People in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot are being urged to continue playing their part to keep health and social care services from becoming overwhelmed.
The call comes after the number of coronavirus cases soared over the past few weeks, taking the region significantly above the Wales average.
In response, health board and council chiefs are appealing to communities to follow the firebreak lockdown rules and help reduce the spread of the virus.
Dr Keith Reid, Executive Director of Public Health for the Swansea Bay UHB region, said: “We are now in a very serious situation in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot.
“COVID-19 is affecting our communities significantly, and this is impacting the way that health and social care services are run.
“In the past four weeks, we have lost 40 patients to COVID-19 in the Swansea Bay area - each of these someone’s mother, father, husband, wife, partner, sister, brother, friend or loved one.”
Dr Reid added: “At present, we have 166 people being treated for COVID-19 in our hospitals – with a number of these in critical care.
“We are now consistently testing over 5,000 people each week for coronavirus. In the last week, nearly one in five of those tested were positive.”
He said: “It is important that you know the virus is not just affecting older and vulnerable people. There are patients under 40 years old who are in hospital with COVID-19.
“Of those currently in our hospitals’ critical care beds, a significant number are under 60 years old.”
Dr Reid said that as the number of patients being admitted with COVID-19 has increased, capacity for non-emergency services and planned medical procedures has become more and more constrained.
Just two weeks ago, testing data showed that there were 161.9 and 186.3 cases per 100,000 people in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot respectively. These numbers have since more than doubled to 385.4 and 344.0 cases per 100,000 – and they continue to rise.
Dr Reid said: “Our Test, Trace, Protect services are under strain as the volume of people who need COVID-19 tests has grown. The councils are urgently recruiting people to increase capacity. In the meantime, anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, even if they’re mild, must immediately self-isolate and get a test. The rest of your household should also self-isolate until the result is known. They can come out of isolation if the test is negative but must isolate for 14 days if the test comes back positive.
Andrew Jarrett, Director of Social Services for Neath Port Talbot Council said the two local authorities were jointly taking immediate action to deal with the impact on social care services in the region, which has also been significant and pressure is mounting.
Mr. Jarrett said: “We have had to take the difficult decision to suspend day services and respite services for at least two weeks, following a number of positive cases in both service users and staff. It is possible that this service disruption will extend beyond the firebreak period, depending on local Covid-19 infection and transmission rates.
“We know this places additional pressure on families, carers and service users, but we have to weigh up the benefits of attending a day service or respite provision, against the risks associated with contracting Covid-19.
“Homecare and residential care services are also under increasing strain, as more and more staff have to isolate, either because they have become infected or because they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.”
He added: “We will continue to provide these essential services as best we can to help keep our communities safe – but we cannot do this without you. The rise in COVID-19 cases is not inevitable. If we all continue to follow the rules, we can control the virus.”
Swansea’s Director of Social Services Dave Howes said: “We are seeing huge pressure on services with the number of people seeking our support around double what it was in March. We have more than 100 local authority residential beds occupied at the moment and in September alone we had 652 new inquiries seeking support.
“Staff are doing a fantastic job going above and beyond dealing with the pressures in very difficult circumstances but we are in for a long and difficult winter and that is why I would urge people to follow the rules and minimise their contact with others wherever possible.
“We are recruiting more domiciliary care staff, residential home staff and social workers to address these increased demands across the service and we are preparing additional residential capacity ready for when it is needed.
“But I can’t stress this enough, we need the public to do their bit to help break the spread of the virus.”
Dr Reid said: “Swansea Bay has done it before and we can do it again. Earlier this year we were able to keep health and social services going because everyone followed the national lockdown rules.
“Habits are hard to break but if we want to stop the spread of coronavirus, we all have to continue to live our lives differently.
“We know from recent cases that people in Swansea Bay are still meeting up with others that they do not live with, which is helping the virus spread. During this fire-break lockdown we should only be meeting with people we live with unless living alone or we have child sharing arrangements.”
“We have also seen coronavirus spreading in workplaces. Often this is happening in break rooms and canteens, and when people share vehicles. It’s easy to fall back into old routines but coronavirus doesn’t go away while we’re at work. We still need to stay two metres apart, wear face coverings where needed and keep our hands clean.”
“We need your support to get through this second wave and to give us the best possible chance to continue providing the system of critical local support services for our most vulnerable residents. By making these little changes now, you can stop COVID-19 spreading and keep Swansea Bay’s health and social care services running.”