Tue | Dec 1, 2020

Waterford on COVID radar - Awareness ramped up as virus cases mount

Published:Monday | October 5, 2020 | 12:13 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Ervin Hamilton, taxi operator and resident of Waterford, got a free COVID test inside the mobile unit as the St Catherine Health Department conducted coronavirus surveillance in the Portmore community on Sunday.
Ervin Hamilton, taxi operator and resident of Waterford, got a free COVID test inside the mobile unit as the St Catherine Health Department conducted coronavirus surveillance in the Portmore community on Sunday.
Jerome Keating (right), medical technologist at the Ministry of Health and Wellness, filling out a COVID-19 form for residents of Waterford on Sunday.
Jerome Keating (right), medical technologist at the Ministry of Health and Wellness, filling out a COVID-19 form for residents of Waterford on Sunday.
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Waterford resident Ervin Hamilton was the first to enter the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ mobile COVID-19 testing unit on Sunday morning, acknowledging that knowing his status was vitally important to his job as a taxi driver.

Cabbies have been classified by health officials as potential super-spreaders of the new coronavirus because they operate often densely occupied vehicles, making tracking a difficult task for contact tracers.

Hamilton, who goes by the moniker ‘Squeeze Eye’, said that he is mindful of his passengers’ health status amid a local COVID-19 outbreak that has killed 120 people and infected almost 6,900.

“We all know how dangerous this disease is, killing off so many people. So when I heard they are coming, I knew I would get the test done because I want to be safe,” said the 64-year-old, whose age places him among the most vulnerable victims of the disease.

The bustling community of Waterford has registered the most coronavirus cases in Portmore, said Dr Francia Prosper-Chen, medical officer of health for St Catherine. The parish’s overall tally of 1,578 cases trails only Kingston and St Andrew in COVID-19 infections.

“It is not a hotbed for the, virus but due to its density, cases easily multiply a lot quicker than less dense areas,” Prosper-Chen told The Gleaner during surveillance by health teams in the community on Sunday.

“Portmore has always been the community that we have had the highest number of cases from the outbreak,” said Prosper-Chen, hinting at the more than 200 cases linked to the Alorica call centre that triggered a wave of infections and a weeks-long quarantine of St Catherine.

SPANISH TOWN A CONCERN

Spanish Town, another populous St Catherine town, is also a source of concern, Prosper-Chen disclosed.

She did not provide any empirical data on infections for Waterford, Portmore in general, or Spanish Town.

Prosper-Chen said that she was pleased with the turnout of test-takers in Waterford up to 3 p.m.

The medical officer of health sought to downplay fears surrounding the swabbing of the nostrils and mouth.

“We hear a whole heap of stuff, that the test is painful, but it is not painful, just uncomfortable, and we hope that as people spread the message and let others know, when we do come back, we should have a robust response from residents,” she said.

But even while the surveillance team fanned out throughout Waterford, groups of mostly young men without masks were seen gathered playing board games.

The lack of adherence to protocols was particularly annoying for Prosper-Chen.

“They need to know they have families at home that are vulnerable – their mommy, daddy, their grandparents who might have hypertension, diabetes – and so they are at increased risk of getting the coronavirus,” the health official said.

TESTING OF SENIORS

One bit of good news was the presence of elderly folk undergoing testing inside the mobile units.

Marlon Anderson, 76, said he was forcefully urged to submit to the COVID-19 test by his eight-year-old granddaughter.

He said that he recognised the need for people to observe COVID-19 health protocols and was eager to know his status soon.

“To the way things are going, I tell you the truth, we will not have any choice but to get tested. I am glad I did,” Anderson said.

Having the test done could determine whether 43-year-old Roxann Campbell heads back to work soon. Having a fever last week was, for her, a wake-up call.

Her employers advised her to stay home and get tested, Campbell said.

“I was planning to go get tested tomorrow (Monday), so when I heard they were coming here, I thought it would be smart to just do it here,” said Campbell.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com