Covid-19 targeted community testing and local contact tracing to be introduced in South Glos

Photo of a Covid-19 rapid antigen diagnostic test in progress.
A Covid-19 rapid antigen diagnostic test device. [Credit: dronepicr; licence CC BY 2.0]
A pilot programme to test college students who are not showing any symptoms for Covid-19 will begin in South Gloucestershire this week.

South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) says it is working closely with South Gloucestershire and Stroud College (SGS) to begin its first phase of targeted community testing, as part of its efforts to identify cases and break the chain of transmission which can take place when individuals are unaware they may be carrying the illness.

As part of its measures to help South Gloucestershire move out of the Tier 3 (Very High) alert level for Covid-19, the council is also launching a local contact tracing service, which builds upon a pilot undertaken during October.

Testing for college students

The initiative will begin by offering asymptomatic students at the SGS WISE Campus in Stoke Gifford access to lateral flow testing, which takes a sample of saliva. Results are known in less than 30 minutes. If someone receives a positive lateral flow test result, they will need to self-isolate and arrange for a confirmatory swab test to be completed via the national Department of Health and Social Care testing programme.

Following the pilot scheme, further community testing will be rolled out to target key groups and locations with the aim of bringing the virus under control in South Gloucestershire and ultimately allowing the district to be brought out of Tier 3 restrictions.

Local contact tracing service

The new local contact tracing service, which also begins this week, will complement the national test and trace service by quickly providing guidance on self-isolation and directing residents to available self-isolation support including the Self Isolation Grant.

The local service will initially focus on improving the follow-up of cases who have received a confirmed Covid-19 test. Any cases that the national teams are unable to reach within 24 hours will be passed to the local service for follow up.

A council spokesperson said:

“These two new developments form part of our ongoing work to protect South Gloucestershire and will support our local understanding of transmission of Covid-19 and help us to develop our outbreak management response further.”

Leader of South Gloucestershire Council leader, Cllr Toby Savage, said:

“Identifying people who have Covid-19 is vital to stopping the spread and protecting South Gloucestershire.”

“We thank SGS College for taking part in the pilot programme, which we will ultimately grow and expand to other areas and groups across the district. Through this important work and by better supporting contacts of cases to isolate through enhanced local contact tracing, we will work our way out of the Very High alert level.”

“Coupled with the excellent news about the first vaccine this week, it does feel like we now have cause for optimism, even as we must remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidance that is there to keep us all safe.”

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Director of public health for South Gloucestershire, Sara Blackmore, said:

“Community testing and local contact tracing will help us stop the spread of the virus by identifying people without symptoms who would otherwise be potentially spreading Covid-19.”

“This work will help us learn more about the virus, but it is also important to remember that we already know how to reduce the risk of infection. It is still vital that we keep following the guidance: Hands, Face, Space; to protect ourselves, our family, friends, neighbours and our whole community.”

“LFT is a new test and while we know that it is not as precise as the testing for symptomatic people accessed via the national DHSC portal it will be another tool in our toolkit to help us manage the spread of the virus. We are taking a phased approach to rolling this out locally, beginning with this pilot. Further testing programmes are also being prepared and rolled out nationally.”

SGS College principal Sara-Jane Watkins said:

“The most important priority for us is the safety and welfare of our staff and students. As a college, we are pleased to be part of this work to help understand as well as to control the virus and to help keep our community safe.”

“I hope that those students offered a test will take part as we continue our collective effort to stop the spread and protect each other.”

Testing for symptomatic patients

Lateral flow testing is different from the tests already available to anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus. People with these symptoms – a new continuous cough, loss of or change in sense of taste or smell, or a high temperature – should continue to self-isolate and book a Covid-19 test at www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test or by calling 119. Testing for those with symptoms is available to everyone and anyone who has symptoms should get tested.

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