Somerset testing – The COVID disconnect

The public health message for Somerset could not be clearer. As pupils returned to school so a number of COVID-19 cases were identified. Following discussions with Public Health England the following were asked to self-isolate:

  • 220 Year 7 pupils and 195 year 11 pupils at Bishop Fox’s, Taunton
  • 61 Year 6 pupils at Parkfield and 7 staff
  • All children and staff at Mama Bear’s Nursery

As we reported last week cases in Somerset have been rising since the start of the month. Trudi Grant, Director of Public Health at Somerset County Council launched a “COVID checker” last week to give clear advice on what to look for and what to do.

The checker is here if you haven’t seen it already

Trudi Grant notes two important things to remember:

  • Firstly, it’s important that you and your household self-isolate and book a test if anyone shows symptoms. Please do not have a test unless you have symptoms and if you can’t get a local test slot, please keep trying online or phoning 119 as local slots do become available throughout the day.
  • Secondly, it’s important you continue to self-isolate from the moment you display symptoms until you have the test result – and if it’s positive, you need to continue self-isolating for ten days from the start of your symptoms, and the rest of your household 14 days. Only if it’s a negative test result or your self-isolation time is complete can your child return to school.

So far so crystal clear. But the mess that is the UK’s mass testing programme is where the system falls apart. This afternoon Independent Cllr John Hunt appealed for some new sense of urgency. He explains “We are being advised to get ourselves and our children tested for COVID-19, if we are showing symptoms and quite right too. However, I’ve had several residents contact me to say their children had been sent home from school. One said their child was sent home with a cough, needing to isolate and get tested. The parents spent all day online trying to book a test, trying to do the right thing and yet there is nothing available. In desperation, they drove to a ‘quiet’ Taunton test centre and are turned away due not having an appointment. This is an absurd ‘catch 22’ situation, to get a test you need an appointment, but you can’t get an appointment to get a test.”

Which is absurd. It might just be comic if it wasn’t going to have a severe impact very rapidly on two things. The Somerset economy and our children’s education. This is not trivial. If parents cannot go to work and children cannot go to school, the self isolation within the county will accelerate rapidly. Even if the virus does not. And that could be just as damaging.

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