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Private doctors warned - Experts put front-line medics on ‘coughing patients’ alert; dispute over mask-wearing by public

Published:Saturday | March 7, 2020 | 12:19 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Professor Wendel Abel, consultant psychiatrist.
Professor Wendel Abel, consultant psychiatrist.

Fearful private doctors are being told to prepare their offices for patients who could present with the deadly COVID-19 disease as the country continues to brace for its arrival and impact.

Addressing a seminar held at The University of the West Indies, Mona campus, on Thursday, one doctor raised the issue of protection for doctors from coughing and sneezing patients.

“There are multiple hundreds of doctors in private practice. What is the plan that you are asking us to do when the person walks into our office, they are having a cough, we don’t have on mask, but they come, and they are coughing?” they doctor asked.

“They give a history and the discover that the person has been in contact with people from overseas.

Dr Karen Webster, national epidemiologist, urged private doctors to offer coughing patients a mask or tissue and to provide hand sanitiser in their waiting area.

“If you have a case, you do the best to isolate them for the other patient, or also call us (the health ministry) and, if necessary, come for the patient,” she cautioned, citing a case of that nature on Wednesday.

“We went for the person in the appropriate ambulance and carried them to the isolation facility,” the senior health ministry technocrat said.


The ministry, she said, was not recommending preliminary intervention, including swabbing.

More than 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide.

In Jamaica, though, the health ministry has reported zero cases.

As the novel coronavirus – now officially named SARS-CoV-2 – spreads, so, too, has misinformation, stymieing efforts to educate and protect the global community.

SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus; COVID-19 is the disease it causes.

Many questions about the virus and the disease remain unanswered.

At the forum, medical experts appeared to be at odds over whether masks should be worn by the general public seeking protection from the deadly disease.

Professor Wendel Abel, consultant psychiatrist, suggested that masks not be worn by ordinary people as it was not “very helpful” and put strain on limited stocks.

However, he was countered by Dr Sandra Jackson, virology pathogenesis and infection control expert at The UHWI.

“If you are going in an aeroplane and you are travelling and you have some people there coughing, to me, with the droplets and circulation in the plane, if I had a mask in my bag, I would put it on. Everybody might not agree with me, but I would offer one to the person,” she said, to applause from attendees of the seminar.