In fighting coronavirus, our secret weapon in Hertfordshire has always been our residents.
It is most certainly our residents that are creating the conditions for an exit from this pandemic, by way of their sustained actions in doing the simple things such as wearing a face-covering, washing their hands regularly and maintaining social distance from others. Another important factor is working from home if they possibly can.
However, if we are to find what feels like the ultimate light at the end of the longest, most challenging tunnel, it is almost impossible to overstate the importance of our residents self-isolating when they need to.
In Hertfordshire, we’re absolutely committed to supporting our residents in doing that – and our Self-Isolation Support Day on 18 March, led by Neil Kieran and his fantastic team at St Albans City and District Council, was all about making sure that people had all the help they needed at a time when the government’s roadmap towards easing and exiting lockdown is becoming more pertinent by the day. District and borough councils, Environmental Health, Community Safety and Fire have all had crucial roles in this pandemic. Without them and many more, the work of Health Protection Boards and directors of public health would not be possible.
The countywide activity – I believe this was the first time during the pandemic something of this scale has been conducted in the UK - involved all 10 district and borough councils, Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service officers and members of the Public Health team.
It showed yet again how amazing our residents are, with an incredible 89% of those who should have been self-isolating found to be doing just that. This also is evidence of the dedication of our residents, not only to following guidance when asked, but also of having clear desire to return to the types of lives we all enjoyed before the pandemic as soon as is practically possible. Trust and taking people with you is crucial in combatting epidemics.
The 89% figure becomes even more impressive when compared to the estimated 25% that were self-isolating of those that should have been in the UK as a whole, as reported by SAGE in September last year. This then-concerning statistic led to colleagues from multiple agencies forming the self-isolation support process for Hertfordshire that came into effect in December.
However, in Hertfordshire, our residents are clearly trying to do the right thing and we’re asking them to please keep going. Yet, we fully understand how difficult self-isolating is for many people. Some need emotional support, especially if they’re lonely and isolated. Sometimes people just cannot afford to self-isolate and need access to money advice and financial help.
After initially checking that people were doing okay, the most important purpose of the support day was getting that message out there – that HertsHelp, our network of community organisations, is ready to assist residents with a range of services, such as mental health support, collecting shopping and vital medical supplies and money concerns. Of those that were at home and self-isolating, 72% said they would be looking into the support available.
If one resident feels they’re able to ask for help – help which may enable them to fully self-isolate for the required time – that could mean more than 400 infections have been prevented. That is why the offer of support is so vital to our recovery plan, and that support will continue.
With our efforts to enable and encourage successful self-isolation, an efficient vaccination rollout programme, and shops reopening from 12 April – we’re working with our businesses to make sure they’re confident to trade safely – plus other measures, we are laying the foundations for living, working and studying safely in an environment in which coronavirus is endemic for now.
Ultimately, we’re in a race between the new variants of COVID-19, which will just keep emerging, and the vaccine. The less we spread the virus, the lower risk we have of a new variant emerging to which the vaccine may be ineffective. In isolation, the vaccine is not the magic bullet, and together we can all give it a helping hand by playing our part.
So, our message to our residents is ‘you are heroes and doing a fantastic job. Please keep it going as it is you, and only you, that will help us emerge from this completely.’ With effective multi-partnership working and collaboration providing reassuring and thorough support to residents, I think there are certainly lessons that other areas in the country can learn from our experiences. When the history of this pandemic is written, leadership by residents will be seen to have made the difference.
Jim McManus is director of public health at Hertfordshire CC