On Tuesday 26 January we hosted a Facebook Live Ask Us about COVID-19 event with a number of our partners. We wanted to provide our community with the opportunity to ask us questions about how we have been, and continue to respond to the pandemic.

Along with Cllr Steve Darling, the Leader of Torbay Council, the panel included:

  • the Director of Public Health for Torbay;
  • the Assistant Director for Education, Learning and Skills at Torbay Council;
  • and representatives from Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, Devon and Cornwall Police and the Torbay Community Development Trust.

Questions summary

Please find below a summary of the questions that were answered by the panel during the Ask Us about Covid-19 Live.

Deaths are rising, despite there being a national lockdown and track and trace system.  Where are these cases coming from? And, what is being done to target & influence these cohorts that are passing on the virus?

Dr Caroline Dimond, Director of Public Health at Torbay Council, responded by saying at the moment cases are very high in 20-40 year olds and we think this is down to two things:

  1. Household transmission - people not staying within their household (support bubble) and spreading the virus between households.
  2. Workplace transmission – more people could work from home and we need people who can’t work to COVID safe practices in their workplace. Deaths have not been so high in Torbay as in other areas nationally, but we have seen some deaths during the current peak, especially in the older age groups.

Business Grants. Why aren't you paying out grants you were given money for?

Councillor Steve Darling, Leader of Torbay Council, explained that we expect the processing of over 2,000 top-ups for the period 31 December to 20 February payments to take up to 14 days. So if you have already received a grant for November please do not chase a status update on this payment until 1 February. This will allow the team time to process these as quickly as possible.

If you have previously applied for one of the above grants since November, you do not need to reapply. Recurring or additional payments will be automatically made to applicants. More information about grants is available on the council coronavirus web pages.

Are there any plans to make testing more widely available, even to people who don’t have symptoms?

Julia Chisnell, Public Health Consultant for Torbay Council responded by saying that yes, the council is working with partners to introduce lateral flow testing during February for people who may have COVID but don’t have symptoms (knows as asymptomatic). This is for people who need to work but cannot work from home, including essential voluntary workers, as they are at greater risk from catching COVID and transmitting it in their place of work.  This regular testing is designed to find cases in people without symptoms who would otherwise be out and about.  It will help to keep our workplaces that bit safer.  It is one more part of our defence against infection and other measures – hands, face and space – remain vitally important.

How many people have been helped by the community helpline and how?

Simon Sherbersky, Strategic Director at the Torbay Community Development Trust, explained that his organisation had responded to 3550 calls for shopping, prescriptions, befriending enquiries, mental health support, housing support, financial and benefit support, transport support, prayer and reflection, handypersons support, links into other support such as social care.

He also said that 1212 have offered their volunteering services including over 200 people who have offered to help with marshalling at the vaccine centre.

Darryn Allcorn, Chief Nurse at Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, answered a number of questions about the vaccine

Are the approved vaccines safe?

All vaccines have been approved for use in the UK and have been through rigorous tests and approval processes to prove they are safe and effective. You will be contacted regarding an appointment for vaccination, so please do not contact your GP or the hospital.

Should you still have the vaccine if you have low tolerance to high doses of drugs?

It is best to speak to your GP if you have specific concerns. We have two vaccines which work in slightly different ways, so we have got different options if we need to use them. Suggest that any individual who is worried speak to their GP when they get called for their appointment.   

COVID vaccine numbers so far?

Numbers are published at a Devon wide level every Thursday. As of last week, 86,000 doses had been delivered across Devon, and we know numbers will be significantly higher this week. 1000s of vaccines are now being delivered across Devon every day. 

What plans are there for vaccinating housebound over 80 year olds?

We aim to make sure every individual within the eligible criteria is offered the vaccine, including people who are housebound.  It’s fair to say that initially, the Pfizer vaccine mobility was challenging. But, now pleased to say our Primary Care Teams supported by our Community Nursing teams in many areas have already started to vaccinate our housebound individuals, so you will also be contacted in the very near future. You will not miss out by the fact that you are housebound.

When will young carer be offered vaccinations?

Carers are in priority Group 6 and the aim is to get up to Group 4 by the 14 February. We are expecting carers to be vaccinated in the second part of February. The vaccines are only licenced for over 18 year olds at the moment so we are currently only able to offer vaccines to those over 18 years.

Differing vaccine delivery around the country?

Vaccines are delivered in line with the national JCVI priority groups [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation: advice on priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination, 30 December 2020 - GOV.UK]. Guidance is clear on who should be getting vaccines. From a Devon perspective, we have received and delivered more vaccine doses than any other county in the South West.

Family members being asked to travel outside the area for a vaccine?

We cannot comment on specific cases, however, a number of GP practices work in networks. It may be that individual is registered with a GP practice working around the hub of Exmouth. Our ambition is nobody should have to travel more than 10 miles.

Is it possible to get COVID after one has had the vaccine?

Dr Joanne Watson at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust said we need to be clear you mustn't let you guard down. It takes about two weeks for the vaccination to start to build an immunity.  What we do know is that the first dose is really effective and much more effective than flu vaccines in terms of that first uptake. But even then, because of the high prevalence in particular areas, we need to keep up the good practice of hands, face and space. We mustn’t let our guard down at this stage. There is light at the end of the tunnel but we must all keep up the good practice we have been working so hard on.

Visits to non COVID relatives/patients in hospital?

Dr Joanne Watson, Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, explained that hospitals are so vulnerable to infection spreading. Multiple measures are in place to decrease the risk of infection and, as across Devon, we are having to limit visits. Do talk to the nurse in charge of your relative about their individual case.  We do also have phones and iPads on our COVID wards for patients to stay in touch if they do not have their own phone etc.

Are we seeing more outbreaks in our care homes at the moment and how soon will residents and staff be vaccinated?

Joanna Williams, Director of Adult Social Care, said that we do have a number of outbreaks in Torbay care homes currently. As ever, our care home staff, along with infection control and nursing teams from the Trust, and our team at the Council, have been working closely together to prevent and manage cases and prevent further spread. Staff have been working very hard all year and we are extremely grateful for their dedication and the great care they have taken to protect care home residents.

Care home residents are obviously more vulnerable than many other groups in the community and their wellbeing is very important to us all.  Care homes are also a priority for vaccination and a primary care led team have been visiting homes across the Bay vaccinating both residents and staff as rapidly as possible, in addition to Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust – who are now vaccinating Adult Social Care, frontline staff. We completed first dose vaccinations in Older People’s care homes this week, and we have started on homes for younger adults, for example, those with a learning disability. Anyone who was missed due to illness, or not being at work on that day, will be vaccinated as soon as possible.

Why do schools have more children attending than in the first lockdown as things are so much worse now? Is it because only one parent needs to be a key worker, not both?

Rachael Williams, Assistant Director, Education, Learning and Skills at Torbay Council, responded by saying while schools are closed to most pupils during lockdown, many children are still able to attend, including vulnerable children and young people, and the children of critical workers. All other pupils and students should not attend and should learn remotely until February half term.

We have seen an increase in attendance during this lockdown compared to the last one. Schools have also been given the discretion to invite additional vulnerable children and children who don’t have access to digital devices.

Each school will have individual operational requirements which they will need to comply with, such as health and safety legislation. Therefore, schools implement Government guidance taking into account their individual circumstances. This means that some schools are able to take far more children than others and there is some variation between schools on both provision and uptake.

Why are schools open but not nurseries?

Rachael Williams, Assistant Director, Education, Learning and Skills at Torbay Council, explained that early years’ provision continues to remain open to all children to attend full time or their regular timetable hours. This includes early years registered nurseries and childminders, maintained nursery schools, as well as nursery classes in schools, and other pre-reception provision on school sites. Only vulnerable children and children of critical workers should attend on-site reception classes.  Rachael urged parents to take up the offer of nursery provision as it is so important to early years social and emotional development.

Bus travel and enforcing restrictions on unnecessary travel

Superintendent Brent Davison from Devon and Cornwall Police said that the Police do support the bus drivers, and other transport workers, as they support all members of the community.

The deployment policy whether in COVID times or not is informed by a THRIVE assessment. This means an assessment of the threat, harm, risk and vulnerability. The police do not have sufficient resources to patrol on every bus route, however, they will respond to reports from bus drivers where they have challenged someone who has for example become abusive. They also respond to less immediate intelligence and information – so if there are repeated reports regarding a place or person that can be investigated or targeted, then they will follow up with dedicated COVID patrols or local neighbourhood teams.

Do I have to wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets and what happens when I don’t?

Superintendent Brent Davison from Devon and Cornwall Police responded by saying yes, if you are able to do so. The law in England requires people to wear face coverings in enclosed places unless they are exempt.

People who are exempt from wearing a face covering include, but are not limited to, children under 11 and those with certain disabilities. Retail staff are also required to wear face coverings.

A shop can refuse entry and can call the police if people refuse to comply.  They may also remove an individual from the shop if necessary. We hope this will not be necessary but if the police are called they will endeavour to engage, explain and encourage people to follow the rules. Enforcing these regulations will always be a last resort.

We expect that the public will follow these regulations to help everyone keep the spread of the virus under control.

Concerns around people not socially distancing in Torbay

Superintendent Brent Davison from Devon and Cornwall Police said that police routine patrols and response functions have not stopped and have been supplemented by specific Covid patrols which are resourced by Government surge funding.

To help make the best use of resources they rely on people to help by reporting - either ring in on 101, or email in with the relevant information. This information helps inform the targeted patrols, and actions with partner agencies.

Councillor Steve Darling, Leader of Torbay Council, said we have been able to use COVID funding to take on 3 COVID wardens active throughout Torbay. These wardens are able to engage with people and generate intelligence to ensure COVID compliant procedures are in place, and that we are being as safe as we can as a community throughout Torbay.

Dr Caroline Dimond, Director of Public Health, Torbay Council, added that Torbay’s COVID champions also help. These are local people from Torbay able to support and help people understand the key messages, which in turn helps people to comply. Anyone can get involved, we welcome anybody that would like to sign up to be a COVID Champion.

The new testing centre at Clennon?

Julia Chisnell, Public Health Consultant for Torbay Council, said that the testing centre at Clennon Valley opened in the last two weeks. Importantly, everyone who has symptoms and requests a test can get one locally. You can now get a test at Clennon Valley or Lymington Road. The good news is Clennon is a fixed site, unlike the mobile site at Lymington Road which can move around the Peninsula as the need arises. The Clennon site is permanent in Torbay for as long as we need it.

What Mental Health support is available locally?

Simon Sherbersky, Strategic Director at the Torbay Community Development Trust, said that the biggest demand on Torbay Community Development’s Trust helpline has been people struggling with mental health issues. There were gaps in support for mental health before COVID, and it remains an area in health services that needs improvement.

There is more money coming down from Government and the CCG are developing new community frameworks, but a lot more people are struggling with COVID. There are things being done. We respond on a daily basis if anyone calls up the Community Helpline and help to coordinate support.

We are looking for more people with counselling skills. Please get in touch if you can help support people on the phone. 01803 446022.

What is Torbay council doing about the growing issues with mental health? Everyone is so focused on COVID that they don’t realise how many people are now suffering with their mental health.

Julia Chisnell, Public Health Consultant for Torbay Council, said that since the first Covid-19 lockdown, Torbay Council has formed a Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Alliance with a range of statutory and community organisations who support mental health and wellbeing in Torbay. The Alliance recognises that mental health support is not and cannot be provided by a single agency and support needs will differ if someone is feeling low or is in mental health distress. A key role of the group is to collectively improve mental health and wellbeing support and access for the public.

Actions that have been identified include:

  • growing community and voluntary sector networks which will support smaller organisations and groups that support mental health (this might be through networking, access to training, access to funding and/or encouraging partnership working);
  • influencing and working alongside the redesign of Community Mental Health Services and improving access to information and support.

Torbay Council promotes the Every Mind Matters website which provides information, tips and links to local mental health support (including NHS Talking Therapies and DPT crisis support).

Young People (aged 11 to 25 years) can access the free, anonymous, online mental wellbeing community Kooth.

For a local list of mental health support visit the improve your mood page.

Maybe the council can provide more funding to help more people gain experience in counselling?

Torbay Council provides Making Every Contact Count and Connect 5 (Making Every Contact Count in Mental Health) training to individuals and organisations working in public-facing roles. Additional mental health and suicide prevention training is provided by other local organisations.

For more information please visit the access training page.

The Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Alliance is investing in further training packages which will be shared via the Alliance and existing networks when available. Access to counselling courses will be discussed at the next Alliance meeting.

What is being put in place to support ‘Long COVID’

Dr Joanne Watson, Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, said that this is clearly a well-recognised condition that develops in around 1 in 10 people after they have been affected by COVID. It is not easy to define. People have different symptoms and will need different treatments. We are across Devon building up our services for Long COVID, and these were well underway prior to this third wave. Right now the focus is on treating people in hospital with acute infection and keeping our services going. Clearly, this is something, along with mental health, that will be a focus for us all.

Looking ahead to the relaxation of lockdown and Torbay’s visitor season starting around Easter, what is being done to prepare for an influx of tourists?

Dr Caroline Dimond, Director of Public Health at Torbay Council responded that the Public Health Team has worked very closely with colleagues who work in the tourism and hospitality sector to develop materials like action cards and processes so they know what to do. We also ran webinars for the sector. Relationships are good and we will be reinforcing this in the coming months.