County council accused of mixed messages over coronavirus cases in Brentwood

Essex County Council (ECC) has been accused of spreading confusion after warning people of a serious level of coronavirus infection in Brentwood at a time when the prevalence of the virus had already been dropping.

At the same time that ECC had issued a message from the director of public health for Essex, Dr Mike Gogarty, over his concerns that cases of coronavirus in Epping Forest and Brentwood had risen to the highest in Essex, Brentwood’s level of infection had fallen dramatically, according to separate tracker data.

Instead of a rate of 40 cases per 100,000 by Monday (September 28) afternoon, it had been confirmed that it only had an infection prevalence of 22 cases per 100,000 residents.

By Tuesday it had fallen to 14 per 100,000.

The day before the message, Sunday, Brentwood had registered a total number of cases of 23, a rate of about 31 per 100,000.

David Kendall, who is an Essex county councillor representing Brentwood, said it was worrying potentially mixed messaging could confuse residents.

He said: “Any resident who is looking at the tracker data from Essex County Council is going to be confused. The two sets of figures are totally different.”

In his message Dr Mike Gogarty said: “I am very concerned about Epping Forest and Brentwood.

“Cases are continuing to rise across the county, but these two areas in particular now have the highest rate of cases per 100,000 in Essex.

“We can’t attribute these cases to a particular event, area or outbreak which makes me even more concerned. Cases appear to be random across both districts which makes it much more difficult to contain and prevent further spread.

“Even though on the surface some may not think that these numbers are high enough to warrant concern, however, the figures have to be seen in relation to the rate of infection too. If every one of the cases infects a further one or two people, then this will very quickly escalate.

“To prevent spread and the need for further measures it is important people in these areas take particular action to prevent spread. It is particularly vital that where possible people who can work from home do so and advise their employers why this is so important.”

ECC has admitted it had been using old numbers between September 18 and September 25, which had indeed peaked at 40 per 100,000 on September 25, but then later fell.

A county council spokesman said: “The statistics we share every day, and the daily patch reports we receive from Public Health England, so sometimes include some anomalies. Some of the data we receive does not include cases from the most recent four days, as this is still being processed through the system.

“The current PHE rates for Brentwood then are based on the days September 18 to 24 inclusive, and peaked at 40 cases per 100,000. While the latest data is incomplete, we would hope to see the figure for Brentwood decline in the next few days.

“The important element to note is that we are seeing steady, if fluctuating, increase in cases across the county, and particularly so in areas like Epping Forest, which has been around and above the national average per 100,000 cases, and Brentwood, which has also been above both national and regional averages in the past week.

“It’s vitally important that people remember the importance of hands, face, space, to work from home if possible, and to remain socially distanced and remember the rule of six to stay safe and Covid-free.”

Councillor Chris Hossack, leader of Brentwood Borough Council, said he believed that the most important general message was that everyone must abide by the rules.

He said: “Irrespective of numbers the overriding message should be you’ve got to behave yourself. You’ve got to be cautious, you’ve got to be vigilant.

“Whether we are at 40 cases per 100,000, 45 or 22, to me the message is the same.

“We can get transfixed on numbers or we get transfixed on the common sense thing, wear a face mask, wash your hands, keep two metres apart, be cautious.

“Irrespective of the numbers we should be doing all that.”

He added: “I don’t know whether over analysing these numbers is helpful or not. There’s a pandemic going on. If you get it you could die.

“That’s the message. And young people, be cautious or people around you, especially the elderly.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter