FRIDAY’S edition of The Northern Echo looked a little unusual, as we joined with all other newspapers across the country – national and regional – in a partnership with the Government to reinforce the “stay at home” message.

Editors aren’t usually a fan of having their news pages wrapped entirely in commercial messages, despite the crucial revenue attached, but on this occasion, the day after a three-week extension to the coronavirus lockdown was announced, it was a remarkable national show of unity from the newspaper industry and the Government. The message was clear – “all in, all together. Stay at home”.

Does printing the Government message mean we will stop doing our best to hold ministers to account on issues like their handling of the unfolding disaster in our care homes, or calling for more information about what an easing of the lockdown might look like? Not at all. It is more an endorsement of the vital part that trusted newspapers play in keeping you, our readers, informed during a time of crisis.

ON the subject of care homes, the tragic scale of the impact of covid-19 has started to become clear this week – for residents, families, and the dedicated staff going above and beyond.

Nationally, the debate has focused on how the deaths in the care sector are being recorded, testing for residents and staff, and whether or not care workers have access to the correct personal protective equipment to keep them safe. These are important issues, and through the daily press briefings, and ministerial comments in between, it has become clear that the potential for such a catastrophe within the care sector was recognised far too late. The blame game can wait for now, but the provision of testing and PPE cannot.

As for the recording of care home deaths in the official figures, I’m not a statistician, and I’m sure the collation of the daily data made available by Public Health England is a vast exercise, given the many variables involved in classifying the causes of death among frail, elderly people with a multitude of health conditions.

But the failure of the authorities to come up with an accurate methodology leaves me speechless. No wonder many in the care sector are telling us they feel as though the issue is being swept under the carpet. Governments rely on data to inform public policy, so if they don’t have the numbers in the first place, what chance is there of the areas in need getting precious support?

NUMBERS on a spreadsheet are useful for calculations, but to the vast majority of us – me included – it is the stories behind the statistics that are more important. Among the 13 covid-related deaths at County Durham’s Stanley Park Care Home, was 82-year-old Ruth Turnbull.

The Northern Echo:

Her family have taken to the time to speak to us, describing a busy wife, mother, worker, special constable and hospital volunteer, who lived life to the full. They also paid a beautiful tribute to the dedication and commitment of the staff at Stanley Park. It is for them as much as anyone – for Mrs Turnbull, her grieving family, and the carers who did so much – that we must stay at home. All in, all together.