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Coronavirus, staying home and shielding

Take a look at some of the commonly asked questions about coronavirus (COVID-19) and how it affects people with cystic fibrosis (CF) and their families. 

Last updated: 23 September 2020


We’re doing everything we can to give you information to support you in making decisions and staying as safe as possible. Sometimes it helps to talk this through with someone – our friendly and expert Helpline team is on hand to listen and support you.

Are people with CF at an increased risk of COVID-19?

The numbers of people with CF who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 are currently relatively low. This makes it difficult to draw conclusions about the impact of the infection on people with CF, including those who have received a transplant. The UK Cystic Fibrosis Registry is part of an ongoing global collaboration to monitor cases of COVID-19 in people with cystic fibrosis. In those who are well it may be a mild illness, but people with significant chest problems are likely to be at risk of more severe illness.

How many people with CF have had COVID-19?

The UK CF Registry is closely monitoring cases of COVID-19 in people with cystic fibrosis. Take a look at the current UK statistics, which we will update weekly.

What is the latest Government guidance on shielding?

Shielding in England

From Saturday 1 August, shielding in England has ‘paused’ (with the exception of some local lockdown areas where shielding remains in place). This means that shielding restrictions are no longer be in place for those in the clinically extremely vulnerable group in most areas of England.

People in the clinically extremely vulnerable group are still advised to follow strict social distancing measures. However, they can go to work (if they cannot work safely from home), providing their workplace is guaranteed to be ‘COVID-secure’.

The Government in England is no longer providing food parcels, however the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme continues to deliver food and medicines where needed. Those who will still need help with shopping, medication or essential supplies are advised to call 0808 196 3646 (8am to 8pm).Priority online shopping for seven main supermarkets has been guaranteed beyond the end of July for those already signed up.

The Government pledged to write to all those on the clinically extremely vulnerable list to formally advise of changes to shielding guidance, and the NHS will retain the shielded list in order to communicate any further changes to shielding guidance.

Following updated guidance from the Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health (RCPCH), the Government confirmed that after 1 August 2020 most children and young people who had been identified as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ are unlikely to be advised to shield again in the future if there are any further shielding periods. Decisions for children to come off the shielding list should be made with your child’s CF care team.

We have updated our website with further information on what the pause in shielding means for you at work and at school.

Shielding in Northern Ireland

From 1 August, shielding was also paused in Northern Ireland. 

Read the latest shielding guidance from the Northern Ireland Government.

People who still need help and support with food, medicines and essential services can contact the COVID-19 Community helpline on 0808 802 0020 (9–5, Mon–Sun).

Shielding in Wales

Shielding will be paused in Wales from 16 August. People who were shielding in Wales are now advised to follow the same guidance as the rest of the population.

Read the Welsh Government's guidance on shielding.

Shielding in Scotland

Shielding was paused in Scotland from 1 August. From 1 August, those who were shielding are advised to follow the same guidance as the general population. Weekly food parcels stopped on 1 August but priority supermarket slots remain in place. Further information will be provided about other support services, and the text message information service and national helpline will remain in place.

The RCPCH guidance on shielding of children is currently being followed by the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government has pledged to keep those on the shielding list up to date by letter or text message of shielding advice changes again. The latest Scottish Government guidance can be found here.

UK CF Medical Association statement on changes to shielding guidance

The UK CF Medical Association’s latest statement provides an update on COVID-19 guidance.

What will happen now that shielding has been paused?

Shielding has been tough for many people with CF, and every household has faced individual challenges. We have tried to provide answers to some of the frequently asked questions about coping with changes to shielding. As ever, we encourage you to speak to your CF team so that you can make the right decisions for you and your family.

Should I wear a face mask when I leave the house?

There has been a lot of information in the media about use of face masks and governments have also talked about their role in easing restrictions as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic changes. The scientific evidence emerging is becoming more supportive towards the use of face masks to limit the spread of COVID-19.

With shielding having ended, people with CF are advised to make an individual decision on whether they feel comfortable wearing a mask. Some people have found they experience breathing difficulties and others have found it okay to wear. We recommend doing what makes you feel most comfortable, but if not wearing a mask try to ensure you are socially distancing and maintaining good hand hygiene.

Across the UK, face coverings are mandatory in certain settings, although there are exemptions for people with medical conditions – see our face mask FAQs for further details. You can check government websites where you live in the UK for more information on where and when people can be expected to wear face coverings.

We have put together some FAQs about face masks to help you to make a choice about whether to use face masks if you leave the house.

What do local lockdowns mean for people who have been shielding?

So far, local lockdowns have meant an extension to the advice to shield for people living in some local lockdown areas. A local lockdown means there has been a rise in COVID-19 cases in a local area, so this increases the risk of catching the virus and it’s likely that those thought to be at most risk will be advised to take extra precautions if a lockdown happens where they live. The exact advice on the precautions people who are shielding should take is likely to vary, so you will need to follow any local advice provided for your area. The Government has been contacting those who have been shielding and who live in the affected areas to provide more information. As with all shielding guidance, this is just advice and you can speak to your CF team for individual guidance to support you in making decisions about following these restrictions.

If you live in a lockdown area, and have been advised to continue shielding beyond the national ‘pausing’ dates, extra support may be available to you from your local council. This may include weekly food boxes and medication delivery – we advise you to check your council’s website for details.

Information about current local lockdowns can be found on the Government website here.

I live in the same household as someone with CF and I need to go out of the house to work. What can I do to protect the person with CF?

Government guidance says you should be very strict in following all of the social distancing guidelines. Although shielding has now been paused, you could explain to your employer that someone in your household is extremely clinically vulnerable, and asking if there are ways they can support you with social distancing. For example:

  • Can they change your role so you are working away from others?
  • Can they provide protective equipment?
  • Can they change your role so you are not customer/patient facing?

Protecting those who are most vulnerable is a role for all of us, and we hope employers will be understanding of this. Read about your employment rights in our information about finance and welfare.

There are some things you can do when you return from work and before having any contact with others in the house. This advice was provided by a CF clinician:

  • Remove your shoes, and leave them outside or by the door. Leave any bags and coats by the door.
  • Avoid touching light switches, door handles etc as you come in if possible.
  • Wash your hands and lower arms with soap, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Remove your clothes and put them in the wash.
  • Wipe your phone, wallet (and any door handles or light switches you had to touch on your way in) with an anti-viral wipe.
  • Have a shower with soap, and wash your hair.
  • Put on clean clothes.

Should I still attend my CF centre appointments?

You should not attend your local hospital or outpatient facility without checking with your CF service first. Routine reviews will no longer be conducted face to face. Please contact your CF team to find out how this will apply to you or your child. Find out more about how this will affect your CF care.

Will I still be able to access my medicines? Do I need to stockpile?

In their advice, ‘How can you get assistance with foods and medicines if you are shielding?’ the Government has stated that they are helping pharmacies to deliver prescriptions. Prescriptions will continue to cover the same length of time as usual. If you do not currently have your prescriptions collected or delivered, you can arrange this by:

  • Asking someone you know to pick up your prescription from the local pharmacy (if possible, this is the best option).
  • Contacting your pharmacy to ask them to help you find a volunteer (who will have been ID checked) to deliver it to you.
  • You may also need to arrange for collection or delivery of hospital specialist medication that is prescribed to you by your hospital care team.

If you receive support from health and social care organisations, for example if you have care provided for you through the local authority or health care system, this will continue as normal. Your health or social care provider will be asked to take additional precautions to make sure that you are protected. The advice for formal carers is included in the home care provision.

​Repeat prescription services 

Below are some providers of repeat prescriptions. All you have to do is provide your NHS number and then list your medications from your prescription or scan the barcodes on the packages. This list is then confirmed with your GP for delivery to your home. Due to demand this may currently take two weeks so apply as soon as possible.

Orkambi and Symkevi medication

If getting monthly deliveries of Kalydeco, Orkambi or Symkevi is problematic, you can contact your CF team about the possibility of switching to a two-monthly prescription. National agreements do allow two months of these drugs to be provided at a time, although this can be dependent on the local homecare provider.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to CF, so how would I know if I had it?

The main symptoms of COVID-19 are a fever, a new continuous cough and a loss of, or change in, normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia). It is is unusual for people with CF to experience a fever as part of their normal CF symptoms. However, there is still a lot of cross over between CF symptoms and symptoms of COVID-19, so if you are worried please use NHS 111’s online COVID-19 service.

It is important to keep up with your treatment so that you stay well. Follow all of the preventive measures outlined by the UK CF Medical Association. If you have any change in respiratory symptoms, contact your local CF team.

According to Government advice (updated on 1 June), anyone in your household with a high temperature, new continuous cough or loss of, or change in, normal sense of taste or smell should immediately self-isolate at home for seven days, and all other individuals in the household should self-isolate for 14 days from that moment as well. If any member of the household develops symptoms they must isolate for seven days from the start of symptoms. If this happens to you, let your CF team know as they will want to assess whether you should start an oral antibioticFollow NHS 111 advice according to how unwell you are feeling.

What should I do if I think I have been in contact with someone with COVID-19?

If you have been in contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19, you should self-isolate for 14 days, and let your clinical team know so that they can monitor you closely. If you start having symptoms, use NHS 111's online COVID-19 service and let your CF team know. If you start having symptoms, everyone else in your household will also need to self-isolate for 14 days.

I’m a carer for someone with CF and I have symptoms of COVID-19 – can I access a test?

The government has advised that unpaid carers are considered to be ‘essential workers’ so should be eligible for testing. Find more information and apply for a test

You can also find advice and check your symptoms through the NHS 111 online service.

I’m taking part in a clinical trial, what will happen?

NHS Trusts around the UK are currently making the decision to postpone the opening of any new clinical trials, along with potentially suspending a number of open trials. This will include some trials in cystic fibrosis. 

As safety is the top priority while maintaining research integrity, this decision is being made so clinical and research staff can ensure ongoing patient and staff safety. Some research staff will be asked to prioritise delivery of trials researching treatments/vaccines for COVID-19. Other research staff, in addition to clinical staff, will be required to dedicate more time to support the increased demand on the NHS, supporting frontline care arising as a result of the pandemic. 

If you are taking part in a clinical trial, you can expect some of the following changes:

Depending on the nature of the trial and trial treatment, the trial may be temporarily stopped – if this happens, your local research team will be in touch to let you know what you have to do

If the trial continues, where possible, scheduled clinical trial visits to the hospital may be replaced with a telephone call. If you have a planned trial visit at the hospital coming up soon you do not have to attend, but please let your local team know who will support and advise you on what to do

If the trial continues, instead of collecting trial medication from your hospital, it may be couriered directly to your home address, or collection can be arranged by a person nominated by you.

I have a holiday booked – is it going to be safe for people with CF to travel?

Restrictions on travel are still in place (these do vary according to where you are in the UK and where you are thinking of travelling to).

If you are thinking of going on or booking a trip, please do discuss this with your CF team.

If you have a holiday booked, and need advice on your consumer rights if you want to or need to cancel, there is some useful information here:

We are continuing to monitor the situation and are taking advice from the UKCFMA, government health authorities and the NHS. As things develop, we will provide as much information as we can. If you have a question which isn’t answered here please contact our Helpline on helpline@cysticfibrosis.org.uk and we will come back to you as soon as we can. For issues relating to your CF care we recommend speaking directly to your CF team and if you have any direct concerns about developing COVID-19 please use NHS 111's online COVID-19 service.


Financial support and welfare advice

Resources and information from the Trust, as well as useful external websites and services, that can provide financial and welfare support to families living with cystic fibrosis during this time.

The impact on your CF care

Information on how the COVID-19 outbreak could affect your routine CF care, what to do if you contract COVID-19 and other frequently asked questions.

Mental and physical health

Helpful advice on how you can maintain your emotional and physical wellbeing through a range of activities.