‘No other parish was as prepared as St James’ - Health exec bemoans flippant COVID attitude despite rising infection numbers
The head of the St James Health Services has charged that despite the northwestern parish being the most prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, it is having a difficult time shaking residents from a culture of nonchalance even as virus cases soar and increase pressure on medical facilities.
“I could tell you that no other parish was as prepared as St James. In fact, we were ready from December 2019. We were the only parish in Jamaica at that time to have a quarantine facility that could take persons from anywhere in Jamaica,” Lennox Wallace said during a recent Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Ministry of Health & Wellness COVID-19 forum.
“We believe that there is a culture in this parish [and across] Jamaica that if we don’t see people falling down and die, we don’t want to change the way we operate,” he said, pointing to widespread disregard for COVID-19 protocols across the parish, including at virus testing locations and businesses.
Frequent handwashing, mask-wearing and physical distancing have been the top global guidelines to lower transmission of the virus, which has claimed at least 399 lives across the island in less than a year.
Wallace said that businesses on St James Street in downtown Montego Bay were high on the list of public places of concern, where people are known to show scant regard for the COVID-19 protocols.
“We have some practices here in the parish, and when we drill down the places that we would have had some of these cases in St James, the banks, supermarkets, and wholesales are high on the list,” said the parish manager of the St James Public Health Services.
“I could go further. Some of the very private areas that testing occurs, I believe when you see what is happening on the outside, it’s like persons are waiting to catch the virus before they even go in to get tested,” Wallace told the forum.
He said that the health department has been visiting some of the locations and making recommendations to improve compliance with the help of the police.
“This is an everyday challenge, and we are asking for the continued support of the business community to see how we can improve our practices so that those waiting on the outside and those on the inside practise the COVID-19 protocols to ensure that the parish of St James begins to see a reduction in cases,” Wallace appealed, noting that prior to the first cases of COVID-19, St James had a clean bill in terms of its public health conditions.
Latest figures released by the health ministry yesterday show that on Sunday, St James recorded 62 new cases of COVID-19, taking its total number of cases since March 2020 to 2,324. Only Kingston and St Andrew (6,133) and St Catherine (4,219) have recorded more cases.