Tue | Jul 7, 2020

Call for COVID army as Alorica casts shadow

Published:Thursday | April 30, 2020 | 12:25 AMEdmond Campbell and André Williams/Staff Reporters
A concerned Alorica employee awaiting testing for her COVID-19 status shows an asthma inhaler and anxiety medication provided by a private doctor to address breathing difficulties.
A concerned Alorica employee awaiting testing for her COVID-19 status shows an asthma inhaler and anxiety medication provided by a private doctor to address breathing difficulties.

An urgent call has been made for the Ministry of Health and Wellness to deploy an “army” of workers to trace contacts of people who test positive for the coronavirus disease.

There is also pressure for stricter oversight for quarantined people who are reportedly breaching stay-at-home orders.

The demand for greater accountability comes amid a plea from a worker at Alorica’s Kingston offices for health officials to test her for the virus – week after making contact with the authorities.

Chairman of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), Dr Wykeham McNeill, yesterday raised concern that despite the allocation of $2.8 billion to the health ministry to combat the spread of COVID-19, there appears to be a dearth of personnel carrying out contact tracing and other activities.

“In all the expenditure, there needs to be an exponential growth in the department that deals with contact tracing,” McNeill declared during a meeting of the committee at Gordon House yesterday.

His pronouncements came after St Catherine South Member of Parliament Fitz Jackson complained that there were workers at another call centre in the Sunshine City who interacted with the staff at Alorica and have not yet been interviewed or tested by health personnel.

The number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Jamaica has increased to 396. Of this number, 202 are from Alorica and another 43 are contacts of staff at the call centre. Thirty-two people have tested positive in the last 48 hours. Of that number, 15 are linked to Alorica.

Jackson said that if the lockdown of St Catherine is lifted on Friday, the potential cases that were not interviewed would have fallen through the cracks.

When asked how many workers have been deployed to carry out contact tracing, Permanent Secretary Dunstan Bryan said he could not provide a number at this time as some people had been “shifted to do contract tracing in the field. It represents a shifting number”, he said.

RAMP UP RESPONSES

But McNeill emphasised the need to ramp up response on all fronts, likening the fight against COVID-19 to dengue mitigation strategies.

“This is far more important today, and that army should be out there already. I am making the call that you need to increase your cadre of contact workers exponentially,” he contended.

Meanwhile, Bryan, while affirming that the cadre of personnel would be expanded in three weeks, conceded that the ministry was aware that there were interactions between workers from Alorica in Portmore and its branch in Half-Way Tree. He said that some employees at the Kingston location had been tested but was unable to quantify the numbers assessed or whose results had returned positive.

More than 300 workers are employed to the Kingston call centre.

Katy Wills*, a 25-year-old from a tough inner-city community who works at the 58 Half-Way Tree branch of Alorica, feels she has been waiting in vain for personnel to test her – weeks after reaching out to the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

Wills self-quarantined at home shortly after Alorica’s Portmore and Kingston sites were closed.

Wills, who said she has been experiencing breathing difficulties, told The Gleaner that she had contacted the health ministry even before the first confirmed Alorica case on April 10.

Quarantine periods for COVID-19 usually last 14 days, but some sufferers of the disease take weeks more to recover.

“They (the health ministry) called me back last week Monday and said they would have someone come to test me,” she told The Gleaner four days ago.

Wills even visited a private doctor for intervention but was offered anxiety pills and an inhaler.

“The pump hasn’t been helping and the pills have not helped with the breathing,” she said.

The Alorica worker said that her family was worried about her safety because of the stigma surrounding the coronavirus disease in Jamaica – eliciting scorn and threats of violence.

“Only time I come outside is to probably go to the supermarket and come back inside. I don’t go outside because you have people in my community saying that she work a Alorica so she have corona,” Wills told The Gleaner.

She is again waiting on the MOH to follow through with its visit and testing.

“I just want to get tested so I can know if I have the virus or not ... .

“People a go afraid to come around me, family afraid. I just need to know that I am OK.”

* Name changed on request

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com