Message from Debs Harkins, Calderdale’s Director of Public Health

19 Feb 2021: The new UK COVID-19 variant that is known to spread more easily is now the dominant strain in Calderdale, with 98% of cases now being identified as this type. The current rate of infection in the borough is 182 per 100,000 residents and this is 4% lower than the same day last week. This means that the infection rate in Calderdale is now 64th highest of all local authorities in England, and we have the third highest rate in West Yorkshire.

There appears to be a number of reasons that the current national lockdown has had less of an impact on the infection rate in Calderdale than in other areas.

The recent snow and icy weather, as well as issues with frozen pipes at our local testing centre, are likely to have impacted on our case numbers and the apparent rise, making the rate artificially low at just under 150 in early February, and leading to an increase when the testing sites reopened and the weather improved last week.

There is evidence that the local economy in Calderdale and neighbouring areas means that fewer people can do their jobs at home. We are stepping up our support for workplaces and, working with our partners, we continue to engage with businesses and communities to protect people from the virus and help prevent COVID-19 cases and outbreaks.

We all need to remember that the variant is spreading more easily in workplaces, with evidence of transmission between people who are unable to work from home. If we do need to go into the workplace, we need to be even more vigilant than previously. Stay at least 2 metres away from other people at all times, including during breaks, wear a face covering and wash hands frequently. The best thing we can all do to help is stay at home as much as possible.

We also know that 1 in 3 people that have COVID-19 don’t have symptoms and this presents an even greater opportunity for the virus to spread. Lateral flow tests are being offered to all staff that must continue to leave home to work during the lockdown. These rapid tests can be a useful way of identifying people without symptoms, so that if you test positive, we can support you to self-isolate and protect your co-workers and the community.

Supporting people who have tested positive (and their contacts) to isolate is critical to controlling the spread of infection. Please seek the support available if you need to self-isolate but are struggling to do so. Our contact tracers can provide advice and signpost people to help, if needed.

Community engagement is at the heart of our approach to tackling the virus. We have a team of more than 90 community COVID champions who are talking and listening to their local communities about concerns about the virus and about how we can reduce the spread and minimise the impact.

Last weekend we had a pop-up vaccination centre at the Central Jamia Mosque Madni in Halifax. Anyone in the top four groups set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, regardless of faith, could drop in and 120 people from the surrounding community received their first COVID-19 jab. Almost all of these people had already been invited for the vaccine but not taken up the offer and the opportunity to speak to trusted people in the community about any concerns encouraged many to have the vaccine. I would like to say a huge thank you to the Madni Mosque for their support with this and we’re hoping to be able to open more pop-up vaccination centres in the future, where we have evidence that vaccine uptake may be lower. You can watch a video from the day here.

We all need to keep doing the three big things to prevent the spread of COVID-19: stay at home and avoid contact, wear a face covering unless you are medically exempt, and self-isolate if you test positive or are a contact.

I’m afraid the nature of our economy and the new more transmissible variant mean that COVID-19 will be with us, and impacting on our lives for some time to come. If we all do everything we can to reduce the spread, we will be able to keep the case rates as low as possible, while we vaccinate the people that are most likely to have serious complications if they contract the virus.