Coronavirus infection rates in Stoke-on-Trent are now showing a ‘clear downward trend’, after experiencing a much faster rate of increase in new cases in April and the first week of May than surrounding areas, public health leaders have confirmed.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has revealed that the number of new cases every day is now half the level it was 10 days ago, when cases in the city were experiencing a significant increase. The city now has 275.6 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, which is higher than the England average of 260.5 and a West Midlands average of 272.7, but lower than a number of other major urban areas in the region.

Doctor Paul Edmondson-Jones, director of adult social care, health integration and wellbeing, said: “While we have recently seen a very definite rise in cases and a very worrying increase in rates per 100,000 population, our infection rate started to plateau earlier this month, and from 9 May, we can now see a clear downward trend. However, while the rates per 100,000 population are lower than areas such as Walsall, Sandwell, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Solihull and Dudley, our averages are still higher than in most other areas of Staffordshire.

“Provided we all stay alert, maintain social distancing, stay at home as much as possible and wash our hands often, the prevailing rate of infection or incidence of new cases should not be a barrier to children returning to school on 1 June.”

The vast majority of schools in the city have remained open during the coronavirus outbreak, supporting families of key workers and vulnerable children. A total of 72 of the 92 nursery, primary, secondary and special schools have been open. Twelve schools have been permanently closed, but in these instances, the schools are part of multi-academy trusts and pupils have had access to other schools in the trust that are closest to their homes.

There are 40,722 children at Stoke-on-Trent schools, and around 1,000 of those children have been attending school during the coronavirus outbreak, approximately 2.5 per cent of the total school population. Latest comparable figures nationally show that this figure is 0.2 per cent higher than the number of children attending school across the country, which is around 2.3 per cent.

Schools are now being supported to follow the national guidance to reopen from 1 June, where they are able to, in line with the government’s phased approach.

Council leader Abi Brown said: “We are working very closely with schools and I want to reassure teachers and families that this work is being done with their health and wellbeing at the forefront of our plans. Our work with schools is focused on how primary schools can open safely, initially for pre-school, reception, year one and year six children, with an increase in face-to-face contact for years 10 and 12. We are supporting the reopening arrangements of our maintained schools, overseeing health and safety risk assessments and offering a staffing ‘call off’ list of qualified and school-experienced staff to provide additional capacity to ensure staff-to-pupil ratios are met. It is a testimony to the hard work of school staff that virtually all of our schools have remained open during lockdown to provide for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. We are all incredibly grateful for their hard work.

“We are in close contact with the Department for Education. We have emphasised that in Stoke-on-Trent, we are determined to do the right thing for our children, families and schools. We have emphasised that the safety of children in Stoke-on-Trent, their families and staff will always be our top priority. In line with this, we are working tirelessly with all education settings to plan for a safe, phased wider opening which takes into account the national guidance, and to ensure they have the right guidance and support. This work has been underway for a number of weeks, with input from headteachers across the city. Each of our schools has an accountable body that has the final legal responsibility to decide whether the school is ready to open. We are asking schools to work with us on the numbers of children they can safely accommodate and this will differ from school to school because the buildings are all different. That is why we are working with schools on their own plans and risk assessments, so we can make sure any return to schools is safe for children’s physical and emotional well-being.

“There will be no pressure on parents to send their children to school and no fines applied to parents who decide to not send their children to school. However, we encourage parents to consider now how their children may start their return to school.”

Meanwhile, businesses are being advised that there is an increased risk of Legionella bacteria being present on their premises as a consequence of the conditions that lockdown might have created. A combination of warm external temperatures and low use of water systems may give rise to an increased risk of conditions in which Legionella bacteria can grow.

Councillor Brown said: “When buildings reopen after lockdown, it is essential that water systems are not put back into use without considering the risks of Legionnaires’ disease. Businesses need to flush their water systems before re-opening in order to remove the risk of the Legionella bacteria.

“Controlling the risks of Legionella is a legal requirement for all duty holders and they should have a water risk assessment and plan in place, which will identify what measures are necessary for their water system. The water checks or services undertaken prior to lockdown should be reinstated before the buildings re-open to ensure the water does not pose a risk to health.”

Residents who are marking the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr this weekend are being encouraged to do so in line with national public health guidance, and to follow advice from The Muslim Council of Britain on how to stay home and stay safe during the coronavirus restrictions.

The festival marks the end of fasting during the month of Ramadan for Muslims across the world. It is a time for celebration but also a time to help those less fortunate than ourselves. The breaking of the fast, or Iftar, at sunset is usually a communal affair for Muslims in Ramadan, with people gathering either at home or in large public spaces to eat together.  Due to the coronavirus outbreak, celebrations will look very different this year with restrictions being placed on gatherings and the need to ensure social distancing. Residents are advised to stay at home to celebrate with people who live in their own households and to avoid gathering in congregations at the Mosque or any open space.

There are also other ways to celebrate Eid with family, friends and wider religious communities while adhering to social distancing guidance. This includes video chats to stay connected with them. Some organisations and mosques have also set up online webinars and video conferences and individual pastoral and care visits could be received by phone. Some religious practices could also be observed at the same time of day as the rest of the faith community. Faith leaders can advise on the many ways to stay connected.

Councillor Brown said: “We’d like to wish a happy Eid Mubarak to all those celebrating and urge you to adhere to government guidelines on social distancing and staying in your own homes with the people you live with.”

For more information and advice on coronavirus (Covid-19) please visit Public Health England:

https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2020/01/23/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-what-you-need-to-know/ and the NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

All residents are reminded about the critical importance of regular handwashing with soap and hot water for 20 seconds. The significance of this action cannot be underestimated.

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