COVID-19 Update from Jamaica: Golden Age Home, Mustard Seed, and More

The Ministry of Health and Wellness held two press briefings this week – the first, with the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, was to break the news of the outbreak at the Golden Age Home in Kingston.

First of all, our latest COVID numbers (which are posted daily after 10:00 a.m. on the Ministry of Health and Wellness website): On Wednesday, October 21, we had 155 new cases (79 males and 76 females). Five people died – all men, two in St. James, two in St. Mary, and one in Portland. Their ages were from 39 to 67 years old. 63 of the new cases were in Kingston and St. Andrew; 27 in St. James; and 19 each in St. Catherine and St. Ann. 838 samples were tested. We have 4,214 active cases. 25,429 are in home quarantine; 164 are hospitalized. We have 19 moderately ill patients and eight are critically ill.

Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Karen Webster Kerr and our eloquent deaf interpreter Antoinette Aiken going through the numbers.

The second press briefing, this evening, came with the news of positive cases at Jerusalem! in St. Catherine, run by Mustard Seed Communities. Mustard Seed is an amazing faith-based, non-profit organization founded by Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon in 1978 in Kingston. Jerusalem! is a residential care facility for over 150 children and adults with disabilities (both mental and physical), covering eight acres just outside Spanish Town. A staff member tested positive and Mustard Seed was on the alert because, of course, all residents are extremely vulnerable. Of the 111 staff members tested there, 16 were positive. 148 residents were also tested and 20 have tested positive. The staff are all on quarantine and the residents have been quarantined on site in three places, depending on whether they are symptomatic or not. None are hospitalized, and “We acted out of an abundance of caution,” said the Minister, rolling out the old cliché. No one is critically ill at this point, he added.

At a Food for the Poor Jamaica Christmas Treat back in 2018. (My photo)

At the Golden Age Home 564 samples were tested and there were 26 new positive cases yesterday (all staff members), bringing the total to 69 – that is, 19 staff, 40 residents, and ten to be determined. Public Health Inspectors went through all clusters (the Home is laid out in clusters, not all in one building) over the past two days. All of the positive cases are asymptomatic, which Minister Tufton called “very encouraging.” One case is hospitalized. A range of new and tighter protocols were established and more training will be under way. “All necessary measures are being implemented,” said the Minister, with ongoing monitoring.

Some useful information on community transmission from this evening’s briefing.

Minister Tufton also talked about the two communities under tightened surveillance and protocols: Waterford in St. Catherine and Whitfield Town in Kingston. He mentioned care homes around Waterford and in the adjoining communities of Bridgeport, Independence City and Gregory Park. There were three positive cases in two of the Waterford care homes, he revealed. Eleven of 33 nursing homes were visited during the two weeks of the special quarantine in this area, and when positive cases were found all the homes in these communities were inspected. 39 staff and 187 residents were tested in total, and all the homes except one were “passed as satisfactory” by the inspectorate. I am not sure what the specifics of “satisfactory” are.

“Where necessary we will take action, because we do have the authority to shut these places down,” said Minister Tufton, on a note of warning (but then, where would the residents go?)

Top 20 Communities with Active Cases: The Greater Montego Bay area is very high at the moment and so is downtown Kingston and Spanish Town – all urban areas.

To date, Jamaica has had 8,600 confirmed cases – of which 1,094 were in the last two weeks. The highest point of confirmed cases for one day was on September 2, according to our Chief Epidemiologist, Dr. Karen Webster Kerr. There seems to be a very slow decline, she said, after a sharp increase in August where our reproductive rate (the “R” number) was 2.5. Our current “R” number is between 0.9 and 1, but “we are well above where we were in July,” she said, and there could still be another surge – from a higher point. We need to reduce our positivity rate below five percent. Kingston/St. Andrew, St. Thomas, and St. James have the highest cumulative rates. In terms of active cases, St. James, Kingston/St. Andrew, and St. Catherine have the highest numbers.

Sex Distribution of COVID Deaths in Jamaica to date.

Dr. Webster Kerr answered some common questions about community spread and about the deaths (we have had 179 deaths, to date), which was useful. The rural parishes of St. Mary, Westmoreland, and St. Elizabeth have had the most deaths so far.

Age Distribution of COVID-19 Deaths in Jamaica.

“Lessons learned” will be implemented in follow ups with other care homes, said the Minister. I wonder what lessons were learned (apart from sticking to the protocols It’s an ongoing exercise.

The antigen tests have not yet arrived.

COVID-19 Rates by Parish: a screen shot from the briefing, with Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Karen Webster Kerr (lower right) and our awesome deaf interpreter Antoinette Aiken, who as you can see is always very expressive.

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