Mon | Oct 26, 2020

Tufton: Jamaica could reach COVID-19 peak soon

Published:Friday | October 16, 2020 | 12:11 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Senior Public Health Nurse Charmaine Vassell-Shettlewood puts on a mask on a pedal cyclist along Waltham Park Road in St Andrew on Wednesday while Dr Audre McIntosh from the Ministry of Health looks on.
Senior Public Health Nurse Charmaine Vassell-Shettlewood puts on a mask on a pedal cyclist along Waltham Park Road in St Andrew on Wednesday while Dr Audre McIntosh from the Ministry of Health looks on.

Heath and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has said that Jamaica could reach the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in weeks.

“We have done fairly well, but the process is ongoing,” he said of the Government’s efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, which claimed at least 160 lives and infected 8,067 persons on local shores up to Wednesday.

“I cannot predict with absolute certainty when we will get to the peak, but the history of the virus suggests that, between eight and 10 weeks from the infection point, you will see a peak. So, if we go by that, we are looking at October/November.”

Tufton was speaking to The Gleaner as a team from the Ministry of Health and Wellness toured Whitfield Town in St Andrew and Waterford, St Catherine, which were placed under special curfew restrictions last week and COVID-19 intervention measures ramped up because of a spike in cases.

Whitfield Town had recorded as many as 21 active COVID-19 cases, while Waterford accounted for 24 cases and three deaths, it was revealed in Parliament. Since the start of the intervention in both communities, 16 additional positive cases were recorded in Whitfield Town and 19 in Waterford, up to Wednesday.

COVID STIGMA

Stigma continues to plague the COVID-19 quarantine and testing process in both communities, with some residents requesting to be met by health officials in remote locations, including a cemetery, so as not to be seen.

“We have an issue with stigma and discrimination, so we have persons who we have to meet outside of the community,” Charmaine Vassell-Shettlewood, senior public health nurse at the Kingston and St Andrew Health Department, told The Gleaner.

“Last week, we found a lady that was positive. When we called her, she did not want us to come for her in the community. ... We had to arrange for her to meet us on Waltham Park Road. We disclosed to her the results and gave her the quarantine order. She accepted her results, but did not want the other members in the community to know she was positive,” she added.

Vassell-Shettlewood said it was not an isolated case, as the team has come across other persons fearful of residents finding out their status.

“We have had several cases. I have had to meet persons at the May Pen Cemetery, open lots, and anywhere they feel comfortable as a meeting place. It is tedious, but it is public health. We have to go to the people where they are if they are not comfortable meeting at home. Sometimes, the communities they live in have war and they can’t cross border lines,” she said.

Tufton acknowledged that there was still stigma dogging efforts to control the pandemic, but appealed to persons not to shy away from COVID-19 tests.

“The stigma problem in the COVID response has gotten better because the ongoing message is that anyone can get COVID,” he said.

“We have screened 14,000 in Whitfield Town, but we have tested 123 to date, and we have had 16 positives. It is a fairly high number of positives, which again justifies why we have had to intervene.

“Refusal to be tested comes from different reasons. There is a fear about discovering that you are positive, particularly if you are asymptomatic. The other is the actual test itself. It is not life-threatening, but can be a little bit uncomfortable, and thirdly, the stigma. The fact that you are being tested creates a perception,” Tufton said. “The team in the field is battling with a lot of issues with this response.”

The health minister said that other communities could be targeted for intervention soon, but refused to say which parishes would be impacted.

“We are mapping about three or four other communities that are likely to be in a similar situation. We will go into the area and trigger, through Cabinet decision, the quarantine arrangements, and we will seek to cauterise further spread.”

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com