A “deep dive” to look at the reasons for increases in positive Covid cases in Thanet and Swale is taking place with national and regional agencies, says Kent’s director of public health Andrew Scott-Clark.
According to Kent Public Health data, rates in Thanet are currently 510.8 per 100,000 (as of November 16) and Swale is at 647, putting the two areas on the national watchlist.
Mr Scott-Clark said rising cases are mostly driven through community transmission rather than large outbreaks. As an example he said that on Sheppey outbreaks at two care homes and a significant number of prison cases still only account for 20% of the total numbers.
But he said the rise is being experienced across the county, albeit at different rates, and Thanet and Swale “are not the only areas we are concerned about.”
He said: “We are working hard with partners across the patch to ensure we understand what’s going on. We spent a lot of time before the lockdown in conversations about the potential of moving up a tier level in some of our areas.
“I think lockdown came at absolutely the right time as we could see this wave of increases coming.”
He added: “We are doing more work in those areas with higher rates and there is a deep dive with PHE (Public Health England) colleagues, local and regional, for Swale and Thanet to understand what’s going on.”
Mr Scott-Clark said the initial rise in cases was most evident in the 16-24 year old age group but this has now spread to older groups and rates have gone up across the working age population. He also agreed that deprivation was likely a factor with postcode data supporting this, particularly in areas with greater numbers of key workers, those on low incomes and households containing multi-generational families.
However, current data reflects the situation two to three weeks ago, meaning the impact of the second lockdown will not be evident in the statistics until Christmas time.
He added: “We need everybody to behave.”
He said coming out of lockdown on December 2 could see tighter tier restrictions in Kent. He said: “We know that Kent and many districts are in a different position in terms of the number of cases per 100,000. Currently two boroughs are on the national watch list. There is a lot of discussion centrally about what the tiers may look like coming out of lockdown.”
He added: “We should know by the end of next week or early the week after what level we might come out at. There is a view, not confirmed but likely, that upper tier authorities will go in a level as a whole.”
Talking of preparations for mass testing Mr Scott-Clark said the Army would not be taking charge of the programme as it did in Liverpool due to operational pressures.
Asymptomatic testing, using Lateral Flow rather than PCR tests, will initially target the areas with the highest prevalence of cases – currently Thanet and Swale. Lateral Flow Tests give results in 30 minutes.
Mr Scott-Clark said first priority Covid vaccinations, once the drugs have been approved, would be for staff and residents in care homes as they are the “most vulnerable to Covid-19.” He said the programme would be a “huge logistical exercise.”
The vaccination will require two doses at 21 to 28 days apart.
A local Test and Trace programme is being finalised with call handler staff coming to the end of their training. Public Health England is expected to give the go-ahead on Monday for the programme to be put into action with a launch date of November 26.
Mr Scott-Clark said all hospital trusts in Kent and Medway were currently “running hot” but he was unable to confirm how many Covid patients are being treated at individual hospitals.
On Monday (November 16) the figure stood at 82 Covid patients at William Harvey Hospital and QEQM Hospital combined plus a very small number at Canterbury.
Find an interactive map for neighbourhood data at https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/interactive-map