A COVID-19 Update from Jamaica

Updated numbers as of Wednesday, May 27: Five new cases (four females and one male, aged 32 to 46 years), bringing total to 569; these include three repatriated this month, and two under investigation. Twelve new recoveries, bringing total to 279. Jamaica now has 75 imported cases. Total samples tested: 11,259; new samples tested in last 24 hours: 207; discharge samples: 237. Number in facility quarantine: 596; number hospitalized: 18; patients moderately ill: 2; patients critically ill: 2. Number in facility isolation: 159; number in home isolation: 130.


Things have gotten a little complicated in Jamaica over COVID-19. Let me try to break it down for everyone (and myself). It is now 11 weeks – 78 days, since the first positive case in Jamaica.

It seems that there is some way to go with the inspection and testing of infirmaries and nursing homes that house our “vulnerable group” of senior citizens, mostly with underlying health conditions. Considering the dreadful situation in nursing homes overseas (especially in the UK, where about 38 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths have been in care homes, and the United States – an estimated 43 per cent) I wish this could have started sooner.

Noranda Bauxite’s Vice-President and General Manager Delroy Dell (second right) and Councillor Dallas Dickenson (second left) shake hands following Noranda’s donation of 10 beds to the infirmary, in January. Also pictured: St Ann’s Bay mayor, Councillor Michael Belnavis (left) and St Ann Infirmary Matron Ity Vickers. {Photo: Gleaner)
  • Infirmaries and nursing homes for the elderly: There is a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the St. Ann Infirmary (infirmaries are operated by the local authorities and house the elderly and indigent). The young male worker is now in isolation at a Government facility.  21 close contacts have been traced, including 12 high-risk members of staff, all of whom have had samples taken. Up to yesterday (May 25) all 80 permanent staff members and two of five visiting staff members were sampled, and all 106 residents have been tested.
  • There is an infirmary in each of the fourteen parishes. So far, six infirmaries have been checked. 510 samples have been taken from staff members. Isolation units have been set up in infirmaries and staff have protective equipment, Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie reported.
  • As for nursing homes, 118 nursing homes and three hospitals have been inspected since March. 33 have been found to be “unsatisfactory.” I am not sure what that means, but a detailed report will be provided shortly. All the homes inspected so far have been provided with protocols (I am not sure what these are) and visits remain restricted.
  • Note: in March 2019, the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) warned Jamaicans to use registered nursing homes – many are unregistered and therefore illegal. Founder and CEO of CCRP Jean Lowrie-Chin has commented in the Gleaner:

“This is of great concern. Now the persons with whom he came into contact must be tested as soon as possible so they can get the necessary medical attention…I hope there will now be islandwide testing of the workers in our infirmaries and nursing homes. The residents are our most vulnerable. This is urgent.”

  • New cases: We have had eight new cases in the past 24 hours, seven of which are from among the group that arrived on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship on The new cases are one female and seven males, aged between 28 and 62 years.
  • Of the total number of cases (564), 72 are imported cases; 214 cases are contacts of confirmed cases; 27 are local transmission cases with no epidemiological link. 235 have been linked to a work place cluster; and 16 are under investigation. To date, 59 per cent are females and 41 per cent are males.
  • There are 309 active cases – which the Prime Minister described at this evening’s press briefing as “a more meaningful measure” than the number of new cases.
  • Testing: A total of 11,052 tests have been done to date, 482 in the last 24 hours. This, by my calculation, is less than 0.4 per cent of Jamaica’s total population of 2.9 million. The numbers have gone up in the last few days, mainly because of the large numbers of Jamaicans arriving on cruise ships (see below). 33 results are currently pending.
  • Deaths: Nine people have died, and we have three moderately ill and one critically ill patient. There are 19 people in hospital, included suspected positive cases.
  • Recoveries: 267 in total have recovered – 29 on Tuesday (26th) and over 100 in the past week.
  • Jamaica’s R factor is estimated to be around 0.8 (that is, each infected person may infect one other person). If the number is above 1, then infection will be much more rapid.
A Norwegian Cruise Line ship docked in Falmouth this week with 174 crew members. The cruise shipping company has canceled all its cruises through July 31, 2020.
  • Quarantine: There are now 603 in government facilities (mainly the Gran Bahia Principe Hotel, where the cruise ship workers are housed). There are 133 in “facility isolation” (government premises) and 128 in home isolation – the latter number is expected to increase, I believe. 10 are awaiting discharge, in transitional facilities.
  • Cruise ship workers: On Monday evening, a Norwegian Cruise Line ship docked in Falmouth with 174 crew members on board docked in Falmouth. On Tuesday morning (26th) the Carnival Glory with 256 Jamaican crew workers also docked.
  • A Disney vessel with over 400 Jamaican crew members on board is due to arrive on Friday, May 29. 180 Colombian nationals will be transported via a secure corridor to a waiting charter flight at Sangster International Airport to be flown back to Colombia.
  • 1,024 cruise ship workers who arrived on the Royal Caribbean Adventures of the Sea disembarked on Monday and have been sampled. 1,010 have been tested. 19 have turned out to be positive so far. 600 crew members have been released for 14 days of home quarantine, having initially tested negative.
  • Those in home quarantine are to be “geo-fenced” at home via technology. According to Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte, this measure is allowable under the Disaster Management legislation under which the island-wide emergency was first declared (sections 26 and 52). It is limited by time and the AG mentioned that “specific legislation” might be under consideration at a later time. As Susan Goffe asked this evening, what are the protocols involved in this “geo-fencing” as regards privacy and human rights? We have no details of this, yet.
  • An additional 220 Jamaicans will be arriving by air – including 40 deportees – in the next week.
  • To date, just under 1,500 Jamaicans have returned to the island under the controlled-entry system established by the Ministry of Health and Wellness through its jamcovid website.

The exact numbers of people arriving on boats and planes are changing slightly but this still means that plenty of Jamaicans will be returning before the end of the month.

At last night’s press briefing, the Prime Minister stressed that his administration’s actions are “measured, proportionate, evidence based and situationally appropriate.” I have been quite concerned that the public education on social distancing and other personal actions to prevent COVID-19 had slipped off the front burner, so was glad to see him emphasize the importance of washing hands, wearing masks (I don’t feel this is being adhered to very closely), and social distancing. We need to keep reminding people, especially as they feel things are “opening up.” One of the dangers is the “Oh, it’s not so important now” mindset that we can quickly get into. The Prime Minister did also say:

If numbers start to rise significantly (for any reason) we will tighten up again…Don’t let our success become our enemy.

So, while by no means resting on our laurels, let’s see what the next few days will bring.

Returning cruise ship workers wave as they return to the island. (Photo: Office of the Prime Minister)

3 thoughts on “A COVID-19 Update from Jamaica

  1. If people could be relied on to self-isolate on return to Jamaica, no geo fencing would be necessary. Unfortunately this is not the case.


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