Our Director of Public Health, Rachel Wigglesworth gives a Scilly-specific update following the recent rise of cases across the region and the changes to the self-isolation rules in England which came into play on 16 August.
Case numbers on the Isles of Scilly
Some of you may be aware that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are currently experiencing high rates of COVID-19 cases. At the time of writing, the interactive map of cases on the government website shows the Isles of Scilly has a case rate of 584.5 per 100,000 people, equating to a total of 13 cases in the seven days to 19 August 2021.
I appreciate that some of you may be concerned by the increase in cases, but we are monitoring the situation closely and encourage the usual precautions and public health measures listed at the end of this update. The current rate is not unexpected given the high visitor numbers and reduced restrictions. If you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace, they will be clear about anything particular they need you to do in each instance.
It’s important to remember that regardless of how many cases you believe there to be, there is always a risk that you may catch the virus so spread prevention behaviours remain vital at all times.
Changes to rules on self-isolation
On 16 August there was a change in the rules relating to self-isolation in England. As of this date, people who are fully vaccinated, or aged under 18 and 6 months, are no longer legally required to self-isolate if they are identified as a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case.
You are considered ‘fully vaccinated’ if you have been vaccinated with an MHRA approved COVID-19 vaccine in the UK, and at least 14 days have passed since receiving the recommended doses of that vaccine.
Even if you are fully vaccinated, if you are a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you will be asked to take a PCR test to check if you have the virus and for variants of concern.
It remains the case that you have to stay at home and self-isolate if any of the following apply:
- You experience symptoms. If you develop symptoms at any time, stay at home and self-isolate immediately.
- You have had a positive PCR but are not experiencing symptoms. You must stay at home and self-isolate as soon as you receive your positive test result.
- You have had a positive lateral flow test result. Stay at home and self-isolate immediately and get a PCR test as soon as possible and within 2 days of the positive test at the latest.
- You live in the same household as someone who is experiencing symptoms, or has tested positive for COVID-19, and are not exempt from self-isolation. Stay at home and self-isolate immediately unless you are exempt under the latest self-isolation rules for household contacts
- You are asked to do so by NHS Test and Trace. If NHS Test and Trace ask you to self-isolate for any reason, you should do so and follow their instructions carefully. You may be entitled to support under the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme. Failure to comply with a request from NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate may result in a fine, starting from £1,000.
A lot of the guidance on the government website has been updated following recent changes to the regulations so make sure you’re accessing the latest information. You should also ensure that the version of the NHS COVID-19 App you are running is the most recent version which reflects the changes to England’s self-isolation rules on 16 August.
Wider eligibility for vaccines
You may be aware that the age range for eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine has been expanded recently. COVID-19 vaccines are currently available for:
- everyone aged 16 or over
- some children aged 12 to 15 who have a higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 or who live with someone at high risk of catching it
On Scilly, the GP practice makes direct contact with those eligible for a vaccine. Most people will have already been contacted, however if you think you are eligible under the above categories and have not been offered a jab, please get in touch with the Health Centre as soon as you can. Those returning to education on the mainland should try to take up the offer of a vaccine on the islands prior to travel if possible. If this is not achievable, it will be important to arrange getting the vaccine on the mainland as soon as possible. If you are over 16 and on the mainland, check the NHS website to find your nearest walk-in coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination site.
The COVID-19 vaccine offers protection against the serious illness and complications of coronavirus, but it also means you are less likely to contract the virus in the first place (and therefore unable to spread it) or to experience the potentially debilitating effects of ‘long COVID’. The vaccine is also safe and recommended for pregnant women and for those planning to get pregnant. Having both doses of the vaccine also now reduces the likelihood that you will need to self-isolate.
Preventing spread amongst children and other unvaccinated groups
Whilst the vaccine’s rollout and effectiveness has been really encouraging, it is important to remember that the vaccine is not currently being offered to most people under the age of 16. Also, many 16 and 17-year olds will have only had access to a single dose of the vaccine. Hospitals and health services are seeing an increase in young people who have been affected by COVID-19 and in some cases the disease can be serious. Until the vaccine is more widely available, parents and those responsible for looking after children should continue do everything they can to prevent them from contracting COVID-19.
Similarly, some people are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons and these people will remain more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. You can help people in this situation by considering precautions such as wearing a face covering and limiting your contact as well as the more general measures set out below.
Reducing risk with spread prevention measures
Whilst many restrictions and some self-isolation rules have now been scaled back, there is still the risk of disruption to businesses, services and infrastructure on Scilly. This is particularly the case whilst the islands are at full capacity and the rates of coronavirus remain high. There may be further challenges as we enter the autumn and with children returning to school. Visitors and residents can help to reduce this risk to the community by continuing to follow these spread prevention measures which should now be familiar to us all - they really do help!
- Get a PCR test when necessary. You should get a coronavirus PCR test if at least one of the following applies:
- you have a high temperature
- you have a new, continuous cough
- you’ve lost your sense of smell or taste or it’s changed
- you’ve been asked to by a local council
- you've been asked to by your doctor or a medical professional (e.g. in preparation for going into hospital for surgery or a procedure)
- you’re taking part in a government pilot project
- you've been identified as a contact by NHS Test and Trace. NHS Test and Trace will contact you to let you know that you have been identified as a contact and check whether you are legally required to self-isolate. If you are not legally required to self-isolate, you will be provided with advice on testing and given guidance on preventing the spread of COVID-19.
- Stick to the safest interpretation of the guidance. Don’t seek to flex the rules. Don’t put pressure on others to flex the rules. Remember: modelling safe behaviours is a good way of encouraging others to do the same.
- Consider group size and physical interaction. At times of high prevalence, you should limit the close contact you have with those you do not usually live with and minimise the number, proximity and duration of social contacts. Make space where you can and respect the wishes of others.
- Get a vaccine if you are eligible. We urge you to take up the offer of a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you are invited to do so. It is the best way of protecting yourself from the most serious effects of the virus.
- Update and check in using the NHS App. The NHS COVID-19 App is a useful source of data for tracking the virus so by checking in wherever possible, you can contribute to a better understanding of the spread of coronavirus. Please ensure you have downloaded the latest version.
- Meet outside wherever possible. Socialising outside remains the safer option, as the Delta variant is much easier to transmit in enclosed spaces. If you are meeting inside, be sure to let plenty of fresh air into indoor spaces.
- Consider the most vulnerable. Remember some individuals remain more vulnerable to the serious complications of coronavirus, even if fully vaccinated. Also, some people are unable to get vaccinated and you should be particularly careful when interacting with them.
- Remember basic hygiene. Keep washing your hands and cleaning your surroundings regularly. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze and dispose of tissues safely.
- Take regular rapid (lateral flow) tests. If you are not symptomatic, you should take regular lateral flow tests (and report the results) to help us identify any potential for outbreaks. If you are experiencing symptoms, a lateral flow test is not sufficient, and you should get a PCR test immediately.
- Wear a face covering. The government still expects and recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded areas such as public transport. Our local public health team also strongly advises the wearing of face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces. You should also respect the policies of individual business owners and the measures they have put in place to protect their staff and other customers.
Thank you to everyone who continues to support the public health effort to prevent spread on the islands.