The COVID-19 pandemic is having a huge impact worldwide and has highlighted the extent of health inequalities between countries but also in small areas within a country. Identifying areas with high mortality is important both of public health mitigation in COVID-19 outbreaks, and of longer term efforts to tackle social inequalities in health. In this paper we consider different statistical models and an extension of a recent method to analyze COVID-19 related mortality in English small areas during the first wave of the epidemic in the first half of 2020. We seek to identify hotspots, and where they are most geographically concentrated, taking account of observed area factors as well as spatial correlation and clustering in regression residuals, while also allowing for spatial discontinuities. Results show an excess of COVID-19 mortality cases in small areas surrounding London and in other small areas in North-East and and North-West of England. Models alleviating spatial confounding show ethnic isolation, air quality and area morbidity covariates having a significant and broadly similar impact on COVID-19 mortality, whereas nursing home location seems to be slightly less important.