The Government of Jersey is to significantly upscale its testing and tracing programme from next week. This will involve the launch of a new COVID-19 community antibody testing programme on Saturday, doubling PCR swab-testing from Monday, and an increase in staff for the contact-tracing team that is needed to support the programme.
This weekend sees the start of an antibody-testing programme for 500 randomly-selected households (roughly 1500 people). The test measures the level of antibodies in the blood, produced when the body successfully fights a disease. The tests will monitor the spread of COVID-19 by testing the households every four weeks until early autumn. This repeated testing will allow researchers to establish how the virus is moving through the community, and it will be extended across the Island in the coming months.
Deputy Richard Renouf, Minister for Health and Social Services, said: “We are asking the community to come forward and help us understand how much the virus has spread in the Island. If the take up of the testing programme is good, it will generate a snapshot of the spread of COVID-19 though the local community over the coming months, which will help us in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I urge all those who receive a letter or a phone call to take part and help us keep Islanders safe.”
From Monday the level of PCR testing (to see if people currently have the virus) will double. It is intended that this increase in screening will grow to an average of 500 swab tests per day by 11 May. Tests will initially be provided for all hospital in-patients, essential workers with symptoms, anyone who’s been in contact with a positive case, and all those who are referred by GPs or care homes.
Tests will also be provided proactively for health and care workers, blue light personnel, prison and funeral directors. All staff and residents in a care home with a positive case will be tested, to detect and control any clusters of cases.
The contact-tracing team will increase from 24 to 55 people by 11 May, and it will be based at four locations rather than two, to increase the resilience of the service.
The Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré, said: “The work we have done to flatten the curve has given us time to put in place measures to deal with a higher number of Covid-19 cases. That includes an increased capacity to test islanders for the infection. The new test and tracing regime that starts next week will inevitably prompt an increase in confirmed positive cases and will allow us to identify and monitor the details of these cases.
“The most urgent tests will be processed in our laboratory here, and the remainder will be done in the UK. To ensure we can actively follow up each positive case, our Environment Health tracing team will double its capacity and continue to grow as needed, to trace all contacts of those who test positive, so we can monitor the virus across the Island.
“Current estimates suggest that the ‘Stay Home’ and physical distancing measures have been successful in stopping the spread of the virus, but community antibody-testing will help to check our estimates and produce data that will help us make decisions about when we can start relaxing our lockdown measures.”
Government of Jersey News Release.