Infections surge among secondary school students as battle against Covid-19 continues in Hertfordshire
The Covid-19 infection case rate in Hertfordshire this week is five times what it was in October last year.
The continuing pandemic has prompted the county council to prepare a winter health guide to be delivered to every home next month.
The authority's director of public health, Professor Jim McManus, said precautions were still necessary to prevent a surge in hospital admissions and the reintroduction of coronavirus restrictions.
"We are going into winter with the case rates higher than they were this time last year," he said.
On October 14 last year, a three-tier system of Covid 19 restrictions began in England, followed by announcement of a second lockdown from November 5, for four weeks, to prevent "a medical and moral disaster for the NHS". Further tough measures followed over Christmas and New Year.
The case rate in Herts on October 11, 2020, was 71 per 100,000 population. On Monday (Oct 11), the authority's Covid dashboard hit 374.6 per 100,000 and rising.
Prof McManus said the key difference was the success of the vaccine programme, limiting serious illness, hospitalisation and death from the disease. "We are in a very different place than we were last year," he said.
Currently, infections are concentrated in the 10-14 age group. Prof McManus said roll-out of the vaccine to this cohort in secondary schools was cause for optimism. On Monday, 14,795, or 23.2%, had received their first dose and only vaccine supply is preventing faster distribution.
Across the country, 38 secondaries and primaries have had outbreaks that required intervention and individual advice, such as cancelling sports and open days. Other precautions such as masks and reintroduction of teaching bubbles remained on the table.
As the cold weather approached, Prof McManus said his main concerns were care homes and schools, and while the data for the former was encouraging, "school numbers are higher than I would want them to be".
He said: "In those aged 12 to 16, the rate is very high and [the infection] has spread faster nationally than many people thought it would. It has, we hope, peaked but we cannot be sure, but it has risen very fast.
"I think we will be monitoring schools for some time." He noted that case numbers in schools tended to reflect those in the general population, not drive them.
He warned that even when double-vaccinated, 4% of people who contract Covid still end up in hospital and there was a continuing need for caution. "The virus is still out there and people are letting their guard down a little," he said.
In his speech to the Conservative party conference in Manchester last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested that returning to the office was important for building a productive workforce.
However, Prof McManus said that working from home when possible was still good advice, with many employers across the county adopting a hybrid approach. Such caution will also help to prevent the resurgence of other infections such as influenza and norovirus, which are also spread by social interaction.
He summed up: "It's really good news on the uptake of vaccines... but bad news on the number of cases going into winter."
Herts County Council is asking residents to heed the following advice:
- get your Covid vaccinations if you haven’t already and book booster and flu jabs if you are eligible;
- wear a face-covering in crowded and enclosed places, including on public transport and in NHS settings;
- take a rapid test before you meet people or go to busy events, as well as the days afterwards;
- if you have symptoms of Covid, self-isolate and get a PCR test;
- let fresh air in if you meet others indoors and, remember, meeting outdoors is safer;
- wash and sanitise your hands regularly, ideally with soap and water as this provides better protection against viruses such as norovirus;
- work from home where you can.