The public has got used to using and ordering rapid tests themselves. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council has focused its efforts on targeting its support towards those most in need. Key to this has been its mobile testing unit.
In recent months, that has been deployed to support primary schools, care homes and people with visual impairments. Extra support has also been provided to small employers whose staff cannot work from home.
The rapid testing network
Blackburn with Darwen has set up a network of rapid testing sites and collection points. At one point there were three main centres – one in Blackburn, another in Darwen and a third at the ground of Blackburn Rovers football club, which sits in between the two towns.
A staff of 15 work at the sites, although the one at the football stadium was run by the club’s own workforce. However, that has now closed as fans have returned to grounds.
COVID Testing Project Manager, Steve Wearden said: “They were really important in the early days when people were getting used to using the rapid testing. We provided assisted testing on site, although over time people have got so used to them that they are often just collecting tests from these centres and doing them at home.”
Rapid testing collection points have also been set up at libraries and community centres across the borough to ensure there is good access to tests across the whole of the borough.
Not everyone has cars to drive in to the town centres to get tests or are digitally savvy and able to order them online, so having these collection points is really important.
"We have also trained up 269 community champions to promote testing and advise people on how to use them,” said Mr Wearden.
On top of this, the council has supported around 30 small local employers to set up their own workplace testing facilities and supply them with kits. “There are a number of small manufacturing and logistics firms – they are the sort of jobs that cannot be done from home and they don’t have the support the big firms do in terms of HR to help them with COVID testing so we went in and showed them what needed to be done in regards to testing – it helped them keep safe and ensure business continuity,” Mr Wearden added.
The council also has a mobile testing unit that can be deployed across the borough – in fact at one point it had two. During the summer these were used to offer targeted testing to certain neighbourhoods where outbreaks were being seen – Blackburn was one of the first parts of the country to see the Delta variant take off. “Around two thirds of our local areas are in the bottom three quintiles in terms of deprivation so we know we have neighbourhoods that are particularly vulnerable.”
And then when the Omicron wave took off in late November and primary school-age children started seeing a surge in cases the mobile unit was deployed to schools across the borough. Unlike secondary schools, pupils were not being routinely provided with tests.
Mr Wearden said: “We stationed it outside primary schools at the end of the day so when parents and grandparents were coming to collect the children they could pick up a box of rapid tests. We were there to answer questions and explain what they needed to do – although most people are now familiar with the way to test.
“We have continued to do that this term as well – there has been a shortage of rapid tests at local pharmacies and we know parents were worried about infection rates in children and outbreaks at their schools.”
The mobile unit is also being used to support a number of local care homes as well as attend the weekly meeting of Blackburn’s Blind Society.
Mr Wearden said: “While many people have got comfortable using the rapid tests, these are groups that still need support so our staff go in and help them with the tests and give them the results. When infection rates are high like they have been because of Omicron it just provides that little bit of extra reassurance and helps to keep them safe.”
Prof Dominic Harrison, Blackburn with Darwen’s Director of Public Health, added: “Together with vaccination, regular testing has been one of the main ways we have urged our local communities to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. There’s no doubt that through finding asymptomatic COVID cases, we will have prevented more people from becoming infected and saved lives. Testing continues to be an important part of living safely with COVID.”
COVID Testing Project Manager
Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council