Jamaica Records Its First Death from COVID-19 and Other News on March 18, 2020

There was another press briefing this evening at the Office of the Prime Minister. Here are the highlights and you can watch it all here.

Firstly, a Jamaican man from Clarendon, traveling from New York, sadly passed away from COVID-19 at 3:00 p.m. this afternoon. He was 79 years old and already suffering from diabetes and hypertension (two very common non-communicable diseases in Jamaica). Minister Tufton expressed condolences to his family.

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Mandeville Regional Hospital. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

So, the deceased patient was in two of the “high risk” groups. He checked in at Lionel Town Hospital and thence to Mandeville Regional Hospital on March 16 (critically ill) and his condition went downhill fast, it seems. It’s not sure yet when he arrived in Jamaica. He was tested yesterday and confirmed positive this morning. He died as he was being prepared to transfer to the University Hospital of the West Indies for intensive care, according to Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie. However, she admitted that “we do have a critical shortage of intensive care beds.” More spaces and more ventilators are needed. The timing was very difficult, she conceded.

Minister Tufton added that the procurement of isolation areas has gone “fairly well” and that there are approximately 240 beds for isolation, with each hospital establishing an isolation ward. He thanked the hospital administrators for arranging this.

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Eleven test results came in today, two of which tested positive. Jamaica now has a total of 15 confirmed cases and we are awaiting the results of six more tests. One of the new positive cases is linked to “Patient 1.” Note: ten of our fifteen cases so far are imported.

As of this morning, 13 of the 15 confirmed cases are stable, said the CMO.

Meanwhile, 458 people have come into the island from a country of interest since January 31. 25 are in quarantine in government facilities – not including those in Bull Bay. 91 are in home quarantine. 28 people are currently in isolation in hospital.

In terms of parish distribution of the COVID-19 cases, the Ministry gave the following information on contacts in the different parishes who are being followed up on, arising from interviews conducted: Clarendon – 21; Hanover – 3; Kingston and St. Andrew – 224; Manchester – 2; Portland – 6; St. Ann – 26; St. Catherine – 9; St. James – 114; St. Elizabeth –  5 St. Mary – 22; Trelawny – 2. None in Westmoreland or St. Thomas, it appears. This totals 434 being monitored and followed up on. She noted that some may have dropped off this list as they are asymptomatic. 32 symptomatic contacts have been identified and are being quarantined and/or isolated.

Meanwhile, mapping and surveillance continues in the Bull Bay community, and medical and pharmacy services are being provided. The Ministry of Labour and Social Security is providing social support to the Bull Bay community, and the supply of welfare packages has been increased – as of this evening approximately 900 packages have been distributed. The Permanent Secretary (PS) in that Ministry, Colette Roberts Risden, noted that the Red Cross has been instrumental in packaging food items and several areas have received them. The PS expressed special thanks to them, to Food for the Poor, the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica, Excelsior, Industrial Sales and other firms that have made donations of food and hygiene items.

“We do have some challenges on the ground,” said Ms. Roberts Risden. Some families  in the Bull Bay area “want to get multiple packages,” she added.

Minister Tufton visited the Bull Bay area today. He noted that some residents were asking for “more personalized attention” in terms of the food/hygiene packages. In fact, media reports have focused on one particular resident who complained that they were hungry and in need of more supplies. Minister Tufton pointed to the socio-economic profile of the Bull Bay community – not a prosperous part of town. He visited the warehouse and decided to increase the number of packages and has got support of private sector to donate “a fair bit of additional supplies,” which should be ready tomorrow. On the issue of medication, residents should report where they are having problems, he said. About 15 health workers are daily on the ground doing interviews, temperature checks, and so on. The Minister said the plan is to increase this number and to place someone at the main security post.

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I thought I would show the Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton with a happy smiling face – looking a lot more relaxed at an event last October at Bellevue Hospital. He looks quite tired these days. (My photo)

There was also a question of residents “escaping” from the quarantine zone. What to do? Well, these people would be breaking the law, said the Permanent Secretary – but he stressed that the Government would prefer “moral suasion” rather than a big stick. Not an easy task indeed, persuading people that quarantine is “for their own good.” Ah, behavior change!

Nevertheless, Minister Tufton maintains that it was still the right decision to quarantine this area, pointing out that one third of the confirmed cases so far had come from Patient 1 – who, if you recall, was based in Bull Bay after traveling from the UK. However, he added, the aim was to give the quarantined residents “the best possible treatment.”

Dr. Karen Webster Kerr, National Epidemiologist, explained the contact tracing process. It is quite complicated, with “seven chains of transmission.” Four of these chains are single people; another were people who attended a religious event together and traveled via Trinidad. You can see the chart on the above live stream link and below.

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Ministry of Health and Wellness chart showing chains of transmission for positive cases of COVID-19 as of March 18.

The CMO said the tracing has shown “very limited spread” so far. Out of hundreds of people traced, only about 20 were symptomatic and are isolated and quarantined. Most tests have come back negative so far. So this is quite encouraging. Mr. Bryan said this showed that early action in tracing people and quarantining them (“an effective tool”) is working as a containment measure – despite the hardships caused.

There is some talk about a drug in Cuba (the Opposition representatives are talking about this a great deal). The Ministry is currently reviewing this.

A note on test kits: I am reliably informed that the 2,500 test kits we have in hand actually consist of 96 tests each. So, it is not 2,500 tests but…well, you can do the Math.

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An emergency medical staffer wears a protective face mask at the Brooklyn Hospital Center emergency room today. (Photo: AP/John Minchillo)

Speaking of New York, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also announced today that an employee at the Jamaican Consulate there has tested positive for COVID-19. There has been a major increase in cases in New York City and the situation is quite dire there.

Finally – and very importantly, to me – Mr. Bryan said:

We are getting too many reports of discriminatory behavior towards persons who are presumed, or suspected, of being infected by COVID. It is becoming problematic in that people are being denied services, and we have to intervene. Now that we have had nearly two weeks of this…we are going to start the process now of discharging patients…and we have to integrate persons into communities. They have to begin to normalize their lives after they leave hospital. If we generate this amount of discriminatory activity it can cause severe outcomes that we do not want to occur within our society. So we have to be cautious about how we manage the information and how we create any sort of anxiety within the public.

These comments were prompted by persistent questioning from one journalist on where the deceased person came from. Do we really, really need to know exactly which community he came from? What purpose does this serve – and who benefits from this, apart from sensation-seeking media houses?

And now: a report that “an entertainer” has come into Jamaica and did not reveal that he was from a country of interest. Minister Tufton said this is being investigated. Travelers are required by law to declare which country they are coming from.

Chief Medical Officer Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie’s key message today was “Stay home!” And not to panic, but to play one’s part. She believes the public is getting this message. I hope so!

And here’s a message from the Blood Bank. As usual, the need is very great:

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