Testing and tracing updates

26 May 2020

Accessing a coronavirus test

The government has expanded the eligibility criteria for coronavirus testing. All the tests currently available are diagnostic tests, designed to find out whether someone currently has coronavirus. Antibody tests, to find out whether someone has previously had the virus, are not yet widely available. Full details of who can access a test and how to order one can be found on the government's website, the key points are:

  • Everyone in England with coronavirus symptoms can now get tested.
  • Essential workers and their family members will still take priority when it comes to allocating tests. This includes frontline workers in supported housing schemes.
  • All NHS and social care staff and care home residents can get tested whether or not they have symptoms.
  • There are now plans in place to offer repeat whole-scheme testing in care homes and to extend whole-scheme testing to some extra-care schemes and supported living schemes where there is a clinical need.

We have heard from our members that the ease of accessing tests and the length of time it takes for results to come back varies across regions, with some organisations now finding it relatively easy to get symptomatic staff tested and others still facing substantial backlogs. To share your feedback, please email us.

In addition, our members who run care homes, and have therefore been able to access testing for staff without symptoms, have started to report substantial numbers of positive test results even among asymptomatic staff. Because of this we have been making the case to government testing of asymptomatic people should be expanded to include frontline workers in supported housing settings.

The latest government press release on testing on 3 July 2020 announced that regular testing is going to be rolled out for all staff and residents in care homes and that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will work with local directors of public health to deliver an initial round of asymptomatic whole-scheme testing for staff and residents at the extra-care housing and supported living settings at most clinical risk.

The details of how this will be rolled out are still being finalised and we will make the case to government that the DHSC and local public health directors should consider the full range of supported housing services when deciding which schemes to prioritise for testing, including short-term complex needs services with shared facilities, as well as long-term schemes for older and disabled people.

Test and Trace System

The government published new guidance on 27 May 2020 about how its ‘Test and Trace’ service will operate, including guidance for employers on how to support workers who have to self-isolate. 

The service went live on 1 June 2020 and is designed to:

  • Provide testing for anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus to find out if they have the virus.
  • Get in touch with anyone who has had a positive test result to help them share information about any close recent contacts they have had.
  • Alert those contacts, where necessary, and notify them if they need to self-isolate to help stop the spread of the virus.

Employers should:

  • Encourage their staff to order a test for coronavirus if they have symptoms.
  • Encourage employees to comply with notifications to self-isolate and support them to do so.

This guidance does not include healthcare workers and others working in health and social care settings, who should follow separate guidance on when to self-isolate and when to return to work.

We know that some supported housing members are concerned about the potential impact of the Test and Trace system on their services. Especially the disruption that could be caused if one team member's test result shows they have coronavirus and they have been in contact with other team members running an essential service.

Contact tracers will be following up with people who have had contact with an infected person for at least 15 minutes within two metres distance. MHCLG has advised that the best approach is to minimise the risk of infection by ensuring PPE is used appropriately and face masks worn where contact is likely to happen. You should also minimise opportunities for contact across wider teams, for example reducing staff working across sites where possible and minimising the number of staff each worker has contact with.

MHCLG recommend that supported housing providers should review services and operating practices regularly to reduce the risk of spreading the infection through measures such as:

  • Undertaking ongoing risk assessments of each setting including the vulnerability of residents, the levels of support and care provided, and the physical conditions in the operating environment.
  • Continuing to adapt services and practices and adopting social distancing measures wherever possible.
  • Continue to use Personal Protective Equipment where needed and ensure workers are regularly updated as to how to use PPE (especially donning and doffing).
  • Where possible foregoing or minimising staff deployment to more than one location.
  • Aiming to minimise and carefully manage visits where feasible.

Where there are suspected or identified cases of infection, supported housing providers and staff should comply with the published guidance on testing and tracing workplaces. 

Where there is a risk of multiple cases of coronavirus, or the risk of an outbreak across a whole team providing an essential service, providers should work with the contract tracing team to seek tailored advice if possible from the outbreak control team, from either the local authority or Public Health England, to help manage the outbreak. 

Who to speak to

Lois Lane, Policy Officer