County council asks care homes to stop social visits for now

Care homes across Essex have been recommended to stop social visits in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Essex County Council says it is not a ban on visits, but rather a request for a cessation of social visiting. There are special circumstances where relatives can visit care homes such as end of life.

The letter to care homes setting out the new position comes amidst rising cases in the county, with its director of health Dr Mike Gogarty warning that 1 in 18 people have COVID-19 in parts of Essex, adding that soon that number will be seen across the county.

The letter sent to care homes from Dr Gogarty reads: “I regret that I must recommend all care home social visiting stops throughout the Essex County Council area for all but very exceptional circumstances, such as end of life.

“The high prevalence of COVID-19 in the community, the growing number of outbreaks in care homes and the difficulty in controlling these infections has led me to this decision.”

Care home visiting may resume, with COVID-19 secure measures in place, when either at least 80 per cent of care home residents have received at least one vaccine shot at least two weeks before visiting commences, or that they receive the go ahead from Dr Gogarty that visiting can restart.

Visitors will be able to see relatives through closed glass.

Dr Gogarty continued: “The only type of social visiting that could continue is window visits where the visitor is on one side of a closed window and the resident is on the other side. There should be no indoor visits.

“This restriction in visiting will cause distress. I have wanted to avoid it but now this current situation leads me to believe that the risk is too great. The tremendous work care homes have done to keep their residents safe and support their relatives is much appreciated.”

A spokesperson for Essex County Council said: “This is sensible, preventative action which, although hard for the relatives of those in care homes, will help prevent the spread of the virus to residents and the staff caring for them.

“We are seeing more infections in care homes, and as with other parts of the health system, higher rates of staff sickness. It is therefore sensible to protect both residents and critical workers employees to do all we can to limit community-based infections from occurring, while the roll-out of the vaccination programme gathers pace.”

In the seven days to December 31, there were 15,474 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Essex.

As at that date, the weekly case rate for Essex is 1,039 per 100,000 – the highest weekly case rates were in Epping Forest and Castle Point, with rates of 1,321.9 and 1,326.3 per 100,000, respectively.

As at January 5, there were 1,024 beds occupied by confirmed COVID-19 patients in Essex hospital trusts. This equates to 34 per cent of trust capacity and is seven per cent lower compared to bed occupancy one week previously.

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter