'It is our civic duty to protect ourselves and each other and getting tested is a good way of helping us to help everyone else'

Column by the director of health for Northampton

Friday, 5th March 2021, 10:43 am
Lucy Wightman

I took a welcome few days’ annual leave last week. It was a short period of recuperation but also one of sad reflection. It was, after all, this time last year that we received notice of the first case of COVID-19 in Northamptonshire

I have been thinking a great deal about that time and all that myself, my team, colleagues and residents across the county have seen, heard and experienced since then. What a difficult and emotional year it has been.

Back then we knew so little about COVID-19, ‘the coronavirus.’ Given the data at the time and the fact that cases were managed in specialist Infectious Diseases Units, it hardly seemed a threat in those early days. At such a bitter cost, we have all learnt so much more since then. Our county now has 1,335 families who have experienced the grief of a lost loved one. Friends, lovers, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, daughters and sons. Gone. Taken by the virus. We have a workforce across so many professions which is worn out, a generation of youngsters whose education and social engagement has been severely disrupted and a world which will never quite be the same again.

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Hope has seen us through many dark days and thank goodness we now have a vaccination programme and a better understanding of how the virus is transmitted. I think right now should also be the time to look around, smile and be grateful for the loved ones who are still here. As we are soon to emerge from our third lockdown, we must also step back and applaud all that we have done to get where we are and for the many, many lives which have been saved by our efforts in staying at home.

Having witnessed all I have in this county over the last year I now carry a pride for the people here which I know will never leave me. I have been in the privileged position of having a birds eye view of how you all came together to fight against the common enemy. I have watched my colleagues across the system step up time and time again, I have watched them put the residents of Northamptonshire before themselves and their families and I have heard story after story of residents caring for and putting each other first. I have watched the NHS staff, the police, all the emergency services, the Environmental Health Officers, care workers, supermarket staff, all of you, work bravely and tirelessly to meet the needs of others. It has been an incredible effort and I know that we are all tired at a time when we are being told that we need one last push. Now is definitely not the time to stop!

Most nights over the past year I have woken with one question on my mind: ‘what else can we all do to stop the spread?’ Although we know now we will not eradicate COVID-19, we also know that if we continue to adhere to the rules, we can stop the spread and get to a positive position to start relaxing lock down restrictions. Please do remember that we are still in lockdown until the 29th March and please continue to stay at home until then. Every outing carries the risk of transmitting the virus and passing it on to someone. We all need to do keep doing our bit to keep case rates on a downward trend in order to unlock the next step of the roadmap to recovery. Emerging through each step is determined by the data and not the dates. If we don’t get our rates down further in the North of the county, we risk spending longer with restrictions in place – it’s that simple! It is also critical that we all continue to get tested, now and over the coming months as our freedoms return. If we can’t track the levels of virus in our population, we will be effectively working blind in keeping everyone safe. It is our civic duty to protect ourselves and each other and getting tested is a good way of helping us to help everyone else.

As we move through each of the four step phases to freedom, we must regrettably all remember that COVID-19 remains a part of our lives. We are going to have to keep living our lives differently to keep ourselves and others safe. We must carry on with ‘hands, face, space,’ and comply with all COVID-secure measures that will remain in place. If, and only if, we all continue to play our part as well as we have done to date, we will be that bit closer to a future that is more familiar and a life we all want to feel a part of once again.