8th September 2020
UK COVID Deaths - Daily 32 / Total 41,586
James Cook Hospital – Total COVID deaths – 255
All COVID cases within South Tees Hospitals Trust – 5
James Cook Critical Care COVID cases – 2
Sound advice, right? Hard to argue with that one even if you’re not a Matt Hancock fan. The Health Secretary’s advice follows a significant increase in coronavirus cases throughout the UK. He blames increasing viral transmission on young people who are not complying with social-distancing; in particular ‘middle-class youth’ are responsible, apparently. The Granny soundbite does a good job of succinctly highlighting just what unfettered viral transmission could do.
This rise in cases is happening quicker than expected. It also appears to be no longer limited to isolated ‘hot spots’, although Middlesbrough is now officially one of these. There have been new cases in the town that have been acquired in schools, pubs and restaurants as well as infections traced back to different households mixing indoors. The town is now officially ‘an area of concern’. This means that more COVID-19 testing is available to the population and local authorities have the power to close down non-compliant businesses.
Middlesbrough is currently on the lowest rung of Public Health England’s ladder of shame. This starts with ‘area of concern’, moves up to ‘area of enhanced support’ (whatever that means) and ends up at the top with ‘area of intervention’. The best example of a place currently at the top of the ladder is Bolton, where strict restrictions and a local lockdown are in place in order to attempt to control the deteriorating situation.
School and University autumn terms have now begun and my own children have headed off to school today for the first time since March. There is of course, a real risk that this will further fuel the viral fire. However, schools have to reopen and stay open wherever possible. We cannot sacrifice the future of one generation in order to keep another generation completely safe. There has to be balance. I understand too, the real concern that ongoing economic damage could blight the nation for years to come but if we ignore the danger and the number of new cases gets out of hand, the imposition of draconian restrictions could cause even worse damage.
Recently, I commented on why hospital admission rates hadn’t risen significantly yet. A combination of more testing and the fact that infections were predominantly occurring in younger people were responsible. Unfortunately, as case numbers rise, transmission will inevitably begin amongst older people and hospital admissions will rise. Some have suggested that the virus is becoming weaker. As we start to admit more cases, we will find out in due time whether this is the case. Once again I must point out that there is currently no real evidence to support this theory; if you were at risk of contracting COVID-19 in March, you are still at risk now.
We have seen a few COVID-19 cases begin to darken the doors of the hospital over the past week. This trend looks set to continue. There are currently three new patients on the ward with COVID pneumonitis and we have admitted another two patients to the ICU. Both of these patients are men in their sixties and one of them has required ventilation. There is certainly nothing about these ICU cases that leads me to believe that the virus is weaker.
The number of COVID-19 infections continues to soar in France and there are now reports of some Intensive Care Units in the south of the country becoming full. There are still far fewer cases than they saw back in March and April but numbers are increasing. Cases are also rising in Spain where the death rate had been zero back in June and July. It is now just short of 100 deaths a day.
There is no doubt that a minority of people are flouting social-distancing advice but it’s important that everyone plays their part. It’s not just the young who need to pay attention to the warnings. There are some things that are now increasingly becoming a bad idea. Meeting people indoors for any significant period of time, sharing lifts, flying on crowded planes and drinking and/or dining out in establishments that are not fastidious in their attention to social-distancing will become increasingly dangerous. Anyone who is vulnerable to COVID-19 should think twice about doing so now that the virus is becoming prevalent again.
What do I mean by ‘vulnerable’? I mean anyone over the age of fifty to be brutally honest. It is not just the elderly who are at risk. It is not just people with ‘underlying health conditions’ either. Even if your chance of dying may be relatively small, there is no doubt that those who survive COVID-19 can be left with ongoing health-problems, especially those who end up in Intensive Care.
So, we need to throw summer complacency aside and understand the risks of continuing as we are. Even if our individual priorities do not include our own personal safety, we have a duty to our community. There is no reason to suppose that we will not begin to see more and more people becoming seriously ill. We must ensure that everyone who does become unwell has access to appropriate medical care. We cannot let our hospitals become overrun. That would be a tragedy that none of us would find acceptable.