I am sure you are all getting used to (but not enjoying) our third lockdown by now. It appears that the country as a whole is not being quite so rule observant as before, which is a pity, especially with this new variant being so transmissible. The numbers vary around the country. In the area around our care home in Chippenham, the cases are 250 per 100,000, while here near Watford, the rate is 833. However, the good news is that it has dropped by 11% in the last 7 days – let’s hope that continues.

Thank you to everyone for helping us get the Consent Forms authorised for the vaccinations. The residents and some of our staff received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday 31st December. The local GP practices appear to be well ahead of the curve, vaccinating care homes so quickly. Some of our staff were lucky enough to be vaccinated before Christmas (16th December) and they received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday of last week. At the moment, it is unclear whether residents will get their second dose after the 3 weeks or the now more common 10-12 weeks. As soon as we know, we will let you know. We are still waiting for a few staff to complete their first rounds – due to availability – so hopefully everyone will have been “jabbed” at least once, by the middle of the month.

Irrespective of vaccinations, we will all still need to strictly adhere to our infection control procedures and sadly the current visiting restrictions. Once the vaccine has taken effect and the numbers of infections in the area reduce, we hope to be able to start visits again. We know how hard this is on everyone, but given the virulence of this disease, we have to continue to be careful. The science tells us that the vaccine significantly reduces the impact of the virus, especially in the elderly, but it is unclear as yet as to what happens with transmission – ie can you still carry it and infect other people? Time will tell on this and as we have always done, we will follow the guidelines of the Government and Public Health England.

Despite the vaccines, testing continues for all staff weekly and residents 4-weekly. The last round of tests all came back negative which is great. We are also interspersing the older, more reliable PCR tests (these are the ones which are sent away to a lab for processing) with the newer, more immediate (20 minutes) Lateral Flow test that staff can use on site. As I have mentioned before, these are not as accurate as the PCR tests. They may give false positives in a few cases, but these would be followed up with PCR tests anyway. However, the fears that they may also give significant false negatives (which is the worst outcome – testing negative when in fact you are positive) have been allayed somewhat. But using both tests regularly, we should hopefully still keep on top of the virus.

Once again, many thanks to Theresa and the team for keeping us safe. Not just in the testing, but in their actions to keep clear of the illness and of course, if they have any concerns, isolating themselves or their families.

On a more positive note, though the vaccine is of course very positive going forward, the residents enjoyed their New Year, but especially their Christmas celebrations. I know Theresa and Cora have sent out some photos of the day. The festive season was of course very different for us all this year, but we put every effort in to make Christmas as special a time as we could. Father Christmas visited in the week before Christmas with presents for everyone and on the day, all the residents had more presents to open. Everyone dressed for the occasion where they could and a wonderful Christmas dinner was laid on for all. Well done and thank you as always to Angela and Petya for a great spread and again to all the staff who work over the holidays while everyone else is at home – you are very special.

And another thank you goes to the residents and their families for their kindness in the gifts that were sent in for the staff. Christmas is the only time of year that we allow gifts, for all the obvious reasons. They are collected, making Theresa’s already crowded office look more like Santa’s grotto than a workspace and then early in January we raffle them, with residents drawing tickets for all the staff until everyone has won and the gifts have all gone. So, on behalf of the staff, thank you.

I think this gives everyone an update on Arden House for the time being. As we have said before, please keep writing letters, sending cards, making telephone calls or even linking up over the internet with the video calls. Every single card or call is so important to all of us, especially in these weeks of lockdown.

Stay safe.