As Director of Public Health, my team and I have been at the forefront of the city’s efforts to combat COVID-19. Our first message is THANK YOU! Thank you to everyone who has been working hard to keep our health service going, our care homes and schools open, our vulnerable shielded, our shops open and our deliveries turning up. But thank you is also due those everyday heroes that wear a mask, keep their distance, wash their hands and do all they can to boost people’s spirits. If everyone continues to observe the ‘hands, face and space’ message, we can keep this virus under control.
Unfortunately, in some cases, as the first lockdown ended, so did the idea that we need to keep on with our protective behaviours. Sadly, it’s not true – we absolutely need to keep our hands clean, washing thoroughly and regularly, keep our face coverings on and our social distancing in place. Be outside when you can – it’s safer than inside by far.
It’s hard to comply when you see your grandchildren, your friends and family. But it’s not forever – it’s until we get the virus under control. Each casual encounter – a quick chat with neighbours, a coffee break with colleagues or a lift with your friends – it’s a prospect for the virus to spread. COVID-19 doesn’t care it’s only a brief moment without your mask, a quick hug or 5 minutes in the car. It just wants an opportunity to get in among your friends and family, and will take any chance it can do to infect someone.
As we come out of this lockdown, remember the lessons from the first; we can’t let our guard down. Too many casual encounters, too many opportunities for the virus to spread gave COVID-19 a foothold in Plymouth, leading to a rise in cases and more needing hospital care. That starts to cut down the availability of the care for other, routine conditions. There are only so many NHS staff to go round and if they’re self-isolating, or off sick, then that reduces the capacity even further. Even a lockdown doesn’t eliminate COVID-19, so we still have to work hard to keep the number of cases down, helping to remove the strain on the NHS and staff who care for us when we’re ill.
It’s not just the old that are suffering either. There are plenty of cases of COVID-19 where younger people have got it, and they are knocked for six. It’s an unpleasant, nasty virus that has the capacity to kill. No one should underestimate it, and even if you are fortunate enough to have a mild dose – you could be infecting your friends, your neighbours, their families, their loved ones – it soon spreads and everyone experiences it differently.
Vaccines will certainly be part of the solution to get us back to normal life. But we can’t just vaccinate a few people or groups and be done with it; this will be a huge programme to vaccinate enough people across the world to prevent the virus gaining a foothold again. They will only be rolled out when they meet the very strict safety criteria that applies to all medicines. Because of these challenges, it will take time and it’s not likely to be in place in the next few weeks.
That means Christmas may be a little different this year and we should be prepared to plan for a safe and healthy session, rather than assume we’ll be able to have big social get-togethers.
So perhaps start as you mean to go on. Take stock of the positive. Get outside when you can, meet for walks, pick up the phone to friends and family and take comfort – this is not forever. It’s finite and together we will get through it. You can find out more ways to keep your mind healthy on https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/. Stay well.