Hospital trust hails lockdown as our 'lifeline' in taking back control of coronavirus spread in the community

Chief medical officer at University Hospital Southampton Derek Sandeman is urging the public to adhere to newly-imposed lockdown restrictions, describing it as a ‘lifeline’ for the community.

Forecasts showed that that the region was only weeks away from having rates of spread in our community matching the northern parts of the country, but in welcoming the new national restrictions Dr Sandeman warns that unless the public take heed of the latest research into how COVID-19 spreads, the community will be in danger of merely holding-off the inevitable.

“We have learnt a lot about how COVID spreads. This new information makes sense of why we’re seeing the recent local increases. It’s also key to understanding what changes we can make to stop our region and healthcare services becoming overwhelmed this winter and ensure we keep vital services going and the hospital safe for patients who need our care.

“We need to avoid lockdown becoming nothing more than an exercise in kicking the can down the road.  If we act now, rather than potentially just pressing pause, we can reset and gain back control of COVID,” explains Dr Sandeman.

“Compared with other parts of the country, the timing of this lockdown is in many ways a lifeline for our community.  Whilst we’ve seen rates of infection rising rapidly, we have managed to remain relatively low in real-terms and a four week lockdown where we all play our part, should enable us to half our infection rate.  This will put us in a position where we will enable the hospital and wider healthcare service to manage admissions and continue the treatment and care for those who will inevitably need our help over winter.” 

Explaining the new knowledge at our disposal, he continues: “Whenever you talk, cough or sneeze, you disperse thousands of droplets of saliva.  If you have COVID, the virus will be in every drop. Droplets that are dispersed through breathing or talking normally are relatively large so don’t travel far and gravity will quickly pull them down to land on a surface nearby. If someone is within range, it will land on their clothes, on their face or in their mouth if it’s open.  If you breathe heavily, talk loudly, shout or sing, you’ll spray much smaller droplets. 

"Ones that are lighter and travel further and because they are less affected by gravity, can hang around like mist in the air for longer.  This is especially dangerous in crowded, noisy and confined spaces with poor ventilation as everyone in the same room as you is at risk of breathing in the droplets from the air. The more people in the room, the more people you can infect.  We call this super-spreading.

“Autumn and the onset of cold winter days and dark evenings forces us to spend more time indoors. Windows and doors are closed and essentially, it creates the perfect playground for the virus, which is why the rates have been rising.

He concludes: “It is only us all as individuals who can change the course. Rising infection rates are not a foregone conclusion, it can be stopped in its tracks if we use the introduction of the lockdown to take the right course of action.

"My hope is that with better knowledge, people will be better armed to make the right choices to protect themselves and others.  If we can get through winter there’s a strong chance of a vaccine in Spring and with that we will be able to put the pandemic behind us.  The task now is simply to control it and to keep our communities as safe and accessible as possible in the run up to the festive season.”

Visit from the BBC

On Thursday, 5 November, BBC South Today visited our intensive care unit and heard about the pressure the increase in COVID-19 patients has put on staff. They also spoke to a patient, who urged the public to follow the rules of the latest lockdown.

8 things we know about how COVID spreads

1. It is mostly airborne. If you breathe enough virus in you will become infected.

2. Most people don’t know they have the infection when they pass it on. They either don’t have symptoms or they shed the virus before symptoms develop.

3. Infected people mostly shed droplets containing the virus. These droplets don’t tend to travel far or last long in the air, which is why keeping apart and wearing a mask reduces your risk. These droplets settle on surfaces so washing your hands regularly stops you transmitting them to your face.

4. The virus can also be released in much smaller particles, which tends to happen when people breathe heavily, talk loudly, shout or sing. This is a problem because in these situations the particles travel further and remain in the air for longer, particularly in enclosed poorly ventilated areas.

 5. The greater the variety of people you meet, the more likely you are to catch or spread COVID.

6. When the levels of the virus in the community are low, you can take a few risks and you’ll probably get away with it. When the levels rise, chancing it becomes far more risky.

7. 80% of people who become infected don’t pass it on to anyone, but the few that do can have the biggest impact when they’re in noisy, confined and closed spaces, including people’s homes.

 8. Measures to control the spread are most effective the earlier they’re introduced. Our rates are rising so we need to act now and do some simple things.

The 3Cs

It is all about making the right choices now to ensure that when we come out of lockdown we stay out! You just need to avoid the 3Cs:

  • Avoid crowds
  • Avoid confined and poorly ventilated spaces
  • Avoid contact whilst not socially distanced

Walk apart where you can, wear a mask and wash your hands.

Posted on Friday 6 November 2020