Right Steps & Poui Trees


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The Poincianas Were in Bloom

The day that I went on campus for my 2nd dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, back in July, the poincianas were in bloom.

I walked around taking pictures of them.

I haven’t done that much this year…

…just wandered around places…

…taking photos….

So many changes.

But the poincianas keep blooming…


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Covid Reflections: What has happened to genome sequencing test results?

A few months ago, as the media reported on the surge of Covid cases caused by the Delta variant in first the UK and then the USA, some of us in Jamaica began asking whether the variant was present in Jamaica. There is a great deal of travel to Jamaica from these two countries – residents, members of the diaspora, tourists – and it seemed only a matter of time before we got cases of the Delta variant here. Was testing being done for the variant by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) and, if so, what had been found?

Responding to a question at the MOHW Covid-19 press conference on July 1, 2021, Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie said the following:

“The Delta variant is something that we really are watchful for. We certainly don’t want to have that in country because we recognise that there is an increased transmissible rate and also that there is an increased chance of admission. And so in our population that is vastly not vaccinated, it does put us at risk. 


In terms of the testing for the variant, we did, we sent off 200 samples to PAHO testing laboratory in Brazil last week. We have another 92 samples that we have sent off to the CDC. I’m not absolutely sure that that went off this week, but that was the plan, to send off another 92 samples to the CDC and another hundred samples to PAHO to be tested in Panama. 


So we have three arrangements in place now. We really have had some problems in terms of getting the genomic sequencing done. And a lot of that delay has been because of transportation, not because we have not had willing partners to do the testing. But the transportation problems have delayed us getting the samples out, even to the extent that transportation routes, because they have to be longwinded, have resulted in damage to the samples that made not all of them at some times suitable for testing. So we believe that we have worked out something now, a more reliable transport method to get these samples out and we have three partners – the PAHO, CDC and CARPHA – to do the testing. So we do expect that at least every two weeks we should be getting out at least a hundred samples for testing.


The turnaround time once they receive the sample for PAHO, we have been told, is two weeks. The samples last batch went out last week. They are in receipt of the samples, so we are hopeful. We know that sometimes we get times and it may not turn out to be exactly that but we are hopeful that in another two weeks we will have that first set of results. And thereafter we should have results coming after.


We also have started to do some in house testing using kits that are donated by PAHO that enable us to choose the samples better for testing. So we have now a method in place where we can pick up whether or not there are mutations. So mutations can be quite varied and can sometimes not be of any significance at all. But we can now pick up if there are any variations from the normal wild type and those are the samples that we have been sending for testing for genomic sequencing to see if those mutations show any variants of interest or variants of concern.”

(Transcribed from PBCJ recording of July 1, 2021 MOHW press briefing)

This left me hopeful that, despite previous problems that had affected testing for variants, there was now a new system in place that would mean faster results that could help to inform government decisions and responses and help the public to better understand what we were facing. The time lag was still not optimal, but seemed better until we had the equipment needed to do genomic sequencing here.

However, there seemed to be a delay in the hoped for two week turnaround time for the results from PAHO and in a presentation on July 20, 2021, at the Joint Select Committee of Parliament dealing with Covid-19 and related matters, National Epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr included this slide:

It showed that results had been received for samples sent to the CDC, but that no results had at that time been received for the samples sent to PAHO.

(I wrote about that presentation in Parliament in a post I made on July 22, 2021 – On the Verge of a Third Wave? – Jamaica’s Current Covid-19 Situation.)

And to date we have not had any clear update on what has happened regarding those and any other subsequent samples sent to any of the three labs for genomic sequencing. The most we have heard is comments during various media interviews or at press briefings that we are still awaiting results from overseas partners. And that there is no confirmation through testing that the Delta variant is here, but that from other indicators we can assume that it is.

At the press briefing on Monday, August 9, 2021, held to announce the latest changes to the Covid restriction measures, Minister Tufton said, in response to a question from Jamila Maitland about test results and the Delta variant:

“As it relates to the test for the variant strain, I think we are on record of saying that we do believe that it is here based on the movement between countries where it is the dominant strain. We have not yet confirmed its presence based on the test results that we have gotten to date. However, those results up to this point were results that were a little dated because it takes a while to get back the results from where we send them. We are anxiously anticipating the results of tests that would hopefully reflect more what is present in the population. But we continue to advise caution.”

Minister Chris Tufton, at OPM press briefing, August 9, 2021 (transcribed from PBCJ recording)

It is now nearly six weeks since Dr Bisasor-McKenzie outlined the new arrangements for genomic sequencing testing and it is three weeks since the presentation and discussion at the Covid Joint Select Committee in Parliament. We really need a clear update on what has happened with the new arrangements and why it is that we haven’t seen any further results other than the CDC results shown on July 20.

I assume that the MOHW will be holding a press briefing on Thursday and that would be an appropriate opportunity for a full update. Some questions I would hope to hear answered would be:

  • Since the list shared shared on July 20, 2021, have the results of any samples sent for genomic sequencing been received from PAHO, CDC and CARPHA?
  • If so, when were these results received and what did they show?
  • If any results were received, what were the dates on which those samples were collected?
  • What samples have been sent for which results are still outstanding?
  • What has been the cause of the delay in receiving the results for samples sent? What has been or is being done to remedy this?
  • What impact do delays such as this have on the Ministry’s ability to make plans and decisions?
  • Specifically, is it still the case that there is no confirmation by testing that the Delta variant is present in Jamaica?
  • What is the current status of plans to be able to do genomic sequencing here?

Let’s see.

PBCJ Recording of MOHW press conference held on July 1, 2021

PBCJ Recording of OPM press conference held on August 9, 2021


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Still We Sing: Independence Poem

August 6, 2021, the 59th anniversary of Jamaica’s Independence Day. Always a good day for reflection on how far we have come and how far we still have to go. Jamaica, my home.

Today I post a poem that was published in 2012 in a collection edited by Kwame Dawes, “Jubilation! – poems celebrating 50 years of Jamaican Independence”.

                                                STILL WE SING 

                                       from a hill above the stadium
                                       we watched the lights go down

                                       seeds of fear already planted
                                       in my grandma's heart
                                       kept us away that night

                                       the lights came on again
                                       then fireworks greeted independence

                                       such hope

                                       even now, such hope
                                       the country still a bone
                                       that stray-dog leaders grip
                                       in the garbage and gully water
                                       of politics' narrow streets

                                       this independence
                                       one more hill for us to climb
                                       and people still know
                                       that while we sing, we work  

                                          
                                              - Susan Goffe


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It’s Still a New Year…

It’s not too late to wish you a happy new year, even though the year is already more than two weeks old. Even though it feels much older, given all that has happened so far…personally, nationally, globally. So, Happy New Year!

I watched the last setting moon for 2020 from my roof, on the morning of December 31, 2020…

I watched the New Year’s fireworks from my roof, as I have now for many years. There were far fewer of them this year, as the Covid-19 restrictions included a curfew from 10pm, a ban on parties and a limit to the size of gatherings…

I watched the first sunrise of 2021 later that morning…

This time last year there was no way I could have imagined how much life would have changed in the coming year, the changes brought by the pandemic being the most notable and unpredictable. Sitting here now, I am very aware that I haven’t a clue what things will be like a year from now. That is essentially the case each year, but the reality of 2020 has brought that into stark focus.

I remember a speech at the college graduation of one of my children years ago, in which the speaker said that the two most important qualities we could wish for our children in the times they were living in were adaptability and resilience. So true. And for us all. May the qualities of adaptabilty and resilience be yours in the coming year and the years beyond!


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Sunday Morning with a Two-Year-Old

So much happens when you babysit a two-year-old on a Sunday morning. She climbs up on your lap and sees the lone piece of a building set sitting on your desk beside your laptop and she asks a question, “What is that, Grandma?”img_20190113_233534_resized_20190113_113557604 building set

And I know her question isn’t a purely factual one. She doesn’t want me to say, “It’s part of your building set, sweetie.” It is an invitation to enter that world of pretending that she so loves. I suggest it is a cell phone, but that doesn’t catch her imagination this morning. “It could be a crayon,” I say and, yes, that is what she pretends it is. And we use it to colour a pretend sun, a pretend moon and a pretend orange, all on the surface of my desk. “Eat the orange, Grandma,” she says and then the building set piece transforms into a knife, which she uses to cut the pretend orange, so that I can eat it.

Later, as she sits on the veranda ledge, holding onto the grills and swinging her legs outside, we discuss the ways in which we are the same as our dogs outside and different from them. She likes same and different. We have ears, we have eyes, we have mouths. We have hands and feet, but they have paws. “I have toes and Bala has toes.” But no hands. No fingers. And suddenly we are into a long discussion about what we can do with our hands and fingers that the dogs can’t do. Colour with crayons. Put on our shoes. Pick up a piece of tomato to eat.

Tomatoes are red. “Red is my favourite colour,” she says, as she picks up a piece of tomato from the bowl and puts in into her mouth. “Watermelon is red too,” I say, only to be told, “Looks like pink to me.” And now we talk about the colours of all the foods we like to eat. Brown naseberries and lentil stew. Orange carrots and pawpaw and pumpkin soup. Green callaloo and broccoli. And what colour exactly is rice and peas?

Time and perspective shift in the company of my granddaughter. Such a gift.


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Happy New Year 2019!

It’s a week since the New Year began. I had planned to do this post last week to welcome the new year. I had intended to write a much longer, more reflective post, but I didn’t. So here are the two photos I was going to use to illustrate that more interesting post that I didn’t write.

Sunset, December 31, 2018last sunset 2018

Sunrise, January 1, 2019p1360170 sunrise jan 1 2019

Happy New Year!

 


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A Venerable Mango Tree: On A Sunday

The morning after Gilbert had raked its eye across Jamaica’s spine, blasting through decades of complacency and careless wishes to experience a real hurricane, I went to see how a nearby neighbour was doing. Part of his roof was sitting in our front yard and when I got to his house, I could see that all of the roof had been blown off during the storm. He was all right, he said. He and his sister, both of them quite elderly, had retreated to the only part of the house with a concrete slab roof and his family had called and were on their way to help.

IMG_20180701_141815_resized_20180701_043513289 (1) Bombay mango tree

But, he told me, I could expect the next mango season to be a bountiful one. The hurricane would have pruned branches, shaken up the roots and new life would be coursing through the trees that had survived.

And he was right. The massive old Bombay mango tree in our back yard has never borne fruit as abundantly as it did in the post- Gilbert season. Not in the thirty years since Sept 1988. IMG_20180701_142833_resized_20180701_043207897 Bombay mango tree

It was an old and venerable tree even then. Older and even more venerable now. It has had encounters with subsequent storms that have brushed past since. IMG_20180701_143203_resized_20180701_042947057 Bombay mango treeThis year hasn’t been a very good season for the old Bombay tree, in fact. Relatively few in number, with a high incidence of worms in the ripe fruit.P1310264 Bombay mangoes

The height of the hurricane season is still to come.

I don’t believe that there have to be storms for there to be good crops, not literally or figuratively. But my Bombay mango tree may be aligned with my old (long deceased) neighbour’s words.IMG_20180701_143311_resized_20180701_042805015 Bombay mango tree


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Reading, I’d Rather Be Reading: Weekly Photo Challenge – I’d Rather Be…

“You’ve likely seen a bumper sticker or a sign that reads “I’d rather be…” How would you fill in the blank? Golfing? Running? Fishing? Something else entirely? What activity do you enjoy most?”

This week’s challenge was an easy one for me. Reading. I’d rather be reading.IMG_20180315_073056

Weekly Photo Challenge – I’d Rather Be…


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A Wedding: Weekly Photo Challenge – Story

“A single image can encompass what would otherwise require a long written narrative — the characters, the setting, even the plot….For this week’s challenge, do some visual storytelling with your photography. “

A beautiful setting, a beautiful occasion, with friends looking on…P1150597

 

Weekly Photo Challenge – Story