CARE homes and supported living schemes across Craven are being advised to limit routine visiting during October in an effort to protect residents as coronavirus infection rates increase across North Yorkshire .

The recommendation comes after North Yorkshire’s Local Resilience Forum - made up of local authorities and emergency services - last week appealed to everyone to ‘act now, save lives’.

Richard Webb, director of health and adult services for North Yorkshire County Council, has written to care providers advising that routine visiting should stop from Thursday for a month after which the situation will be reviewed.

The advice was originally issued last week to care homes in Harrogate, where infection rates were higher than other parts of the county, and has now been extended to all parts of the district, including Craven.

Families and friends will still be able to visit those who are at the end of their lives and essential visits by NHS and social care practitioners will still take place as long as national rules around hand-washing, face masks, PPE, distancing and other requirements are followed, says the county council.

The authority says it is setting up a task force to review Covid security in care homes and to see what, if anything, it can do to provide secure visiting options in the future that meet the imperative around protecting people from the virus and ensuring residents and families can keep in touch.

Richard Webb said: “We must thank our care providers across North Yorkshire for the huge amount of work they have undertaken and the dedication they have shown to protect our care home residents and staff during the pandemic and, in recent months, when care homes have been able to open up to visitors again. We know how much these visits mean to residents and families and how important they are to people’s mental and physical well-being.

“We are seeing infection rates rising across the county, including household and community transmission. Whilst we are working hard to contain and manage outbreaks, including within the care sector, the overall rates within the community are worrying.

“We are making this recommendation with great regret. However, it is important that we follow public health advice and act now as cases and hospital admissions increase.”

The county council says it is advising homes to act from Thursday, to give them time to prepare residents and families.

Mr Webb added: “Our strong preference would be to have a locally responsive, Covid-secure approach that allows visiting to continue. But given the current capacity issues with the national testing programme, a more flexible approach, which could test regular visitors, is difficult to guarantee at the present time and, therefore, reluctantly, we are recommending more stringent measures for the time-being.”

Care homes will be encouraged to allow window visits for all residents so that family members, friends and residents can still see each other, alongside greater use of remote contact by telephone and other technology.

The county council is also advising that care home residents can continue to make trips into the community, but are advising that these should, ideally, be outdoors to allow for social distancing and that, when out and about, they should wear face masks where possible and be extra vigilant.

Families and friends can also still visit people living in ‘extra care’ schemes, as these are self-contained apartments.

Extra care providers are being advised to prepare for further potential restrictions and to enhance their Covid security, including the flow in and out of buildings, to reduce the risks.

The county council says it has also reviewed its additional Covid payments to care providers and will be extending its current extra support into October. It is also advising that PPE will be provided nationally on a free basis to the care sector.

Mike Padgham, chairman of the provider organisation The Independent Care Group, said: “It is regrettable that home visits have to stop but we have to do everything we can, with North Yorkshire County Council, to prevent the spread of coronavirus to the older and vulnerable people we care for.

“Covid-19 has taken a terrible toll in care and nursing homes and we support everything that can be done to prevent a second wave taking hold.

“We are also aware of the harm a lack of contact is doing to these residents and their families and hope we can work with the authority to find new and innovative ways to enable contact as soon as we can safely do so.

“We are grateful for the support of North Yorkshire County Council and the financial aid it is providing to providers as we all work together to protect those most susceptible from this dreadful virus.”