COVID-19 outbreaks now in half of all Herts care homes

Chris Badger, Hertfordshire County Council director of adult care

Chris Badger, director of adult care at Hertfordshire County Council - Credit: Hertfordshire County Council

Almost half of all care homes in Hertfordshire are dealing with new outbreaks of COVID-19 – with 55 deaths recorded in the past week.

That’s not as high as at the peak of the first wave of the virus in April – when 169 care home residents died in a single week.

But the increase has sparked fears that care homes could again become the focus of COVID infection – where those older and disabled residents may be more vulnerable to the worst outcomes.

Hertfordshire County Council’s director of adult care Chris Badger says the use of PPE and the routine testing of residents of care home staff is slowing the increase in care home cases.

But he says the recent increases in infection rates in the county’s care homes are “a concern”, and he is appealing to residents across the county to stick to lockdown restrictions – as well as ‘hands, face, space’ practices – to keep infection levels in care homes as low as possible.

“Every death is a tragedy and I am concerned they are starting to increase more quickly than they were,” he said.

“It’s a concern that they are beginning to go up again – albeit more slowly than the first time around.”

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Mr Badger says that taking action to keep infection levels low in the community will have a direct impact on infection levels in care homes.

“We want to be clear and issue a call for as much help as possible in the community,” he said. "The more compliant we can be with lockdown, the more we do to protect people in social care.”

Mr Badger acknowledges the challenges – and the sacrifices – people are already making as part of the COVID restrictions.

But, stressing the importance of sticking to lockdown restrictions, he says that every day the infection rate comes down is a day where more people are protected – allowing more time for vaccination.

Meanwhile Mr Badger is also keen to highlight the contribution of the thousands of care home staff in Hertfordshire, who he says have been working under “unprecedented pressure” for almost a year.

They have, he says, taken on additional work and shifts to cover for colleagues on sick leave or self-isolating, they have had to take on additional tasks, such as testing – and they have had to do all this while working in full PPE.

And aside from the physical strain of the past 12 months, he also acknowledges the emotional strain too – of caring for residents with the disease.

Across Hertfordshire there are more than 260 residential care or nursing homes – with 6700 residents. In total there are around 35,000 people employed in the care home sector.

The impact that the new variant of COVID is having in the county’s care homes was also acknowledged by executive member for adult care and health Cllr Richard Roberts, at a meeting of the cabinet on Monday (January 18).

He said it had “really struck home” in care homes and other care settigs – and had been a “tremendous worry” since just before Christmas.

“More than half of our care homes have had an infection outbreak and some of them are quite serious across the county,” said Cllr Roberts. “The new variant is proving most challenging.

“I want to say a big thank you to care staff. I also want to say thank you to the NHS for helping us to roll out the vaccination in care settings where good numbers of care home residents and staff have been vaccinated – that number is increasing all the time.

“I imagine that within the next two to three weeks most care home residents will have been vaccinated, which is extremely good news.”

At the meeting council leader Cllr David Williams also stressed the ongoing need to comply with lockdown measures.

“The public health messages are  just very clear,” he said.

“We are in a national lockdown and our residents should not be leaving their homes unless it’s for an essential purpose.”

Cllr Willliams also echoed the ‘hands face and space’ message – and stressed the need to wear a face covering  and to keep a distance from other people.