So much has been happening, and I am going to quickly paraphrase the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ latest update, as of 8:00 p.m. our time. Here goes:
- Jamaica now has 163 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – 20 new cases in the past 24 hours.
- Details on 17 cases are to be provided in the next 24 hours.
- The other 3 cases are from St. Catherine, including two workers from the Alorica Call Centre, both females, aged 33 and 19 years. The third case, a 42-year-old male, is under investigation.
- 33 cases are imported; 39 are contacts of a confirmed case; six are local transmissions “not epidemiologically linked”; and 68 are under investigation (62 of these work at Alorica).
- Of those 62 workers, 55 are from St Catherine and four are from Kingston and St Andrew. There is one case each from Clarendon, St Thomas and Portland. Two cases are close contacts of Alorica workers and are from Clarendon.
- On testing, 1,516 samples have been tested (163 positive, 1,353 negative).
- Up to noon today, there were 140 persons in isolation and 24 in quarantine.
There are many concerns. Immediately after the declaration of the parish of St. Catherine (the location of the Alorica Call Centre) as under quarantine (“lockdown”) by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Tuesday evening, there was an outburst of recriminations, finger-pointing and anger among Jamaicans, largely directed at Alorica (and call centres in general). WhatsApp went into overdrive (and the level of misinformation rose on that platform in particular). Rumors flourished. The lockdown is now in place, from 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 15 to 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 22.
From my perspective (not as someone on the ground, but trying to filter the numerous media stories and comments), the lockdown did not go as smoothly as it should have. It was partly a matter of timing; St. Catherine residents, who had a window of an hour or so before the nationwide curfew kicked in at 9:00 p.m., reportedly left the parish in droves, heading for Kingston along the toll road. Were they all “escapees,” though? Probably not. I am not sure that the security forces were immediately on top of things at the checkpoints along the way. The next day, a few refugees who were found “hiding out” in western Jamaica were taken into quarantine. Westerners (including an unhappy Mayor of Falmouth, Trelawny) are irate, since they don’t have many cases yet, it seems (yet). There was also panic in some parts of the parish, with residents crowding supermarkets and certainly not practicing physical distancing. Hopefully the message “Tan Ah Yuh Yaad” (Stay Home) will finally get through to the residents.
For “St. Catherine,” Kingston dwellers often think “Portmore” – a sprawling dormitory town to the west of the capital, many of whose inhabitants work in the capital city. However, it is also home to the old capital of Spanish Town (or “Spain” as it is popularly called) and Old Harbour – a congested town surrounded by another growing sprawl of new housing estates built on agricultural land. And it is also a rural, agricultural parish with some large manufacturing and food processing companies. According to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), at the end of 2018 the parish had the second highest population after Kingston and St. Andrew – over half a million – and about half of that population was the municipality of Portmore (roughly the same as the population of the entire island of Barbados, by the way).
An added complication (which it shouldn’t be) is that Portmore is largely loyal to the Opposition People’s National Party. This has caused some politically partisan Jamaicans to stir up a little animosity over the lockdown. Anyway, the Mayor of Portmore, Leon Thomas, is not a happy man. But please – no politicking at this time! Now another Call Centre (or BPO as we often call them) has been ordered closed by the Manchester Health Department.
One good piece of news today is that the quarantine on the semi-rural community of Corn Piece Settlement in Clarendon has been lifted, because it is no longer considered a health risk. It first went under quarantine for 14 days on March 19, following the first confirmed Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) death – a 79-year-old man with a travel history from New York – in Jamaica. The quarantine was extended for a further two weeks on Friday, April 3, after six close contacts of the deceased tested positive for the disease. Now it is in the clear.
A few of own questions, in light of all of the above, include:
- Are we doing enough testing, and do we have sufficient test kits (how many?)
- Are our health and all frontline workers (police, fire personnel etc) adequately protected with personal protective gear?
- How are the Cuban nurses doing, where are they deployed and in what areas?
- Are the mobile units deployed now, where are they, and how much testing are they doing?
- Are the 17 new cases connected to “clusters” (other call centres?) or community spread?
- Do we have the capacity to continue doing adequate contact tracing, as the number of positive cases has risen?
- The rapid spread of cases in nursing homes and care communities has become a great concern in the United States. Are our private (and mostly unregistered) nursing homes being monitored and are they following proper procedures?
- How many patients have now recovered? Is any follow up done with them?
Perhaps I can get answers at the next virtual press briefing.
Meanwhile the Ministry is reminding us to take care of our mental health. I myself have to try harder in this respect and from comments I have seen on social media, people are struggling emotionally. Here are their basic tips:
- Staying in touch with friends and family by giving them a call or reaching out to them via social media.
- Taking a break from social media, the excessive use of which has been known to create anxiety among some persons.
- Keeping a journal, which is a good outlet for self-expression.
I would add meditation and a pause for reflection during the day. At the moment I am doing too many obsessive activities to distract myself – furious daily washing sessions (our machine is under pressure) as well as cleaning door handles and light switches etc. with a certain chemical product, and sweeping the yard. The latter activity is surprisingly satisfying, and helps one work up a sweat too!
For more tips on preserving your mental wellness, visit https://www.moh.gov.jm/mental-health/. There is also an available platform for self-expression at: https://www.moh.gov.jm/mental-health/how-to-share-your-story/
The Ministry is also reminding those with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and hypertension, to reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19 by:
- staying at home;
- avoiding crowded situations; and
- frequently washing and sanitising hands.
- covering their mouths and noses if sick or out in public.
My advice is all of the above, and additionally:
- please learn how to wear and handle (and wash) masks properly, if you are going to wear them – oh, and they are not a fashion accessory, they must do the job;
- I prefer six feet for physical distancing – “at least three feet” is too close for comfort;
- sanitize your purchases at the supermarket (the packaging, that is);
- remove your clothes and shoes when you come in;
- wipe your steering wheel, gear stick etc in your car.