Contact tracing has been put back in the hands of NHS Test and Trace as public health chiefs turn their efforts to persuading the unvaccinated to get jabbed.
A meeting was told that although case rates are falling in the borough they are still high and calling the unvaccinated is now a better use of resources – meaning people will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace instead of local teams.
“We think that this resource is better placed in trying to support vaccine uptake, particularly among those who remain at the highest individual risk,” said Ian Brown, Bedford Borough Council’s chief officer for public health.
Mr Brown told yesterday’s (Thursday) local outbreak board that the council’s contact tracers are being trained in advance of phone calls starting next week.
He said people who have had their first dose will also be reminded to get their all-important second dose when the time comes.
Mayor Dave Hodgson (Lib Dem) said even though cases have fallen, the current infection rate of 286 per 100,000, is 10 times the 20 per 100,000 that was considered high last summer.
The meeting heard that the difference now is the protection given by vaccinations, which are making it more difficult for the virus to be passed and cause serious illness.
There has been a recent doubling in the number of covid inpatients at Bedford Hospital where 19 people with an age range of 20 to 90 are now on the wards.
It is the highest number since early March and the recent bulge is believed to have been related to people mixing to watch the European Championship football.
Mr Brown said the hospital’s intensive care unit has also seen more seriously ill patients being admitted. He said all of the more serious cases where the vaccination status is known are in people who have not received the vaccine.
That increase has not led to more covid deaths yet but Mr Brown said that this is “likely sadly to follow in the coming days and weeks.”
The meeting also heard that local jabbers are gearing up to offer vaccinations to teenagers aged 16 and 17 but they are still waiting for final guidance.
Officials responsible for the local vaccination campaign reported that they have plenty of supply but the issue is getting people in to receive their injections.
On one recent day, only around 500 jabs were delivered, the meeting heard.
Cllr James Valentine (Lab, Kempston West) the council’s education and children’s services portfolio holder called for 16 and 17-year-olds to be given their inoculations as soon as possible.
The vaccines take two weeks to provide some level of protection and he wants to see that take effect in time for the start of the new school year, on September 6.
“I fear it will be dumped in the lap of schools at the last minute,” said Cllr Valentine.
Councillors also discussed what the advice might be for schools when the new term starts and mask-wearing is not required.
Vicky Head, the director of public health, said advice is an “evolving area” and it is not clear yet what the position will be in September.
by David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter
Update: This story was updated on 6 August 2021 at 4:30 pm. The headline and opening paragraphs were changed upon request from the Local Democracy Reporter to clarify who was now looking after contact tracing.