This afternoon, the day after Election Day, Minister of Health and Wellness informed us at a press briefing that Jamaican has entered a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, called “community transmission.”
I have been wrestling with this term for a little while – at first thinking that it was a highly technical term that related to numbers and infection rates such as those shown and explained to us in the past by our diligent Chief Epidemiologist, Dr. Karen Webster-Kerr. However, it is somewhat broader than I imagined. What it basically means is that health authorities are no longer able to trace the source of an infection; it might have come from anywhere. Contact tracing is not possible, then.
This month is going to be extremely challenging. The Chief Medical Officer informed us today that by the end of September, we might be at peak numbers of cases; in the meantime, we can expect them to continue rising. Currently, an estimated forty percent of communities across the island have cases of COVID-19. That may well be a conservative estimate. More restrictions are pending, but at this stage the Government can only do so much. It is up to us to hunker down, stay safe, do what we know is right. We know enough about COVID-19 by now. If we must go out there, be careful out there! Here is the Minister’s statement, along with some graphs that were shown at today’s press briefing:
Statement of the Minister of Health & Wellness
Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, M.P.
Virtual Press Conference: COVID-19 UPDATE
Offices of the Ministry of Health & Wellness, New Kingston
September 4, 2020 at 2:30 pm
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the press, members of the public all. Thank you for joining us for today’s media update on COVID-19.
Based on the assessment of the technical team in the Ministry of Health and Wellness and after consultation with the technical team at the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization PAHO/WHO on Wednesday, September 2, 2020, I am now advising the Public that Jamaica is declaring community transmission of the SARS-CoV2 virus. Community transmission means the inability to relate confirmed cases through chains of transmission for a large number of cases, and the increasing positive tests through sentinel samples especially from persons coming to health centres and hospitals.
In making this declaration we are alerting the public that the transmission of the virus can no longer be easily traced from one member of the population to the other and that the concern for the transmission for COVID-19 is now islandwide.
This change in the phase of the pandemic may mean that over the next 6 – 8 weeks the population may see a steep rise in the number of cases reported. While the majority of persons will not have symptoms that will require them to visit a doctor or be hospitalized; more persons are expected to seek medical attention in private and public facilities.
This stage of the pandemic will also mean that we will need to strengthen the Infection Prevention and Control measures to reduce the rate of spread within the population and more importantly protect the vulnerable.
Given these prerequisites the health team has already began to re-examine the protocols already in place and will issue new protocols to better guide the public in how we operate within the context of the new phase.
Early discussions with the Prime-Minister will result in new measures that will come into effect on Monday, September 7, 2020. Some of these new measures may include:
- The increase in the curfew restrictions to 7:00 PM to 5:00 AM across the island;
- An increase in the stay at home orders for the elderly moving from 75 to 70 years;
- Re-emphasis on the work from orders for the private and public sector; and
- Restrictions on public gathering.
As was stated at our different discussions with you, the Community Transmission phase was an anticipated next part of the COVID-19 plan and we have prepared and continue to prepare the infrastructure within the health sector to respond appropriately to its impact. The major focus of the health team therefore, in accordance with the plan, is to:
- Continue the coordination with our different partners locally and internationally;
- Reorient our surveillance systems to assist in the creation of appropriate management information for effective and efficient decision making;
- Strengthen the capacity of our lab resources to include collaboration with private labs;
- Continue to strengthen the support for hospitals through increased bed capacity by 600 and increase the cadre of staff available to respond to patient needs;
- Ensure the effective communication with all levels and stakeholders within the population; and
- Continue the surveillance and management at the points of entry to include our airports and seaports to reduce the number of imported cases.
I must state here that there is no need for panic. What is required at this time is a commitment from all Jamaicans to take personal responsibility for their health and take every precaution necessary to prevent yourself from contracting the virus. However, if you are infected, you also should not panic. Ensure that you make every effort to boost your immunity through exercise and having an appropriate diet. Call our helplines for guidance if there are any signs of increased complications. I encourage persons, especially persons 65 years and over or persons with hypertension and diabetes to pay close attention to any symptoms that you have that could be a sign of COVID-19. If they worsen, seek advice early from a medical professional.
I urge continued vigilance from the entire population and remind you to practice all Infection Prevention and Control Protocols. Now more than ever, we must take personal responsibility for our health.