12:42PM, Wednesday 16 September 2020
Councillors discussed how best to protect Slough’s BAME (Black And Minority Ethnic) community on September 8 at a virtual health scrutiny panel.
Public health programme manager Dr Vanita Dutta presented a report outlining the steps being taken to identify COVID-19 at-risk groups, and prevent the spread of the virus in these communities.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Slough has recorded 790 cases of COVID-19 in the borough. There was a spike of cases around August 10.
Since then, the number of cases has remained relatively low. The borough recorded 1.9 cases per day per 100,000 people in the week running up to the panel meeting – similar to the rate across the rest of England.
However, because Slough has such a large number of BAME residents, many of whom are at greater risk, the council must think of ways to protect particular ethnic communities.
“More than 50 per cent of Slough is BAME. It’s one of the most ethnically diverse places in the UK, which is wonderful – but it brings a higher mortality rate,” said Dr Dutta.
Bangladeshi people, for example, are at twice the risk of death compared to white British people.
Particular ethnicities are more likely to live in multigenerational housing, which increases the risk of spreading of the virus.
Work is being done to educate young people on how to keep themselves safe, in order to protect their grandparents, who they may be living with.
Ethnicity will also determine housing and geographical area, as well as when, where and how communities might gather together.
Dr Dutta stressed that the ‘major backbone’ of the COVID-19 response is engaging with the community to raise community awareness.
“The whole community cannot be targeted from one way of messaging,” she said.
“Unless you engage each community – the language they speak, the food they eat, and why they behave the way they do – you cannot help them.”
Some of the problems of COVID-19 awareness relates to the accessibility of information in alternative languages.
A number of people in Slough can speak English but struggle to read it, so find it harder to access materials from NHS England.
To help, the borough has engaged ‘COVID community champions’ of various backgrounds, who can reach out within their communities via places of worship and community groups.
At the moment, there are about 50 residents interested in becoming ‘champions’.
Household and age group information from contact tracing allows the local healthcare professionals to find out which communities are vulnerable at any given moment, and target their approach accordingly.
Councillor Harjinder S. Gahir (Lab, Wexham Lea) said he felt that now was the time to ramp up a ‘big brother’ approach to preventing or dispersing gatherings, following his observations of up to 300 people meeting at a time.
“Now we are in control [of the pandemic], we shouldn’t let it go. It’s better to be safe than sorry,” he said.
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