New figures show that Stoke-on-Trent has the highest rate of Covid-19 infection in the West Midlands, with more than 1,300 confirmed cases across the city.
Testing data from the NHS and Public Health England previously indicated an infection rate of 328 per 100,000 people in Stoke-on-Trent, the fourth highest rate in the region behind Walsall, Wolverhampton and Sandwell.
But newly-released figures, which for the first time take into account ‘pillar two’ tests, such as those carried out in care homes, put the city first out of 14 upper tier authority areas in the West Midlands.
As of June 14, Stoke-on-Trent had 1,362 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including 522 from the pillar two tests, giving an overall rate of 532 per 100,000. This places Stoke-on-Trent above Wolverhampton (487), Walsall (484) and Sandwell (451) in the West Midlands.
Jon Rouse, city director at Stoke-on-Trent City Council, included the new figures in his latest coronavirus update to cabinet members.
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He explained that the high number of pillar two positive cases was probably due to the ‘aggressive’ testing of care home residents, with the city’s overall infection rate in line with its population density and levels of deprivation.
Mr Rouse said: “The likely reason for this jump to first place when we include pillar two is that we have very aggressively ensured that every care home has tested each resident and staff member over the last three weeks and, while we have almost exactly the same number of care home beds as Wolverhampton, we have 30 per cent more than Walsall and 10 per cent more than Sandwell.
“These rates are in line with our demographics, the density of population and the deprivation rates for the city as we would expect to be amongst the highest in the West Midlands.
“We are also following the pattern seen in the North West of the country and we are behaving as if we were both the most northern local authority in the West Midlands and the most southerly in the North West of England.”
Pillar one tests include those carried out in hospitals and at regional testing centres, such as the facility at the bet365 Stadium.
Pillar two includes tests carried out at care homes, satellite sites and military sites, as well as home testing kits.
Just 23 out of 88 care homes in Stoke-on-Trent have suffered Covid-19 outbreaks – defined as two or more confirmed cases – which equates to 26 per cent, one of the lowest rates in England.
Council chiefs have attributed this to good planning and partnership working – along with the relatively late start Covid-19 had in the city.
In March, Stoke-on-Trent had the second lowest infection rate in the region, but by the end of April the city had caught up with most other places. New cases peaked in early May and have been falling since then.
Paul Edmondson-Jones, director of social care and health integration at the city council, told Stoke-on-Trent’s health and wellbeing board that the pillar one tests in the city were now only uncovering a handful of new cases a week.
He said: “We’re now seeing an absolute maximum of two new cases a day. Over the last week that’s gone up by just 13 cases. I think we need to recognise the extent to which that has fallen from the high, when we were seeing significantly more, up to 40 or 50 cases a day being confirmed.”
Mr Edmondson-Jones said the council was in the process of carrying out a ward-level analysis of the data, which will show for the first time which parts of the city have been most affected by Covid-19 cases.
He said: “It’s still being worked on, it’s still not officially produced yet because there are still some gremlins to take out. But what is interesting is that we’re seeing a potentially higher rate in the south-west and south-east of the city, than we are in the centre at the north.
“We’ll need to have a look at that and see why that has happened.”
Mr Edmondson-Jones also told the board that at the peak of the outbreak Stoke-on-Trent saw 83 deaths from all causes in a single week, compared to a normal weekly figure of 43 deaths – meaning there were 40 ‘excess’ deaths.
But the latest figures show that the city’s weekly death toll has now fallen slightly below the average for this time of year.
Stoke-on-Trent had seen 180 deaths involving Covid-19 up to June 12.