Following the successful Liverpool pilot, SMART testing is to begin in Halton on 14 December from two sites – Grangeway Community Centre, Runcorn and Ditton Community Centre, Widnes.
Halton Borough Council is setting out how it will use rapid testing, of people with no symptoms, across the community, as a tool to keep COVID infection rates under control as the borough gets on with life under Tier 2 High Level restrictions.
“SMART” testing refers to Systematic, Meaningful, Asymptomatic, Repeated Testing using rapid tests – called lateral flow tests – the same tests that have been used in the successful Liverpool pilot, which has seen rates of infection dramatically reducing across the city.
The tests are used to identify people who do not have COVID-19 symptoms but who are infectious and could unknowingly spread the virus to others and to enable those who test positive and their contacts to self-isolate, helping to drive down the infection rates locally and save lives
Halton and the other areas of the Liverpool City Region, have initially received 10,000 of the lateral flow tests, with a subsequent weekly supply enough to test 10% of the Halton population.
Like they have in Liverpool, the Army will provide the expertise and manpower needed to get new testing sites up and running in Halton, but it will be trained Council staff who will take over the running of the sites.
As well as being offered to the whole community, SMART, rapid testing will also be used in a number of targeted ways in Halton to support more vulnerable residents – like those living in supported living accommodation – and to bring down infection rates in areas where they remain stubbornly high.
The use of testing will help public health experts to understand more about how the virus is spreading in the community and as a result put them in a better position to reduce levels of infections.
Talking about the new testing, Halton’s Director of Public Health, Eileen O’Meara said: “We have already seen the benefits of regular testing of frontline health workers. This SMART, rapid testing makes it much easier for us to test many more people and by doing so, give us much more information about the virus in Halton.”
“While getting a negative test does not give people the green light to stop with measures like wearing a face covering and keeping a distance, it does help us to reduce the risk within our community by identifying and isolating more people who may unknowingly have been spreading the virus.”
“Until we see the new vaccines rolled out widely to the population, this type of rapid testing combined with existing measures, provide us with the best route to getting the better of this virus and getting our lives back.”
“I would urge everyone in Halton to come forward and use these rapid tests, especially as we head towards Christmas, when restrictions will be relaxed briefly and families have the opportunity to spend time together.”
Initially, SMART sites will be located at Grangeway Community Centre in Runcorn and Ditton Community Centre in Widnes, with testing of the community to begin from Monday 14 December. These are sites that anyone in the borough, who doesn’t have symptoms, can walk up to and get tested repeatedly (with a gap of five days needed between tests). Those people with symptoms should book a test by calling 119 or going online to gov.uk.
In addition, the aim is to have pop-up rapid testing vans that will move around the borough to target specific locations where infection levels are remain stubbornly high or venues where outbreaks happen.
Anyone receiving a positive test result will be required to self-isolate immediately and asked to seek a confirmatory PCR test.
If a positive result is confirmed, they will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace to help them track their contacts. This will help people to identify who they may have been in close contact with, protecting others from further transmission.
Close contacts of those testing positive will also hear from NHS Test and Trace, asking them to stay at home for 14 days to prevent them from unknowingly spreading the virus. They will be advised to also book at test if they develop symptoms.
Further details about how and when testing will roll out will be shared in the coming days via the Council’s website www.halton.gov.uk/SMART, social media accounts and via the local media.