TRAIL-BLAZING plans have been revealed to send infection control teams into care homes reporting just one suspected coronavirus case.

Essex County Council, working with Public Health England, is behind the new plan of action as they resolutely fight to protect our most vulnerable and limit deaths from Covid-19.

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The move comes after figures from the Care Quality Commission show there have been 263 deaths in care homes across Essex, Southend and Thurrock up to April 27.

A carer at Westcliff Lodge care home in Westcliff also died from the virus.

Under the new protocol, any home with a suspected case must report it within 24 hours. The county council will then arrange infection control support.

All staff and residents in the identified home will then be tested.

For homes with no cases the plan will be to regularly test staff and residents.

The council plans to shield homes with no cases, and the shielding is expected to go on for some months.

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John Spence, Essex county councillor responsible for adult social care, said: “Our policy is to intervene early to prevent outbreaks but, where they occur, contain them at the earliest opportunity.

“Protecting the NHS was obviously the first priority during the first phase of the outbreak, but now the focus needs to shift to prevent the spread of infection in care homes.

“Our adult social care and public health teams have worked at pace to come up with a new approach to combat this issue which is now being piloted.

“It is one of the first approaches of its kind in the country and goes further than the existing guidance because we will act at the point when a single case is identified.”

Dr Mike Gogarty, Essex County Council’s director of public health, said the new approach was based on early testing, swift intervention and support for homes.

Dr Gogarty said: “We are taking this action because infection is often established in care homes before we have been able to intervene.

“Now, we will act at the earliest point when a single infection is identified and at this point we will test every resident and worker in the home to establish how far the virus has spread.

“We are proposing to phase in new processes for testing and infection control and although this will take time to embed, we believe it is the right approach.”

For homes with no cases, the new approach under discussion is to regularly test staff and residents. Essex County Council is now developing a strategy to shield homes with no cases, and shielding will need to go on for some months.

For homes with established outbreaks Essex County Council will work with the homes to establish best infection control practice advised by Public Health England and NHS infection control teams.