Sun | Jan 17, 2021

‘We are needed here’ - Jamaicans serving in US Navy helping to ease suffering of COVID-19 patients

Published:Monday | May 18, 2020 | 12:13 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Hospital Corpsman Stephen Sewell.
Hospital Corpsman Stephen Sewell.

Jamaicans are found everywhere, and they tend to add flavour to life as they are currently doing in New York, the epicentre of the USA’s COVID-19 outbreak where there are nearing 1.5 million confirmed cases.

It is a view that Lieutenant Commander Frederick Yarid of the US Navy is revelling in, and he is not alone. Yarid, a medical doctor by profession, is one of a number of Navy reservists from Jamaica who agreed to speak with The Gleaner.

He is joined by HM Stephen Sewell and HM2 Cary Williams, among others, who were called up to contribute in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak in New York City at the Javits Medical Station.

Yarid, who hails from Havendale, St Andrew, is a 20-year veteran now living in Morristown, Tennessee.

With more than 25,000 people dead from COVID-19 in New York, among the 86,580 across the US, the response in the state was critical in trying to flatten the curve.

Yarid said he was ordered to New York as part of the federal government’s COVID-19 response, stating that he was not fully prepared for what that shift would be like.

“Back home in Morristown, Tennessee, a much smaller state and not as crowded as New York, we never had such a big COVID-19 impact as New York,” said Yarid.

According to him, when he got to the world’s most cosmopolitan city, “there were a lot of sick people around” and that hospital was so overwhelmed that the facility that was set up at the convention centre was like a blessing to the people there.

“So we ended up taking care of the people who were on the mend. They were getting better, but still needed some medical care,” Yarid said.

He added that he had seen unimaginable suffering and that people who were also being treated for the virus, ended up losing family members and were unable to grieve.

“From what I saw, we are needed here; there are lots of suffering, and some of these people already had lost a family member and they really didn’t have the chance to grieve, so it was bad. But they were very grateful we were here,” said Yarid.

He said one positive coming from his deployment in New York is that he is now able to put a face to the names of his fellow navy men, many of whom are Jamaicans, Guyanese, Trinidadians and Vincentians.

“It was nice seeing these people and getting to know them, seeing that we are all from different areas but a common Caribbean background. That was special. At some point, however, it would be nice to get together to share a meal, but because of the situation, everybody is maintaining social distancing and wearing masks.”

Sewell, formerly of Waltham Park and Portmore, was deployed as a security officer at the centre.

As a member of the team, his duties included, but were not limited to, providing a safe and secure environment for navy personnel at their lodging location.

His commanding officer, in a communique, said Sewell “assisted in ordering and tracking badges that granted privileges to the Javits Medical Station in New York, that aided in the treatment of over 1,000 COVID-19 positive patients”.

The commander went on to praise Sewell’s dedication and vigilance which “assured the safety of 1,091 patients and 449 staff members in support of Naval reserve unit Expeditionary Medical Facility Bethesda’s COVID-19 response”.

“Jamaicans in the US Navy are hard workers, resourceful and resilient. We step up. We represent Jamaica really well. If there is to be another experience such a this, we as Jamaicans in the navy will be ready,” said Yarid.