecting the most vulnerable was key.
The Director for Public Health presented a slide on responding to the second wave. The fact that the vaccine was in development was positive news but it was important that this did not distract from the immediate issues of the importance of compliance with guidance, testing, contract tracing and ensuring systems were in place as a bridging strategy before a vaccine was rolled out. There were now six PCR testing sites within the City, which had increased the testing capacity within the City. The testing rate was very good at 2,700 per 100,000 people. This equated to approximately 1000 tests each day within the City. A new test site in Wednesfield at the Community Hall (Gurdwara) was now open. A testing site at Whitmore Reams Library would be opening on the present day. Lateral Flow Testing had also been introduced, with a site on Sedgley Street at the Gurdwara opening for a pilot between the 19 November to 30 November. In addition, there were a number of other possible pilots being planned. Lateral Flow Testing was a tool to enable identification of people with Covid-19 that were asymptomatic and therefore to be able to reduce the spread of virus by informing the individual to self-isolate if they tested positive.
The Director for Public Health spoke on the matter of contract tracing. A local enhanced contract tracing offer complimented the national system. This meant that 91% of positive cases were being picked up and support offered. Key messages were also able to be relayed to the person.
The Director for Public Health stated that over 1,300 business had been issued Covid compliant stickers. This indicated they had completed a risk assessment with the Council and were “Covid compliant.” The stickers gave consumers more confidence. They were recruiting an additional 8 Covid support workers which would bring the total number to 20. Their role was to bolster compliance with the public and businesses in the City, which was a vital part in managing the spread of the virus.
The Director for Public Health commented that the Government had replaced the Shielding Scheme with writing letters to vulnerable people communicating the latest advice and guidance. The Council had worked with the CCG in writing to 9,000 extremely clinically vulnerable people and offered support.
The Scrutiny Officer asked the Director for Public Health how he thought the infection was being driven in the City. The Director responded that the situation had changed considerably over the last two months. When they had been entering Tier 2 it had been clear that it was spreading within households and between households. At that point there weren’t any significant issues in workplaces, educational settings, Hospitals or Care Homes. It then became clear that the community infection was spreading amongst younger working age people and then all working aged people in the age group 19-59. From there it had gone forward. There were now some significant outbreaks in a number of the City’s Care Homes, but they were confident they had a grip on the situation. The place with the greatest number of outbreaks at the present time was within workplaces. It wasn’t that there wasn’t good guidance in the workplaces, the virus was spreading due to human behaviour, such as a person letting their guard down during their lunch hour in a communal area. The same principles applied in faith settings, such as entering, exiting, mingling afterwards and the travel to and from the venue.
A Panel Member commented that she had received a letter from the National Education Union expressing a concern about workplaces in education settings. The Director for Public Health responded that when there were the first infections at the beginning of the school term in September there had been about 18 infections and 2000 children off school. The Director for Children’s Services had led an Incident Management Team (IMT) for the City to see how they could work with schools to keep them secure but to also allow school children to attend wherever possible. As a consequence of this effective work more children had been able to attend school and there were very few actual Covid-19 outbreaks.
The Chief Executive of the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust commented that it was very important that New Cross Hospital was not overrun. The situation was different to March and April earlier in the year, he now also had to carry on with other treatments instead of cancelling them. At present there were 16 Covid-19 patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ITU). There had been a total of 326 deaths at the Trust relating to Covid-19. This was a mortality rate of 24% of people who were being treated for Covid-19 at the Trust. It was an awful disease; it was therefore important to stop people having to be admitted to Hospital wherever they could. At the weekend the Trust had taken 3 ITU patients from Stoke. He had not come across a disease with the same mortality rate as Covid-19 in his time. The next 6-8 weeks would be crucial. The average length of stay for someone in an ITU bed with Covid-19 was two weeks plus.
The Chairman paid tribute to the Director of Public Health for his work during the Covid-19 pandemic.