‘Real challenge’ as more than 50 Norfolk care homes battle Covid outbreaks
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More than 50 Norfolk care homes and care settings have coronavirus outbreaks, with single cases in just over 70 more, worried council bosses have revealed.
James Bullion, Norfolk County Council’s director of adult social care, said there were five care homes in the county which were of particular concern and staffing homes was providing a “real challenge”.
While an outbreak is defined as two cases or more, Mr Bullion said in those five homes there were at least 10 residents who had tested positive and, in some cases, as many as 20 staff unable to work.
And he said it is up to all of us to help keep care homes Covid-free by adhering to the lockdown restrictions to stem the spread of the virus.
Mr Bullion said: “It is a real challenge and it is growing. We are worried about the increase in outbreaks. There’s clear evidence that community outbreaks lead to outbreaks in care homes.
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“The more we can all work to reduce the spread in the community, the better that is for residents in care homes.”
Mr Bullion said there were currently 51 outbreaks - defined as two or more cases - in 51 care homes or care settings and single cases in a further 71. There are just under 360 care homes in Norfolk.
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Mr Bullion said: “That is a significant number. The staffing is going to be a real issue during this winter period.
“We have to work with the homes and bring in additional staff and what we cannot do is bring in staff who have worked elsewhere, as that could spread the virus. It is a real challenge.”
He said that, of the 51 care settings with outbreaks, there were five care homes of particular concern, as they had at least 10 residents who had tested positive.
He said they were spread geographically around Norfolk, with one in Breckland, one in Broadland, one in South Norfolk, one in Great Yarmouth and one in Norwich.
He said: “They have had 10 residents or more who have tested positive and, in some cases 20 members of staff. Those are the five we are really worried about.”
Mr Bullion said he did not think the outbreaks were being caused by a lack of personal protective equipment or safety measures, but by asymptomatic staff unaware they had the virus, due to delays in getting test results through.
He said: “Care homes are now much better equipped with personal protective equipment. But until recently, the weekly testing of staff and the monthly testing of patients, was experiencing some delays. It’s really that issue which has caused the problems.”
He said if workers had been tested, were waiting for results, but did not have any symptoms, they were continuing to work.
So, if they had the virus, but were asymptomatic, it increased the risk of Covid-19 spreading within homes.
And Mr Bullion said: “Every time there’s an outbreak it means we have to work with the home to restrict visiting to only exceptional circumstances.”
He said it was important that people would be able to visit their loved ones in the months ahead, with the government trialling testing of visitors in some parts of the country.
He said: “I think the evidence for visiting causing outbreaks is very low. I think visitors will only add a risk if it is not done properly. It’s not visitors, but asymptomatic staff which trigger the outbreaks.
“It’s important that the testing has started, but I think where the government has been slow in extending that to incorporate visitors.”
He said the government would need to move quickly with plans to allow that to happen, as care homes would need to get used to the new tests which would be used.
Mr Bullion said: “If we can get it right it would take away the challenging situation where people have not been able to touch loved ones. I don’t think we will get to hugging, but it has been so difficult loved ones not being able to touch.”
He said it was crucial for people’s mental health that they are not isolated over winter - and that includes vulnerable people living at home.
Mr Bullion said: “It’s critical that the council, in partnership with the voluntary sector, reach out to communities and encourage everyone, restrictions permitting, to make sure people are not isolated. “It’s essential for people’s mental health that vulnerable people do get contact over these winter months.
In the first wave of coronavirus, Mr Bullion had raised concerns that patients with Covid-19 were being discharged into care homes.But he said, this time around, there has been better preparation and policies. Cawston Lodge and North Walsham Hospital are being used as “step-down” units for people with Covid on discharge from hospital.