Agenda item

Middlesbrough Council's Response to COVID-19

The Chief Executive and Director of Public Health will be in attendance to provide the Board with an update in respect of the Council’s response to COVID-19.


The Chief Executive provided a brief introduction to advise the Board that the Council was currently experiencing a steady state in terms of responding to COVID-19, with support being provided to communities and businesses as required.  The only recent decision of note concerned IT provision to school children.


The Consultant in Public Health delivered a presentation to the Board.


Regarding the latest regional COVID-19 position (and trends), it was explained that over the most recent seven day period, which ended on 6 February 2021, most Local Authority areas in the North East were (in comparison to the previous seven day period) seeing a downward trend in COVID-19  cases.  Middlesbrough had been stable over the last two-week period.


The local position showed a downward trend, which had plateaued over the last two weeks.  On 10 February 2021, there had been 64 new cases of COVID-19; 526 new cases had been diagnosed in the last seven days; the current rate per 100,000 of the population was 373.1.


Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, there had been circa. 11,000 cases in the Middlesbrough Council area.  There had been 858 cases diagnosed in the last 14 days, and 1462 new cases diagnosed in the last 21 days.


In terms of COVID-19 mortality rates, up to 22 January 2021 inclusive, there had been 298 deaths.  Four of these had occurred in the previous week; the rate per 100,000 of the population was currently 211.10.  The majority of those deaths had occurred in hospital (194), followed by care homes (91), at home (12) and in a hospice (1).


Regarding the COVID-19 case rate by age groupings, it was indicated that the majority of Middlesbrough’s current cases were amongst the 23-34 age group.


In terms of current clustering and outbreaks, and activities being undertaken as part of community testing, it was explained that there were two outbreaks currently ongoing, both of which were in high risk settings (Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO)): one was a mother and baby unit and the other a supported living unit.  In terms of work places, cases had been identified at DWP offices; Cleveland Cable Company; Teesside University; On a Roll sandwich manufacturer; and First Source.


As part of the Council’s response to the pandemic, the Council hosted a community testing programme.  Through the programme, additional testing was provided to essential workers who were not able to work from home during the lockdown period, which was provided twice per week.  Additional testing was also available to any members of the  public who were not showing symptoms of COVID-19, which was in addition to the testing sites already available to those displaying symptoms.  In Middlesbrough, three fixed sites within the community were planned: Middlesbrough Sports Village (now live), North Ormesby Community Hub, and Newport Community Hub.  As part of the programme, essential worker testing (mainly Social Care staff) was now live at three Council sites: MAIN, Resolution House, and Cavendish House.  Work was also being undertaken with high risk businesses, i.e. those with between 50-250 employees, to undertake Lateral Flow/regular testing.


Following the update, Members were afforded the opportunity to ask questions.


A Member referred to HMOs and to one of the identified cases, and requested clarification around the 42 residents that had been shielding.  In response, it was explained that in this case, this referred to 20 adults and 22 children – a mother and baby unit that hosted mainly asylum seekers.  To date, there had been seven positive cases; all those living in the facility were required to self-isolate because of the way the venue was structured (e.g. communal areas and shared facilities in place).  The Member was concerned of the number of people in one household.  In response, it was explained that this was similar to the other HMO where 50 people resided (each with individual rooms, but with shared facilities).  It was difficult to ask a few to isolate.


In response to an enquiry regarding the potential reasons for the plateauing of cases, but the number appearing to remain quite high, it was explained that one of the things being observed was that following the first lockdown, the number of cases had reduced to a very low level.  After the second and current lockdowns, the number of cases had reduced, but not as far as expected.  During the current lockdown, there was still a number of people working because they were not able to work from home, whereas after the first lockdown, anyone that could not work from home remained at home.  As more people were leaving home to work, there was an assumption that because more people were coming into contact from different households and mixing at the workplace, the likelihood of cross infection was higher.  This was one of the reasons for increased support to businesses in terms of testing to help break the chain of transmission in the workplace.  The Member commented on the movement of people in Middlesbrough, which seemed as high as at any other time.  It was hoped that the number of cases would be reduced to that of other areas.


A Member referred to HMOs and queried the procedures followed to deal with confirmed cases, particularly in terms of contact tracing if individuals did not have mobile phones or apps to support this.  In response, it was explained that as part of the measures put in place, food (3 meals per day) and support to obtain medication was provided.  Close working was undertaken with management to ensure that outbreak control measures were in place and that residents were supported as much as possible.  Reference was made to the New walk facility, where there had been an outbreak; there had been no issues and the isolation period had now passed.  Some segregation had been required for the shared facilities, but residents were supported throughout.  The Member commented that he had been aware of one resident from within that facility being out in the community, and queried whether a local lockdown had been put in place for those residents.  In response, it was explained that there had been agreement that residents were not to leave the premises during the isolation period; this matter would be discussed with the management.


A Member referred to concerns raised with him by a Head teacher in relation to the safeguarding of children who had been at home for some time and queried, from a Council perspective, how children who were not in care, but living in vulnerable households, were being identified and supported.  In response, the Chief Executive advised that during the last lockdown, new risk plans had been completed on every child that was in the Local Authority’s care, and every child that had an Education, Health and Care Plan.  A review of almost 4000 risk plans had been conducted, which re-assessed the child's situation and the issues that they would face if not attending school.  Those plans had been maintained and through the review processes in place, it was being ensured that any new concerns identified were monitored and dealt with accordingly.


A Member referred to other areas in the North East and the downward trend in the number of positive cases that had been observed, and Middlesbrough remaining the same despite more testing in the area.  It was queried whether this additional testing would have an effect on Middlesbrough’s trend or not.  In response, it was explained that all areas were undertaking large amounts of testing at the moment and Middlesbrough’s trends were going down, it was within the last two weeks that these had plateaued.  Observation would continue to ascertain whether the downward trend continued.  The Chief Executive commented that, geographically, Middlesbrough was far more urbanised than a lot of the Local Authorities of the same population size.  More people living in an urbanised area was a contributory factor to figures being higher, and it also needed to be recognised that Middlesbrough was a major employment hub for all of the Tees Valley.  It was felt that everything that could be done was being done; it was not felt to be an issue of more testing, but due to the type of place Middlesbrough was, which meant that it would be more susceptible to rising figures.


A Member queried the number of Teachers or Teaching Assistants that had tested positive for COVID-19.  In response, it was indicated that this data would be obtained.


A Member referred to testing sites and queried accessibility for areas such as Hemlington and Coulby Newham, where rates were high.  In response, it was explained that the test site at Cannon Park was a regional test site; mobile testing units were currently hosted in Hemlington at the Viewley car park next to All Nations Church on Mondays and Tuesdays, and on Cargo Fleet Lane in the Thirteen Group car park Wednesday to Friday.  An additional mobile unit had been established at Pallister Park car park.  Testing was spread as broadly as possible; it was reiterated that a site had also been established at Middlesbrough Sports Village, and intended that one would be established in the North Ormesby area.  Consideration had been given to vehicle ownership and access to testing sites; drive-in and walk-in options were available as appropriate.


A Member requested that the presentation slides be circulated to the Board; this would be actioned.


A Member referred to the vaccination programme in respect of taxi drivers and queried whether those drivers, who were contracted by the Council to transport (vulnerable) children and adults, were receiving vaccines.  In response, it was indicated that there was a national list of occupations and conditions that created a priority list.  The vaccination programme was controlled by the NHS, with the hospital conducting vaccinations for occupations that fell within that priority list and key demographics.  Mention was made to other areas and the distribution of surplus vaccines to individuals within specific categories.  This query would be raised with the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and further information provided in due course.


The Chair thanked the Chief Executive and the Consultant in Public Health for their attendance and contributions to the meeting.


AGREED that the information provided be noted, and the agreed action be undertaken.