Covid contact tracing in Bedford 'cannot cope' with rapid rise in infections

Contact tracers are "struggling to manage" with the number of cases per day

By David Tooley, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 23rd July 2021, 9:54 am

A rapid rise in covid cases linked to people becoming infected during the European football championships is overwhelming Bedford’s contact tracing system, a meeting heard.

Contact tracing is used to tell people who were close to someone with covid-19 that they need to self-isolate and has been a key part of attempts to control outbreaks.

“Bluntly, the local systems here and the local systems across the country simply cannot cope with this volume of cases,” said Ian Brown Bedford Borough Council’s public health chief officer.

Contact tracers are struggling to cope with the number of covid infections

“Our contact tracers are really good but they can only deal with 15 cases per day, per person.

“We have a team working across three local authorities and we are regularly seeing 300-400 cases a day so it is simply not possible.”

Chiefs have returned first contact work to the national test and trace team. They pick up those their colleagues aren’t able to find after 24 hours.

But even with reducing the demand that way they are “still struggling to manage.”

Test results aren’t being received until four or five days later, which means some could be infected and passing on the virus for days.

“Contact tracing works best when case numbers are relatively low,” he said, adding that Bedford is now in a growth phase of the pandemic.

The data shows infections rising fastest in the 15 to 29-year-olds where the infection rate for that age group is more than 1,000 per 100,000, or one per cent. Men have been picking up the disease at a greater rate than women.

The overall rate in Bedford’s population at the time of the meeting yesterday evening was 450 per 100,000 and rising, he said. That is not unusual when put into a local or a regional context.

Mr Brown said: “What I suspect we are seeing in this week’s data particularly is the impact of the gatherings relating to the European finals.”

The impact of loosening of legal restrictions is yet to be felt and he said it remains to be seen whether the rapid growth in cases will subside.

There are some eight inpatients with covid at Bedford Hospital, the local outbreak board heard, and there have been three recent deaths.

Members at yesterday’s (Thursday, July 22) meeting urged people to get both doses of the vaccine to reduce illness and transmission.

The meeting was told that some pregnant women, or those trying to be pregnant, have not been vaccinated.

Cllr Louise Jackson (Lab, Harpur), the council’s health and wellbeing portfolio holder, said they needed to get the message out to young women that the vaccine is safe.

“I think this is really vital work,” she said.