Record-high positivity rate heralds new wave of woe
“We are in grave danger, to put it bluntly.”
That’s the frank assessment of Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) President Dr Andrew Manning as the island saw a record high 46.1 per cent positivity rate in COVID-19 testing on Sunday, as reported by the health ministry on Monday.
The positivity rate is a percentage of positive results among the gold-standard PCR tests plus antigen tests conducted in the public sector daily and the World Health Organization uses a benchmark of five per cent or lower to indicate a country effectively managing the deadly pandemic.
But with Jamaica’s rate more than nine times that benchmark, there is serious concern among doctors and in the private sector that the local situation could become explosive really soon as the island is teetering on the brink of a major public health disaster.
“The hospitals are already full. In fact, hospitals are already over capacity, so it means that now persons are going to hospitals who need admissions for COVID and they can’t be admitted,” Manning told The Gleaner Monday.
“We are going to reach a point where we run out of the personal protective equipment and oxygen if we continue at this rate. So we need to do something to bring own the numbers of new cases. We are certainly not, based on the indicators, not at the peak yet. So things are going to get worse and it also means that we going to have more deaths because deaths lag behind, by a couple of weeks, the number of new cases,” the senior physician warned.
The latest data released by the health ministry on Monday indicated that 513 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed on Sunday, bringing the total number of infections detected since March 2020 to 58,438.
Active cases across the island numbered 9,297, the data suggested with 11 deaths being recorded on Sunday.
Going to work with COVID
Dr Mindi Fitz-Henley, president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association, noted that a worrying trend was that several people were currently turning up in droves from the same workplace or home.
“What we are seeing is a that a lot of persons are going out to work when they are sick and so they end up infecting multiple persons and that is a big concern for us. We are seeing people coming in droves and they all work together or they all live together and so we need to people to recognise that this is a very serious thing,” she commented.
“The doctors and the nurses are genuinely doing their best, but multiple hospitals are overburdened. They are completely full and understaffed. So at this point, it is just by the grace of God and the staff that is present why we are able to even try to care for the persons that are already there. ... If you come to the hospital and there is no bed for you, there is nothing that we can do,” she added, painting a damning picture of the current situation.
“It’s all well and good that you could have an extra ventilator, but if you have no staff to run it, then it doesn’t make any difference. So people need to realise that there is going to come a point when they come to the hospital and there is no one to care for them and no bed to put them on and that’s already in place in some institutions,” she continued.
Fitz-Henley said that Jamaicans seem blind to the fact that the country is heading back to a situation early this year when healthcare professionals took the full brunt of public outrage.
“There was great outrage at the fact that persons were dying because there was not enough bed-space or other resources to care for asthmatic patients and unfortunately, persons died. They need to realise that we are in the same situation again and people will die, if they do not heed the instructions.”
The health ministry has indicated that most of the island’s major hospitals are now over capacity in terms of COVID-19 beds and so the new positivity rate is worrying to Keith Duncan, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ).
“It is clear that our numbers are heading in the wrong direction with a positivity rate of over 46 per cent. That is off the charts. That is almost one in every two Jamaicans walking up and down with COVID. We are setting undesirable records and it is clear that collective action is urgently required to reverse these trends,” he told The Gleaner.
The doctors point to the easing of some COVID-19 containment restrictions in June as the cause for the current wave, warning that it would get even worse.
“The restrictions that were eased in June, I think, were eased too quickly and too suddenly. We had advised at the time against allowing certain activities from occurring and I think we are seeing the result of this now and certainly, there has been an inadequate level of compliance with the restrictions,” said Manning.
“People are understandably fed up, but there are some who, I think, are not taking the virus seriously and there certainly needs to be greater compliance and it is not just with respect entertainment sector,” he added. “You will have government buildings, government hospitals and clinics that are way too crowded, in which you are not seeing the social distancing. We still are seeing an issue in the public transportation area and we do think that you need – if you want to call them COVID marshals – going around the place trying to spread the word and to enforce the regulations. All of these things need to be done.”
He wants the Government to take the steps necessary to bring down the COVID numbers, even if it means cracking the whip.
“The authorities do have to consider whether a total lockdown is necessary, certainly over the weekends. It’s something that has to be considered. We are a critical juncture at this point in time,” Manning told The Gleaner.
They are all encouraging Jamaicans to warm up more quickly to the idea of taking COVID-19 jabs to slow the spread of the virus and ease the burden on the health sector.
“We need people to get on board with the vaccine. It is not going to stop the current surge, but what we are finding is the people who are getting the severe forms of the disease and who are running into problem are unvaccinated. We not seeing many people who are vaccinated run into problems,” Manning said.
Last week, the University Hospital of the West Indies, one of the health facilities under pressure with COVID-19 cases, pointed out that 96.1 per cent of its patients were unvaccinated, while the other 3.1 had received only one dose of the two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine.
“Our main concern has always been to preserve life and so we are desperately begging persons to ensure that they are following all the protocols; ensure that they go out and get vaccinated and if they are sick, they are to stay at home. It doesn’t make sense that they go into the office while they are sick and infect other persons. Stay at home until you are better,” Fitz-Henley appealed.
Duncan also appealed to Jamaicans to “make the choice to take the vaccine and play their part in saving at least one life; be it your own life or the life of a beloved family member, and to stop spreading misinformation”.
“Vaccinate before it is too late!” the PSOJ president warned.