Right Steps & Poui Trees


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A Week Later & for the Prime Minister, the Argument is Still Done

A week ago, on Sunday, January 9, 2022, Prime Minister Andrew Holness held a press conference to announce a Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO) in Parade Gardens in Central Kingston because of the levels of violent crime occurring in the area. When the press conference had been called the evening before, many wondered if it was being called because of the increase in Covid-19 cases that was happening as the 4th wave picked up momentum.

During the question and answer period, Gleaner reporter Tenesha Mundle asked PM Holness this question:

“Are we planning to return to lockdowns and, if lockdowns are off the table, what other strategies will be implemented to halt the current Covid-19 wave?”

PM Holness replied:

“I wasn’t planning on turning this into a Covid Conversation. But I know there is great tension in the air. And what it says to me is that people are not listening to what I have said. I’ve been very clear, in Parliament, very clear, absolutely, gone overboard to say we are not going back to lockdowns. So, be calm! And I’ve said what the strategy is. It is now in your hands! Go and take the vaccine! That is the strategy. We can’t hold you down and put the needle in your hand. If you get sick, you tek that responsibility. There is an option; we have vaccines all over the place. We have sites all over the place. I don’t hear one person complain that they can’t get the vaccine anywhere. Go and get vaccinated! Argument done!”

Argument done. Go and take the vaccine. That is the strategy.

In the week that followed, the situation has worsened:

  • We have had the highest reported number of new confirmed cases in a 24-hour period since the start of the pandemic (1968 on Jan 15, 2022)
  • We have had the highest positivity rate since the start of the pandemic (68.6% on Jan 13, 2022) and on 5 days of last week , the positivity rate was over 50%.
  • The number of people hospitalised with confirmed cases of Covid-19 moved from 294 at the start of the week to 446 by the end of the week.
  • In Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 11, 2022) in a statement in which he extended existing Covid measures without changes for another 2 weeks, PM Holness noted that although the country’s Covid bed capacity of 700 beds had not yet been reached, hospitalisations were increasing sharply and Covid beds might soon be full. (The slide he shared was a reminder that hospital beds are occupied by both people with confirmed Covid cases and those with suspected cases, who are awaiting test results. The daily reports from the Ministry of Health & Wellness give the number of people hospitalised with confirmed cases only; so the number actually is always higher on the ground.)

During the week, the heads of regional health authorities and some hospitals were in the news detailing some of the challenges that were being experienced in the health system:

In a Jamaica Observer article on Thursday (January 13, 2022), – University hospital under pressure from Covid patients – Chief Executive Officer at University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) was quoted commenting about the situation at the hospital:

Chief executive officer of UHWI Kevin Allen told the Jamaica Observer that the operations at the institution were becoming difficult as the fourth wave of the virus shapes up to wreak havoc. He reported that the system is further strained as roughly 90 nurses are at home, sick.

For patients and staff, Allen said the situation is “stressful, frustrating and difficult”. He encouraged staff to “hold it because the worst is yet to come”.

“We are putting systems in place and we are working to see how best we can ensure we hold it. We are not in breakdown days yet, but it is rough,” he said.

“The last report I have seen, we have some 90 nurses out of the system and that is crippling our operations. We have roughly 880 nurses and about 10 per cent have come down with the virus,” Allen added.

“We were already operating short with these skill sets, so to lose so many will impact on the quality of care. All the areas that we operate are full. The field hospitals are full, isolation is full, emergency is full with patients. We had to revert to using tents.”

On Friday (January 14, 2022), UHWI issued a press release notifying the public to expect delays at the hospital.

On Saturday (January 15, 2022), Minister Tufton posted a series of tweets about the situation at a number of hospitals he had visited, including Bustamante Hospital for Children, which was being affected by an increase in Covid-19 cases and reduced staff, due to infection and quarantine.

In an article in Loop News that same day – Covid Surge: Highest number of paediatric cases at Bustamante hospital – Senior Medical Officer, Dr Michelle-Ann Richards-Dawson was quoted as saying:

“We are currently in the fourth wave of the pandemic. We have been through three before but this one is different. The pace at which people are getting infected and symptomatic is alarming and therefore it is important that we vaccinate to protect ourselves and our loved ones”.

The Jamaica Medical Doctors’ Association (JMDA) issued a release expressing their concerns about the current situation…

…which was endorsed today by the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ)…

So with this and more having occurred in the last week, many people wondered if Covid-19 would be on the agenda of the Office of the Prime Minister press conference announced last night. However, it wasn’t.

This morning, PM Holness told the country that a ZOSO had been declared for some sections of Westmoreland, which has been plagued by violent crime. At the end of the press conference, the ususal question and answer segment took place. The final question was asked by Ricardo Brooks of Nationwide News Network.

Ricardo Brooks: Good morning, Prime Minister. The country’s positivity rate has topped 60% and hospitalization, the situation there is deteriorating. Do you still hold to the point that “Argument done”?

The Prime Minister answered: You have said it. Thank you!

That was all. And then the press conference ended.

At the point we are at in the 4th wave, this is not an adequate or appropriate response from Jamaica’s Prime Minister. We are told that the peak of the wave is not expected for another two or more weeks. The health care system is already on the verge of being overwhelmed by the increased number of cases and the staff shortages. The strategy that PM Holness offered last week – “Go and take the vaccine! That is the strategy.” – will not slow this current surge. He may feel he has spoken enough; he may feel frustrated; he may have had another appointment to go to. But this was a national press conference he called, to talk about another issue, yes. But he must have expected that he would be questioned about the Covid-19 situation and it would have been good if he had used the opportunity, on a Sunday morning, to have said something more useful.


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Covid Reflections: Children and this third wave

The early narrative about SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19 offered us some comfort at the time; at least it didn’t seem to affect children as much and we were thankful. As the pandemic continued, we saw that though children were infected at lower rates than adults and if infected generally had milder symptoms, it was clear that some children who caught the disease could have severe enough symptoms to be hospitalised and some children died. Others had serious side effects that lasted beyound the acute phase of the disease. But still we took what comfort we could from the fact that these severe outcomes affected children at a significantly lower rate than they did adults.

The Delta variant of Covid-19, which is becoming the dominant strain of the virus in many countries, is changing the narrative. Children are contracting the disease at higher rates and are being affected more seriously. Countries such as the USA are seeing more children being hospitalised and more children dying.

Although Jamaica still has had no genomic sequencing results to confirm the presence of the Delta variant here, we have been told we can assume that it is here. We have been told this by the Minister of Health and Wellness, by the Chief Medical Officer and, most recently, by the Prime Minister. They have pointed to the increases in the various Covid indicators and to the travel between Jamaica and countries experiencing surges due to the Delta variant, primarily the UK and the USA.

Jamaica is in the early stages of a third wave and the indicators are surging.

Information taken from Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) daily Clinical Management Summaries posted online.

The daily number of confirmed cases has been rising sharply. Last week Sunday the number of newly confirmed cases was 281; on Saturday there were 656 new cases. At a press conference last Thursday, August 12, 2021, CMO Dr Bisasor-McKenzie shared a slide of the hospital admissions and pointed out that the average number of admissions (shown by the pink line in the graph below) was now just over 70 per day. She pointed out that this rate was already higher than the rate of admissions at the peak of the surge in March/April this year.

Slide from MOHW press briefing August 12, 2021

Many of the hospitals are already beyond their Covid bed capacity and their ICU beds are full. The pressure on the hospitals is at an extremely high level.

Slide from MOHW press briefing August 12, 2021

One of the hospitals that has exceeded its Covid capacity is the Bustamante Hospital for Children, the only hospital in Jamaica dedicated specifically to children. On Thursday, Director of the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA) Errol Green said that the hospital is over capacity, which poses a problem, as patients can’t easily be transferred elsewhere. Various measures are being used to reduce numbers, including discharging children who can be sent home and not doing elective surgery, only emergency surgery.

So what exactly is the situation with children so far during this surge?

There have been references by officials to more younger people and children being treated for Covid-19. There have accounts of children and babies being admitted to hospital. And if the Covid beds at Bustamante are full, it signals an increase in the number of cases. But we need some specific information from the MOHW.

  • How many children have been confirmed with Covid-19 in the past 6-8 weeks?
  • Is this an increase in the rate that the data has shown perviously? If so, by how much? (The daily Clinical Management Summaries refer to babies as young as 1 day old among those confirmed with Covid-19, but the figures don’t tell us how many children are among those infected. Could a breakdown by age be done on a regular basis?
The chart on the MOHW jamcovid19 website doesn’t report children as a separate group, as seen in the 10-19 group and it doesn’t allow for observing trends over time.
  • How many children have been admitted to hospital with Covid-19 in the past 6-8 weeks? Is this an increase over the rate of admissions seen previously? How many cases have there been of critically ill children?
  • Have any children died of Covid-19 in the past 6-8 weeks? Are any children’s deaths under investigation for Covid-19?
  • How many Covid beds are there at Bustamante Hospital? How many paediatric ICU beds?
  • How many paediatric Covid beds are there at other facilities across the island? And paediatric ICU beds?
  • Is life sustaining equipment for treating children in adequate supply at Bustamante Hospital? Is it available at other facilities across the isaland?
  • With Bustamante Hospital full, are children still being transferred there for treatment?
  • How is the Covid-19 situation affecting treatment of children with non-Covid conditions?

At the MOHW press conference last Thursday, it was announced that a shipment of Pfizer vaccines is due to arrive in Jamaica this week. Because this is the only vaccine currently cleared by WHO for children, priority is being given to children in its roll out. Children 12 and older with co-morbidities and children 15 and older with parental consent will be allowed to get vaccinated. This is scheduled to start on August 23, 2021. This is an important development. It does not come in time, however, for children to be fully vaccinated before the scheduled start of the school year in September. And it does not cover children under the age of 12.

But with the surge in Covid cases not yet at its peak, it is not likely and not advisible that face-to-face classes start in September as previously planned. And that raises a whole additional round of questions and concerns. For another time.