The UK government set out its plans for ‘Living with Covid’ on 23rd February 2022. This removed all remaining legal restrictions for safeguarding communities against COVID-19. In England, businesses, religious organisations and service providers, such as shops, sporting, entertainment, leisure and community facilities, will no longer have to follow guidance on keeping the public safe with measures to avoid Covid. From 21st March 2022, in England, this includes mask-wearing, social distancing, self-isolation and an end to free testing at physical sites, home testing kits and an end to contract tracing. In Scotland, testing will remain free until April, and self-isolation will still be required after a positive test and the period of isolation is under review. The guidance for those identified as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ from COVID-19 and shielding, was also updated, advising these people to follow the general guidance for the public, yet producing separate guidelines for those over 12 who are immune-compromised on how to keep safe, and how to access new medications.
Disability rights organisations and groups have highlighted the anxiety, uncertainty and burden this new guidance places on disabled people, including those immuno-compromised, as COVID19 continues to pose a serious health risk to disabled people.
Our project focuses on connecting environmental science with diverse, minoritised communities through public engagement activity. As such, we are mindful of our duty of care under the Public Sector Equality Duty Act, and we will continue to safeguard communities put at risk through health inequity and structural inequalities heightened by the pandemic. Here we draw on the recommended NASDN national policy guidance, and insights from the lived experience of individuals with lived experience, to share an approach to ensuring the public engagement community designs in community safeguarding of these populations. We highlight our approach and key recommendations, to enable the wider public engagement community.
- The issue was first raised at a national meeting of partners, comprising university researchers and community organisations in February 2022
- Partners shared their COVID19 community safeguarding approaches, that they intend to remain in place, and highlighted gaps in provision to specific communities and individuals, or resourcing where discussed.
- Seek paid advisory input and review from NASDN, disabled members of the steering committee and external experts.
- As an interim step, we produced recommendations, for Engaging Environments, informed by sharing practice, WHO guidance and our available and review of published institutional policies (see Appendices).
- Expert input is also being sought to make a definitive case for resource sharing, inclusive design of PE based on the needs of disabled and minoritised communities.
- A call for lived experience and expert input, case stories of COVID19 community safeguarding protocols and systemic barriers to follow recommendations is required.
- We will publish and update our interim recommendations and resources here.
Symptoms and testing
- In the event lateral flow tests, are not freely available, partners can make use of their events budgets, to resource community engagement and public engagement activities, to make tests, hand sanitiser and masks available for free, in particular from April 1 onward.
- In the event no budget is available, partners can make requests for the lead partner to resource LFT testing, masks and hand sanitisers, and also design hybrid and online-only experiences.
- If people involved in activities have one of the identified symptoms of COVID-19 (new or continuous cough, high temperature, loss of taste or smell, or flu-like symptoms), or someone tests positive for COVID-19, we recommend that you stay at home, notify those you live with and have had contact with, and where possible avoid contact with other people.
- You should ideally continue to remain at home either; until you receive two negative tests results on consecutive days via a lateral flow test, or until your symptoms have gone (up to a period of 7-10 days) if you are not able to access a lateral flow test.
- Wearing a face mask, ideally N95, is still encouraged when in crowded spaces and when moving around indoors. Face masks can and will be provided.
- There is no stigma to wearing a face mask.
Meetings and workstations
- We encourage a hybrid approach, whereby all meetings are available to access online and if any in-person meetings are considered necessary then a risk assessment is completed, in consultation with anyone who considers themselves at risk. Risk assessments for an inclusive event can consider first aiders, BSL interpreters, and accessible spaces.
- If in-person meetings are considered necessary, provisions should be made for a BSL interpreter if possible, and at a minimum, there should be live transcriptions made available via programmes such as MS Teams or Zoom.
- We can provide example risk assessment templates, from actual scenarios for learning purposes. We encourage organisations and researchers to produce their own, tailored to specific public engagement activities, that are co-designed by relevant individuals and groups and updated regularly in response to changing circumstances.
- We would not recommend hot-desking. This can be an issue for disabled individuals as they may require a specific set-up and/or computer software, and hot-desking can also increase risk of transmission of COVID-19.
- Since all institutions are enforcing that any individual who tests positive for COVID-19 should report this, we encourage reporting to be discussed and agreed upon by groups engaged in regular activities.
- For the safety of those who face mobility challenges, lifts should only be used by those who need them and should ideally be used by one person at a time or by those wearing face masks where possible.
- Sanitiser/sanitisation stations should be provided at any meetings or community engagement activities and we would encourage everyone to observe good hand hygiene.
Targeted activities and resource to support PPE for all
- We encourage a specific funding pot to be reserved by EE that can be accessed by disabled groups and at-risk groups to develop and design COVID-19 safe public engagement activities, with support, in ways that explicitly work for these populations.
Examples of current institutional guidance.