Updates on the recent increase in coronavirus cases in the Somer Valley, and plans for a Covid-19 secure return of students to Bath and North East Somerset for the new academic year, were the focus of a public webinar held by the Local Outbreak Engagement Board on Wednesday (August 26).
The group, made up of Bath & North East Somerset Council, University of Bath, Bath Spa University, the RUH, CCG, Curo, Police, Third Sector and other partners, has been established to ensure co-ordinated action to manage local outbreaks and prepare the Local Outbreak Management Plan for the area.
The meeting was held as a public webinar with 49 Zoom participants and was also streamed live on YouTube. You can watch the webinar on the council’s Youtube channel, BathnesCouncil, here
The council’s Director of Public Health, Dr Bruce Laurence, gave an update on the recent concerning increase in cases in the Somer Valley area. He highlighted that the council had worked with PHE and the Test and Trace system to put measures in place swiftly to manage the outbreak.
Dr Laurence reiterated the message he has given through local media in recent days that, despite having a relatively low overall number of cases in Bath and North East Somerset, we all must redouble efforts on social distancing, hand-washing and other measures to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.
As a precautionary measure, he said, care homes in the Somer Valley had been temporarily closed to visitors in response to the cases and emphasised the top priority that was being given to protecting care home residents. He said:
“We have taken the precautionary step of closing local care homes to visitors, and that’s because we remember how awful it was for care homes in the first phase of the pandemic and we’re not wanting and not willing to go back there.”
He also highlighted the importance of getting a test if you have symptoms. These are available by booking through the Government portal or calling 119, with a mobile testing unit currently in place at Paulton Rovers Football Club. Further local sites are being investigated to make access to testing for those with symptoms as easy as possible.
Council Leader Dine Romero, who chairs the Board, emphasised the importance of co-ordinated action on prevention and highlighted concerns that had been raised by residents about managing impacts of students returning to the area for the new academic year. She said:
“This panel has been set up as part of our response to potential outbreaks. As we have seen in recent days a new outbreak can occur very quickly and we all need to be prepared, so one of the key objectives of this webinar is to share some of those plans that different organisations have already made and to give updates on the current situation.”
Board member Bernie Morley, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost of the University of Bath, outlined the University of Bath’s Covid-19 Plan which describes how the University would respond to the different levels of central government Covid-19 alerts. He stressed that a package of measures was being put in place to ensure social distancing alongside other measures such as hand hygiene. Only 20% of students will be engaged in face to face learning at any one time, reducing the numbers coming up to campus on the bus.
He identified the need to ensure social distancing on bus routes and said that marshals would be put in place to ensure this. To contribute to social distancing, the University would be using premises in the centre of Bath and had recently leased office space from Bath & North East Somerset Council at Lewis House to help with this. He said:
“We have been working very closely with First on how many students will be coming up and down the hill at any one time. What we have been preparing for is to ensure that on campus all of our teaching will follow two-metre social distancing rules.”
Sara Gallagher, Bath Spa University Head of Student Wellbeing Services, added that, in addition to these crucial social distancing and hygiene measures, Bath Spa University is giving clear instructions to both students and staff, Covid-19 health and safety training for all staff and adopting a considered approach to timetabling to reduce the number of students and staff on campus at any one time.
She also reiterated that the work of the Student Community Partnership (SCP) was key to ensuring that students living in local communities followed the rules, regulations and guidance. The SCP also had a key role in promoting joint working and effective working relationships in neighbourhoods where students live, particularly in Houses in Multiple Occupation.
“We are asking all our students to commit to the Bath Spa Community Pledge which is a set of expected behaviours. We hope the Pledge reinforces the core values of our University and reminds our students and staff of their responsibilities to be good and respectful citizens.”
Both Universities committed to keeping information updated on their websites to keep the public informed and reassured about the measures they were taking. More information can be found here:
Information about the Student Community Partnership can be found here
The Bath and North East Somerset Local Outbreak Management Plan can be found here