The number of coronavirus cases in Devon remains among the lowest in the country, with no cases linked to tourists, and track and trace contacting nearly 100 per cent of their contacts.
The Team Devon Local Outbreak Engagement Board meeting on Wednesday morning heard that the county ‘remains on top of the situation’ around COVID-19, with just the one case confirmed in the South Hams in the last five days, only five cases in the county in the last week, with no clusters of cases.
Simon Chant, public health specialist, told the meeting that in the last ten weeks, there have only been two occasions when three or more cases in a week from a Middle Super Output Area – statistical areas of around 7,500 people – were recorded, and that in the most recent week of statistics, there were no areas in Devon that met the threshold.
And he said that of the cases that were being found in each of the district council areas, they were being distributed among the area with the cases ‘popping up in different areas and different towns’, but with no clusters of cases forming and with them being isolated incidents.
Steve Brown, the deputy director of public health, added that Devon was doing ‘much better’ than other parts of the country in terms of contact tracing, added: “In terms of more complex cases, we are contacting more of less 100 per cent of those people.”
At the previous Team Devon meeting two weeks ago, it was stated that none of the confirmed cases in county had been linked to tourism, and Dame Suzi Leather asked when would any impact of tourists flooded into the county show up in the dataset, or whether it would have already seen the impact if there was to be one.
In response, Mr Chant confirmed that the impact would have already started to emerge if it was there, but it was one that they continued to watch. He added: “To date, we have still not seen any cases related to tourism. The cases have been related to resident population and not tourists or any tourist accommodation site, but we continue to actively monitor this.”
Cllr John Hart, leader of the council, added: “The residents of Devon don’t need to worry about tourists coming to the area. People of Devon, please accept the tourists, but tourists please remember, the people of Devon live here. Tourism is the lifeblood of the economy and the lockdown has had a very serious impact on it.”
The meeting also heard how the new Coronavirus in Devon dashboard worked, with it collating all the information on confirmed cases, deaths, and MSOA clusters into one easy to use location.
In the week from August 3 to August 9 – the latest available data after the Government dashboard was unable to update on Monday due to technical difficulties, there were five confirmed in Devon (one in East Devon, Torridge and West Devon, and two in the South Hams), two in Torbay, three in Plymouth, and 13 in Cornwall, with the confirmed rate per 100,000 in Devon being 0.6.
Mr Chant added: “The threshold for being on the Government watch list is around 20 per 100,000, so the Devon rate is a long way away from the threshold for further action.”
Mr Brown added that the positivity rate per test was between 0.1 and 0.3 per cent in Devon, well under the national average of 0.6 per cent, and the 5 per cent figure for which anything underneath suggests the pandemic is under control, showing that the low number of cases in Devon isn’t just because testing is not being carried out.
And answering questions about what may happen when schools, colleges, and universities go back in September, he added that Devon had a plan in place to deal with any outbreaks.
He said: “There are anxiety levels from some about all pupils returning to schools, but all schools have had guidance about what to do to prepare for September and we have put in place plans if there is an outbreak. There is similar concern about schools and pupils going back as there was to tourists coming to the region, but the data hasn’t supported those concerns. Ultimately, the confidence will be assured or not if we do or don’t have to deal with any outbreaks.”
Cllr Hart added: “There is currently no concern over community spread or linked cases,” but in the key messages from the meeting, added: “The number of cases are still very low in Devon and we want to keep it that way. We are continuing to monitor the local situation very closely based on good local data and local intelligence.
“It is vital that we continue to work together to encourage everyone to keep it up and to promote prevention measures, test and trace, and adherence to the latest government guidance. We will not hesitate to take appropriate and proportionate local action if it becomes necessary.”