York to launch its own coronavirus tracing plan before schools reopen

YORK could launch its own coronavirus contact tracing system before pupils return to school – to reassure parents and teachers.

The news comes as York’s director of public health admitted she is concerned about the number of people not wearing masks and social distancing in the busy city centre.

And she said current test and trace efforts – which are run through a national Government programme – have not been good enough in the city.

There have been 97 positive Covid-19 cases registered with the test and trace scheme in York – with 82 of them contacted, leading 176 contacts to be identified. Of those, 113 have been traced.

Cllr Pete Kilbane asked director of public health Sharon Stoltz if she felt the system was good enough to reassure parents before pupils return to school next month.

Ms Stoltz said: “Clearly this is not good enough and the figures need to be higher than that.

“What we’re gearing up to do at the moment is establish a local contact tracing service that can work alongside the universities and schools as a first point of contact.

“We won’t be operating that completely separately to the NHS test and trace system but it will allow us to very quickly do a local triage, to work with schools, reassure parents and share our contact data we are tracing locally.

“We are developing that system now and it will be in place before schools open in September.”

She said a local test and trace system would be better than a national programme and hopes one will soon be rolled out.

Cllr Claire Douglas said residents have contacted her with worries about the city centre being busy, with “only a handful of people wearing face coverings and no real adherence to social distancing”.

Ms Stoltz agreed that more people need to wear a face covering indoors and outdoors where social distancing is not possible – and said the council is looking to run a campaign inspired by an initiative launched in New York.

She said: “This is a really difficult area. It’s not the culture in the UK for us to wear face masks, as it is in some parts of the world so what we’re asking people to do is have a greater social responsibility for themselves and for others.

“It is something we’re looking at – about what more we can do as a city to encourage people to wear face coverings.

“We’re looking at an innovative campaign that we might use along the lines of a campaign that New York used to try to encourage it.

“But it is a concern, it’s a concern for me when I walk around the city and see so few people wearing face coverings.”

The council has received a “handful” of complaints about businesses not asking for customer details for test and trace, as well as “a few complaints” about venues not adhering to social distancing.

Matt Boxall, head of public protection, said in a statement: “Our environmental officers are following up on such complaints.”

“This is a very important task for businesses to support our local outbreak control and to enable us to act quickly if necessary. We urge businesses and customers to co-operate to help keep the virus under control in York.

“Our officers are also carrying out weekend patrols.

“In the first instance we are discussing any concerns with the businesses, but we would not rule out using our powers under Health and Safety legislation, where it is appropriate to do so. Thankfully, compliance is good and we’re seeing some great examples of businesses going above and beyond the guidelines in the city.

“We are grateful to the many businesses across York who have innovated and adapted to reopen safely, creating a welcoming and considerate environment for their customers. We know that the vast majority are complying with the current guidance.”

The council has received a total of 291 complaints relating to coronavirus since the start of lockdown.

York Press | News