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COVID-19 news for staff

The latest updates relating to COVID-19 related issues for staff

Staff Q&As – updated 26 May 2020

  • General

What are the symptoms of COVID-19? [note – these are updated since last Q&As]

The case definition for COVID-19 has changed recently to include some of the early signs of the infection:

  • high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you've noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal.


Other symptoms may include chest tightness, myalgia (body aches), fatigue and dyspnoea (difficulties with breathing) and sore throat, all of which are not specific just for COVID -19 infection.

It is hard to say which set of symptoms are more predictive of more severe illness as detailed research has not been completed. However, anecdotal evidence suggest that sense of smell and taste are a proxy measure of more mild illness.

What if I become ill? [note – this is updated since last Q&As]

If you live alone and you have symptoms of coronavirus illness (COVID-19) such as persistent cough and/or high fever and/or loss of sense of smell or taste, however mild, stay at home for seven days from when your symptoms started. Please see symptom checker on https://111.nhs.uk/ and access testing within the first three days of symptoms developing.

It is likely that people living within a household will infect each other or be infected already. Those who live with someone who has developed COVID-19 symptoms and/or tested positive for COVID-19, should self-isolate for 14 days.  You may also be contacted by the NHS or PHE to discuss who you may have come into contact with, while you have been infectious. It is important to identify all people that you can remember to help us contain further spread in the community. Your contacts will be asked to self-isolate as well.
 

Can I get tested for COVID-19?

Everyone with symptoms of COVID-19 over the age of five is now eligible for testing and can book a test by visiting www.nhs.uk/coronavirus Those working as key workers in public services (with symptoms) and key workers in health and social care (with or without symptoms) can be tested via the following portal too:  www.northcentrallondonccg.nhs.uk/covid-19-staff-testing 

 

What is the current situation in regards to COVID-19 infection in Barnet?

You have probably heard about “passing the peak” of the coronavirus pandemic. In Barnet, we reached the peak by the end of March/first week of April and are now seeing a significant decrease in local cases and number of deaths, in line with the rest of London. Being past the peak doesn’t mean that the pandemic is over. We are now in the next phase of the pandemic where we will try to contain the spread of the virus and potentially avoid or minimise a second peak. It is crucial to stick to the current social distancing guidelines and hygienic measures, even if it feels difficult during this prolonged period. The council is constantly reviewing the Government’s advice to make sure staff and residents are having up-to-date advice.

What is the phasing of the Government’s plan to return society to normality over the coming months?

 

The Government has set out a phased reopening of society over the coming months, conditional on a number of factors and the continued suppression of the COVID-19 virus. The first step began on 13 May where national advice stated that those who cannot work from home, should go to their workplaces, if open. Those who can work from home should continue to do so. There is also some relaxation in rules as to who we can meet with and the ability to have unlimited exercise in open spaces. The second step (which will be no earlier than the beginning of June) anticipates the beginning of the phased reopening of non-essential shops, the phased return of schools and the restart of some sporting and cultural events with social distancing restrictions in place. The third step (no earlier than the beginning of July) will see the reopening of some of the hospitality industry and public places such as leisure facilities.

 

What does this mean for the way the council works? Am I expected to return to the office?

 

For the time being, we are asking everyone across the council to maintain their existing working arrangements. Please note, all staff who can continue to work effectively from home should continue to do so for the medium term. In terms of timing, we are seeing this as being at least until September 2020.


We understand that there may occasionally be a requirement for you or colleagues to come into the office. The main office headquarters at Colindale and the office at Oakleigh Depot will remain open. In this case, social distancing measures, desk cleaning and handwashing will need to be followed strictly, as per national guidelines. Please also take note of the guidance on public transport if and when you do need to travel into the office. This advice is that, when travelling, everybody (including critical workers) should continue to avoid public transport wherever possible. If they can, people should instead choose to cycle, walk or drive, to minimise the number of people with whom they come into close contact.

 

  • The ‘new normal’

Does the Government’s recent announcement on easing lockdown mean that all our services will be returning to normal in the near future?

 

Many of our essential services have continued to operate throughout this pandemic but we will not be getting back to anything that we had before the pandemic anytime soon.  We have kicked off a process to review all of our service areas and buildings so that we can begin the phased restoration of those services that are currently restricted, review ‘lessons learnt’ from new ways of working and embed positive practices into a ‘new normal’. This process will involve undertaking COVID-secure health and safety risk assessments for any changes that are made. While we are in this phase of the pandemic, staff who can, should continue to work from home and not visit the workplace, unless essential.

 

What is a COVID-secure workplace?

 

The Government has issued guidance with the steps we need to take before we can declare a workplace and services that we run safe to return to. This means we will carry out specific COVID-19 Risk Assessments and only if we are satisfied that it is safe, will we start to ask staff to return to some areas of work.

 

If I need to come into the office, do I have to wear a face covering? *

You should not be coming into the office unless you absolutely have to. Face coverings are not recommended by the council and there is no requirement to wear one. The Government has given the public the option to wear them in more enclosed places, but that is a matter of personal choice. Click here for more detailed information.

 

What other guidelines will I need to follow if I need to come into the office?

Where you do have an essential need to come into the office, social distancing measures, desk cleaning and handwashing will need to be followed strictly, as per national guidelines.

This means that you must continue to observe the 2m social distancing guidelines when working or when meeting residents. Please do not move any furniture or remove any barriers that have been put in place to support social distancing, and follow any guidelines or advice given to you by security or Facilities staff on site.

 

Do I need to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to carry out my job role?

PPE is only required where there is a high risk of infection. This would be mostly for certain roles carried out in the care and health profession, where exposure to those with confirmed or possible COVID-19 infection is greatest and social distancing cannot be observed.

 

What rights do I have if I don’t agree with tasks to carry out or locations to visit that I am asked to do by my line manager?

We do appreciate that, during the ongoing pandemic, we are asking some of our staff for a greater degree of flexibility, and it has been inspiring to see that our staff have risen to the challenge.  You are required to comply with any “reasonable management requests” that are made, and ultimately you could be subject to formal disciplinary action if you refuse.  However, if you are unhappy about what you are being asked to do, you should firstly speak to your line manager to explain your concerns and try to find a solution.

 

  • Health and wellbeing

What should I do if I have an underlying health condition and I am asked to come into the office?

Members of staff that are clinically extremely vulnerable (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing#clinically-vulnerable-people (shielded category) must continue to self-isolate and remain at home. This cohort of staff would have received a letter from the NHS advising them to do so until 30 June, when the general pandemic situation will be reviewed nationally.

Staff who are clinically vulnerable should continue to work from home. Where a clinically vulnerable staff member cannot work from home, alternative employment should be offered. If this is not possible either and staff are essential to the running of the service, a risk assessment and suitable controls must be in place before they return to the workplace. The controls must include the ability to social distance, and they must not be employed in any role where high-risk activities may be carried out, for example personal care. If social distancing measures cannot be met at the workplace, staff should be redeployed or work from home.

 

I am concerned about the plans for an eventual return to the office because of the risk to my physical health. Am I required to eventually return, or could I continue to work remotely all the time?

 

This will depend on the nature of your job and whether you have underlying health conditions that would make a return to the office particularly unwise. At the present time, we are prioritising those services which can only be delivered from the council offices.  Staff working in those services will be required to return to their normal workplace, but this return will be carefully managed to ensure that staff are not subjected to excessive risk.  Staff in other service areas will be able to remain working remotely for some time.  In the longer term, it is possible that some staff will be able to continue working predominantly remotely, but this depends very much on the nature of your job role.

 

Lockdown has affected my mental health. I feel isolated and/or depressed. What resources are available to help me?

There are many resources available to staff and their families, which have been highly promoted throughout the lockdown. You can talk to one of the many Mental Health First Aiders, the Wellbeing Hub is full of resources for you to use and mental health services are available, and of course there is the Employee Assistance Service which is there with advice, guidance, and a counselling service.

 

*Appendix on facial coverings
Why is Government recommending facial coverings?
As more people return to work, there will be more movement outside people's immediate household. This increased mobility means the Government is now advising that people should aim to wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and they come into contact with others that they do not normally meet, for example on public transport or in some shops. Face covering is not compulsory in England.
Homemade cloth face-coverings can help reduce the risk of transmission in some circumstances. They are not intended to help the wearer, but to protect against inadvertent transmission of the disease to others if you have it asymptomatically.
It is however important to know that the evidence supporting the use of face coverings is weak. This information is based on the best available evidence and expertise that points to face coverings not being as effective a prevention measure as social distancing and hand washing.
Who should be wearing facial coverings?
  • People in enclosed spaces, where social distancing is not possible and when people come into contact with others that they do not normally meet (e.g. public transport, shops);
  • It is important to know how to put facial coverings on and take them off and wash hands before you put them on and when you take them off.
Who should not wear facial coverings?
People do not need to wear face coverings where they are:
  • Outdoors or while exercising
  • In schools
  • In workplaces such as offices and shops
  • Children under two or primary aged children who cannot use them without assistance
  • People who may have problems breathing while wearing a face covering
Why doesn’t everyone wear a mask now?
The World Health Organisation currently recommends face masks only for those who are ill and showing symptoms and those who care for people suspected to have Covid-19.
Masks are not generally recommended for the public because:
  • They can be contaminated easy, potentially causing more harm in settings outside health and care;
  • Frequent hand washing and social distancing measures are more effective;
  • They might offer a false sense of security.
Face covering can be as simple as a scarf or bandana as long as it covers the nose and mouth safely and can be washed. Government published a guide on how to make facial coverings https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-wear-and-make-a-cloth-face-covering/how-to-wear-and-make-a-cloth-face-covering
It should:
  • Fit well and comfortably against the side of the face;
  • Be secured to the head with ties or ear loops, where natural ties, such as with a scarf, don’t apply;
  • Include at least 2 layers of fabric such as cotton;
  • Allow for easy breathing;
  • Be able to be washed with other items of laundry according to fabric washing instructions and dried without causing damage;
  • Be replaced or discarded if it shows signs of damage or significant wear and tear after washing.

COVID-19 testing for local authority staff - information for staff - updated Friday 24th April
     
Dear Colleagues

As you will have heard yesterday, the Government has announced that COVID-19 testing is now available to all frontline workers. The National Testing Programme provides coronavirus tests to frontline workers or symptomatic members of their household, and the programme now includes some Local Authority staff.  This is to support the return to work of frontline workers and help employers maximise their workforce capacity during this unprecedented time.

Below we have set out a clear process for what to do if you are self-isolating and how you can be tested.

It’s important to remember that individuals are tested within the first three days of showing symptoms, so please follow the process as soon as possible.

1. What are the services eligible for testing?


•    Local authority staff are now eligible for testing, including those working with vulnerable children and adults, social care workers, those working with victims of domestic abuse, and with the homeless and rough sleepers
•    Front-line benefits workers
•    Any staff in the Care Provision
•    Those working to enable hospital discharge and prevent hospital admission through support to the most vulnerable in our communities (adults)
•    Those providing support to the most vulnerable in our communities (children)
•    Those working to support death management
•    Those in other critical services (as set out in daily SitReps and agreed by CMT) where there is a risk of staffing levels dropping too low to maintain delivery – refuse waste collectors, those carrying out emergency repairs etc.

 

2. Who is eligible for testing?

All symptomatic frontline workers should be tested.  If staff are working in one of the services listed above, and:
•    are self-isolating because they are symptomatic* - in this instance the staff member is the only eligible person in their household to receive a coronavirus test. No other members of their household are eligible.
•    are self-isolating because someone in their household is symptomatic, but the staff member is not having symptoms of Covid 19 - in this case only the symptomatic household member(s) of the critical key worker, is eligible to receive a coronavirus test with the frontline worker’s name noted. The frontline worker will not receive a test as they are not symptomatic.
*Please note that guidelines for testing specify that individuals are tested within the first three days of showing symptoms.  It is therefore vital that eligible employees or members of their household undertake testing as soon as possible.  This is extremely important otherwise the test will not show accurate results and could result in false negatives.



Symptoms of possible Covid-19 include:


•    fever of 37.8C or above and at least one of the following symptoms, which developed rapidly:
•    persistent cough (with or without sputum)
•    hoarseness
•    nasal discharge or congestion
•    shortness of breath
•    sore throat,
•    wheezing, sneezing.

 

3. What if a child needs to be tested?


•    If a frontline worker is self-isolating due to an under-18-year-old in their household showing symptoms of the coronavirus, that child can be tested
•    Right now, tests for 12-18 year olds can be self-administered or the parent/guardian can perform them.
•    Tests for 5-12 year olds must be administered by the parent or guardian.
•    Tests are unsuitable for under fives.  If the key worker’s child under-five has coronavirus symptoms, please instruct them to follow current NHS guidance: www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19
Note: only children over 12 can currently be tested at Wembley Ikea.

 

4. What are the steps if I need a test?

a) You must inform your line manager immediately when you or any of your household members develop symptoms of possible Covid-19.
b) Once your manager is informed of your symptoms, they will confirm with you that you are either self-isolating because you have coronavirus symptoms or a member(s) of your household are showing symptoms and are therefore eligible for testing (as per point 2).
c) You will receive a testing invitation from your manager.
d) You will then apply for either a national drive-through test appointment at Wembley Ikea or Tottenham Hotspur Football Ground, or a walk-in/drive-through  appointment at either Barnet or Chase Farm Hospital, The Royal Free Hampstead, North Middlesex University Hospital or Huntley Street Kings Cross. Or if you are unable to attend one of these, home testing is also an option.
e) The national drive-through test can be booked online but the walk-in test must be booked via email. 
f) Your manager will advise you to apply via the link they send to you. Once you have an appointment you must tell your line manager and copy covid19@barnet.gov.uk with confirmation of an appointment.
g) At your appointment you must present your employer-issued ID on arrival at the test site. Where you do not have ID, you will be asked to present the confirmation email.
h) You should share your results with your manager once you have received them.     


Staff COVID-19 FAQs – updated Wednesday 8 April 2020

Guidance and advice around the COVID-19 emergency is being updated on a regular basis, and staff will have lots of questions. Below is the latest FAQs, updated as of Wednesday 8 April. We will continue to update these as and when necessary. If you have any questions that are not covered here, please email first.team@barnet.gov.uk and we will seek to answer them.

The COVID-19 virus

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is an infectious respiratory disease, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China.

On 12 January 2020, it was announced that a novel coronavirus had been identified, which was later named SARS-CoV-2, and the associated disease as COVID-19. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses with some causing less-severe disease, such as the common cold, and others causing more severe disease such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The main symptoms of COVID-19, as reported, are fever, persistent, new cough or chest tightness, myalgia (body aches), fatigue and dyspnoea (difficulties with breathing). The symptoms can have rapid onset, or develop gradually. Public Health England (PHE) has recently published the definition of possible COVID-19 cases, which includes a wider variety of cases.

A patient has possible COVID-19, if they:

Require admission to hospital (a hospital practitioner has decided that admission to hospital is required with an expectation that the patient will need to stay at least one night)

and

• have either clinical or radiological evidence of pneumonia

or

• acute respiratory distress syndrome

or

• influenza-like illness (fever of 37.8°C or above and at least one of the following respiratory symptoms, which must be of acute onset: persistent cough (with or without sputum), hoarseness, nasal discharge or congestion, shortness of breath, sore throat, wheezing, sneezing)

Recent findings also suggest sore throat or loss of smell and taste as symptoms of COVID-19. Despite the variety of symptoms, scientific evidence is stating the following as main symptoms, where immediate self-isolation is needed:

-              High temperature of 37.8°C or above

-              A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)

However, as we are implementing stringent social distancing measures, it is advisable that those people who may have other symptoms, reduce their social contacts and practise good hygiene measures. It is hard to say which set of symptoms are more predictive of more severe illness as detailed research has not been completed. However, anecdotal evidence suggest that sense of smell and taste are a proxy measure of more mild illness.

 

COVID-19 and work

What if I become ill?

If you live alone and you have symptoms of coronavirus illness (COVID-19) such as persistent cough and/or high fever (37.8 or higher), however mild, stay at home for 7 days from when your symptoms started. Please see the symptom checker on https://111.nhs.uk/

It is likely that people living within a household will infect each other or be infected already. Staying at home for 14 days will greatly reduce the overall amount of infection the household could pass on to others in the community:

  • if you live alone and you have symptoms of coronavirus illness (COVID-19), however mild, stay at home for 7 days from when your symptoms started. (The ending isolation section at this link has more information)
  • if you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of coronavirus, then you must stay at home for 7 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill. See the explanatory diagram
  • for anyone else in the household who starts displaying symptoms, they need to stay at home for 7 days from when the symptoms appeared, regardless of what day they are on in the original 14 day isolation period. The ending isolation section has more information, and see the explanatory diagram.

Please notify your Line Manager. Employees who are self-isolating due to COVID-19 symptoms are entitled to sickness absence.

What is the current advice for staff with underlying health conditions?

If you have an underlying health condition (as defined by Public Health England) you must work from home. This includes all frontline staff. Please talk to your line manager about alternative work arrangements. This applies to all staff, including those working on the frontline.

Should I wear a facemask?

Employees, unless they are working with people with confirmed or possible COVID-19, are not recommended to wear facemasks (also known as surgical masks or respirators) to protect against the virus as they are not effective in general circumstances. Facemasks are recommended to be worn by symptomatic individuals (only if advised by a healthcare worker) to reduce the risk of transmitting the infection to other people.

When should I wear PPE?

Staff should use personal protective equipment (PPE) for activities that bring them into close personal contact with residents with COVID-19 symptoms, such as washing and bathing, personal hygiene and contact with bodily fluids. Guidance for Barnet Council staff can be found here [hyperlink to latest information on /internal]

 Should I avoid using public transport if I still need to use it for work?

There is currently no ban on using public transport, however the government asked people to use public transport only if essential.

When travelling by public transport:

  • avoid rush hours and busy times if you can
  • cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the bin
  • follow advice on staying away from others
  • wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

Do not use public transport if:

Keep up to date about reduced services and closed stations:

 

What are the absence arrangements for those who are self-isolating with COVID-19 symptoms?

By law, medical evidence is not required for the first seven days of sickness. After seven days, it is for the employer to determine what evidence they require, if any, from the employee. PHE strongly suggests that employers use their discretion around the need for medical evidence for a period of absence where an employee is advised to self-isolate due to suspected COVID-19, in accordance with the public health advice being issued by the government.

Where there is the possibility and the employee is not severely unwell and wishes to work at any point during self-isolation, working from home can be considered. This should be agreed in a discussion with the employee’s Line Manager.

Statutory Sick Pay will be paid from day 1 instead of day 4 for those affected by coronavirus.

If you are on zero hours contract, you can claim Universal Credit. If you are self-employed, you can claim Universal Credit. If the whole family has to stay at home and there’s no income and no one is getting Statutory Sick Pay, the family can claim Universal Credit.


What is our approach to staff who don’t feel comfortable doing activities that are deemed reasonable by their manager/the organisation but the member of staff thinks they are being put at risk of infection?

All staff are required to carry out reasonable management requests.  However, this is a time when extra sensitivity is necessary, and the manager should make every effort to discuss the concerns with the staff member, properly risk-assess the situation and provide additional safeguards if appropriate.


What about fixed term contracts that are due to end?

These are not affected by COVID-19, although managers should consider whether the staff member concerned is performing a role, or has suitable skills, that would make it sensible to retain them to assist with pressures during the pandemic.


Should I go ahead with recruitment/interviews that are planned?

Yes, although where possible and appropriate, interviews should be carried out over telephone or video conferencing.

 


COVID-19 council staff deployment programme

The council is adapting and adjusting quickly to meet the pressing needs of the people who live, study and work in Barnet. Our focus will be on maintaining critical services over the coming months.

Where demand increases, we will need to channel extra resource to support the delivery of these services. Where possible, staff should put themselves forward to be deployed into critical roles within the council, or into roles in the voluntary and community sector.

How deployment will work

Staff who have some capacity due to the impact of the current situation on their usual role should now put themselves forward to work in a temporary role, or into roles in the voluntary and community sector.

They will be matched to jobs in line with their preferences, current job level, skills and experience. We will ensure that the right people are in the right place and will provide necessary training and support.

Full consideration will be given to home location and ability to travel to sites other than their usual place of work, family and care commitments, and health circumstances.

For more information download the staff Q&A

Staff: what you need to do

Please complete the online deployment form.

 

Your information will then be uploaded to an internal database. Managers requesting extra resource will then be matched with candidates. If this is suitable for the staff member then the manager will make the necessary arrangements for you to be reassigned to their service. For more information on how the matching process works download the guide

 

Managers: what you need to do

If you need more resource, then complete a request form, download here.

 

If you work within a service not providing critical functions, please ensure your staff have completed the online deployment form.

 

Please email your complete forms to the Central Deployment Team:  Covid19.StaffDeployment@barnet.gov.uk

 

A member of the Central Deployment Team will then get in touch to discuss your requirement and will assist you to make the necessary arrangements.

 

 


COVID-19 FAQs

Last updated: 20 March 2020

Following the updated advice from the Government issued on 16 March to implement social distancing measures, we have adapted our approach to home working to make the right decisions for Barnet and our staff. On Wednesday 18 March we moved to home working, where possible, and as soon as practicable.

If you have an underlying health condition (as defined by Public Health England) you must stay at home. It is important that we continue running all critical services and directors and other senior managers will brief you on how this will work in your service area. In some cases, these arrangements may take a couple of days to implement. We will continue to pay everyone, including council agency staff, who are unable to work because of these arrangements.

Providing regular and reliable information about the COVID-19 pandemic to help protect and support our staff is our current priority and we have developed the Q&As below to help answer your questions. As the situation and advice is changing often, we will provide a regular Tuesday staff update, alongside the usual First Team and message from John Hooton.

We have created page on our external website Barnet.gov.uk/Covid-19 which will provide information to the public about how we are supporting our residents, business and communities.

Managers are reminded that it is their duty to familiarise themselves with the national guidelines for employers 

It is also recommended that all staff read guidelines for employees

If you have any questions not covered below, please send an email to Covid19@barnet.gov.uk and we will include a response in future updates. If you do not have access to the internet or email please advise your manager who will submit your request on your behalf.

 

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