15,000 take community surge tests
MORE than 36,000 people took Covid-19 tests as part of a two-week 'community surge testing' programme to detect a new variant of the virus.
People in Downend, Staple Hill, Mangotsfield and Frenchay were among those who attended mobile testing units or collected home self-testing kits after the coronavirus mutation was detected in the area.
Mobile testing units were set up at the Bristol & Bath Science Park in Emersons Green, Shaftesbury Park in Frenchay and four other sites in Bristol and South Glos. People who had no symptoms of coronavirus
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were encouraged to attend and have a test in order to better trace the virus's spread.
Libraries in Downend, Staple Hill and Emersons Green, Hambrook Cricket Club and Pucklechurch Community Centre served as 'collect and drop' centres, where people could pick up a kit to carry out a test at home, then drop it off to be taken away for analysis.
Over the first three days of the campaign, from February 7 to 9, a total of 7,600 tests were carried out at the mobile test sites, with 7,500 kits collected for home tests.
The programme was launched by the NHS to trace the VOC-202102/02 variant of the virus, which was first detected in the UK in December.
It has been designated as a "variant of concern", because it contains a mutation which some scientists think could make it more easily spread and more resistant to vaccines.
A Public Health England spokesperson said all positive tests found during the surge testing programme were sent for genomic sequencing, a test to establish whether they are cases of the new variant.
The process takes around two weeks, and as the Voice went to press, PHE was still waiting to find out how many cases of the variant had been found during the surge testing in the area.
However, South Gloucestershire Council's director of public health, Sara Blackmore, said further cases of the variant had been identified from testing of people with symptoms, which are carried out separately to the community surge testing programme.
People who took tests under the surge testing scheme were, however, told whether they had tested positive for Covid-19 within a few days.
Anyone who received a positive test result must self-isolate for 10 days, along with everyone in their household or support bubble.
After the first week, around one per cent of tests were found to be positive.
The testing was only being carried out on people living or working in 24 specific postcode areas, which included the BS16 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 9 postcodes covering part of Fishponds, Stapleton, Frenchay, Downend, Mangotsfield, part of Staple Hill, Frenchay, Emersons Green, Lyde Green and Pucklechurch. People in other areas, including parts of Staple Hill in BS16 4, were not being asked to take a test.
Ms Blackmore said: “The response to our community surge testing programme has been nothing short of incredible.
“The tests will help Public Health scientists to better understand what is happening as the virus changes, and to make sure that the vaccines remain effective in protecting us all."
Meanwhile testing facilities for people who have one of the main symptoms of Covid-19 – a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – have been enhanced.
A testing centre in the car park of Cleve RFC's Hayfields ground, in Cossham Street, Mangotsfield, has been turned into a walk-through centre.
It was initially set up as a temporary drive-through mobile site in November but since late January it has been converted to a walk-through site.
Anyone who is suffering one of the symptoms of coronavirus can book an appointment by calling the NHS on 119 or visiting www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test online.
Voice journalist Ken McCormick took home a testing kit during the surge test campaign
INTRODUCED as a convenient alternative to queuing at a mobile testing unit, home testing kits for Covid-19 were picked up by thousands of people during the community surge testing campaign.
Living in an affected postcode area, I decided to do my bit and collected kits for myself and the two other over-16s in my household from Downend Library, a short walk away.
Each one came in a little grey plastic-wrapped parcel, a bit like something you'd ordered online would be delivered in.
Inside was a box, sample tube, swab in a sealed packet, an absorbent pad, security sticker, a couple of plastic bags and an instruction booklet.
Everyone was also given an extra letter pointing out that while the kit was designed to be posted back via the Royal Mail, in this case it had to go back to the library – which meant some of the instructions in the booklet should be ignored.
This did make things a little more confusing, even though it actually meant there were fewer boxes to fill in on the website. An alternative phone-based system was in place for anyone not online.
Once the registration was out of the way it was time to wash hands and deal with the swab.
This was something like an oversized cotton bud, which first had to be rubbed on the tonsil area for 10 seconds, avoiding the tongue or sides of the mouth, and then put up the nostril – about an inch or "until you feel some resistance" for another 10 to 15 seconds.
The experience couldn't be described as pleasant – and the leaflet warned that it might be "uncomfortable" - and some people did report gagging.
For me, the nostril bit was worse, as I ended up sneezing and blowing my nose for several hours afterwards.
But a little bit of discomfort is a small price to pay if it helps detect how the virus is spreading through our communities.
After that the swab was placed in the sample tube, bagged and boxed and dropped off at the library.
The tests for our household came back negative – mine was last in, two-and-a-half days after the test.