ESSEX care homes have seen more coronavirus deaths so far this year than the whole of 2020, partly because of the highly-transmissible Kent strain of Covid-19.
The impact of the second wave of the pandemic on care homes has been laid bare with the Kent mutation being named as a key factor in the virus’s spread.
Official figure show 440 residents across Essex care homes lost their lives to the virus since January.
In addition, a further 83 people at Southend’s care homes have died since the start of the year.
Throughout the whole of last year, 451 care home residents across Essex, including Southend, died from the virus.
Trevor Harp, Southend councillor responsible for health and social care, said: “The Kent variant has a lot to do with the spread in care homes. It’s really transmissible, and it caused infection rates to spike when it became more prevalent.
“Care homes also aren’t set up to deal with infection control like hospitals are. Hospitals have been dealing with infection control forever. In care homes you need a bit more time to get everything set up.”
The variant, found in Kent, emerged in September 2020 and became widespread at the end of the year.
It has been found in 101 countries.
Mr Harp said “virtually” every care home in the town had experienced an outbreak of Covid-19 since the pandemic began.
He added: “Some have done really well and avoided them, but some have had more than one.
“Once the virus is in a care home, it’s really difficult to stop it spreading.”
Mr Harp explained why there has been so many deaths this year already, adding: “If you look at our age demographic, it’s an ageing population. People head to the seaside when they retire.
“Southend also has the 13th highest number of care homes compared to other council’s in England.”
Care homes have been battling outbreaks since the start of the pandemic, and at least 246 frontline health and care workers have been identified after dying with coronavirus.
A member of staff at a Southend care home, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Care homes were left to fend for themselves.
“There was no room for complacency, and there isn’t now. One mistake and the results could have been absolute chaos.
“The only way the virus was being brought in was through the staff. We were shut for visitors completely, we were in isolation.”
In January, Southend Council said Covid outbreaks were a huge barrier to giving care home residents their jabs.
It was impossible for homes to receive their jab if there were several cases among residents, the Echo was told.
Mr Harp added: “It’s really sad that these people lost their lives just as the vaccine was rolling around, It’s really unfortunate that they missed out, just when a bit of hope is around the corner.”
County Hall’s response
Essex County Council has responded to the shocking death toll in care homes so far this year, saying “one death is too many”.
Bosses responded to the “extremely challenging” period which saw 428 residents lost their lives to Covid in the Essex County Council area.
In Southend, 83 care home patients died as a result of Covid.
The Kent variant has been to blame for the death toll, which has seen more deaths recorded this year than the whole of 2020.
A County Hall spokesman said: “The last year has been extremely challenging for our care providers and their employees, who are working tirelessly to keep many of the county’s most vulnerable people safe.
“One death due to Covid-19 is one too many.
“However, it is important to recognise that Essex is the second largest authority in the country and has an older population than average, which needs to be taken into consideration when comparing figures.
“By definition, people in our care homes are the most frail in our society.
“In many cases these are people who died with Covid-19 aggravating an underlying condition.”
The spokesman pointed to the surge in infections at the start of the year which “reached heights not previously seen during the Covid-19 crisis”.
The spokesman added: “It was bound to be the case that members of staff and others entering care homes would bring the infection with them.
“Once in the homes it was impossible for providers and staff to isolate residents and once there, it was impossible to avoid spread.
“Through our own actions and those of operators, and now with the help of vaccinations, the number of people dying in care homes with Covid-19 has reduced massively and in Essex was only two in the week to March 5 – a seventh of the 14 care home deaths in the county in that week.”