Right Steps & Poui Trees


Two Events in 24 Hours: A Signal of the Level of Covid Concern?

Yesterday evening (December 15, 2021), the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) held its first Covid Conversation press conference in nearly two months; the last one was held on October 26, 2021. This morning, Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on the Covid-19 Pandemic and Related Matters, chaired by Minister Tufton, met for the first time since July 20, 2021, five months ago. (If they’ve met more recently than that, I would stand corrected.) After months of these events not being held, two within 24-hours. That signals a level of concern about what is likely to be happening with Covid come the new year and a desire to signal this concern before the news and information lull that comes with the Christmas holidays.

We are right now in a comparatively good place regarding Covid-19 in Jamaica. Today National Epidemiologist Dr Webster-Kerr noted that for the first time in months the 7-Day Average for our Positivity Rate is below 5%. It is 4.9%.

She also said that we have now come out of our 3rd wave, which peaked in September, and that we are in what could be considered an inter-wave period. The number of confirmed cases has been coming down steadily, though there might be a little leveling off, she said.

Additionally, the pressure on hospitals at this time is not from Covid-19 patients, with all four of the health regions being well below 50% of their Covid-19 related capacity.

In almost all of the Covid-19 indicators, we have been moving in the right direction. Dr Webster-Kerr said:

“This is the picture. It’s looking good at this time but we have to be careful, in that for most of the indicators we are above where we were in between the 2nd and 3rd waves. So we can still increase rapidly, if we are going into the 4th wave.”

She did also note that the vaccination level is too low to have an effect on transmission, though it is having an effect on severe disease and deaths.

For weeks we have had warnings from many quarters, including the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health, the Chief Medical Officer, various medical bodies, individual doctors, epidemiology and public health experts, that we should expect a 4th wave, most likely starting in January. The identification of the new Omicron variant in late November has made this likelihood more of an inevitability.

The warnings were repeated at both the Covid Conversation yesterday and at the Joint Select Committee (JSC) meeting today. The holding of the two meetings in such quick succession signals the level of concern that there is about the 4th wave and the need to give the country an update before Christmas, with its associated activities that are likely to contribute to that wave.

In the discussion about the Omicron variant at the JSC today, Minister Tufton said:

“I would venture to say, and at the risk of appearing to be an alarmist, that’s not my intention, but I would venture to say, given what we know of this season and the interactions that are likely to take place, cross border interactions, whether diaspora or tourism related, it is highly likely that if the virus isn’t here already, it is highly likely that it will be here after the holiday season. And I think we have to be frank about this, I think we have to make it clear to the country, which is why we have continued to emphasize the wearing of the mask, physical distancing, the observation of the protocols around gatherings and indeed, where one is in doubt because they have symptoms or feel exposed, they should get tested. It is part of the preparation for the 4th wave because we do not believe that we, as an open society where we depend whether on trade or travel in one form or another, that it is going to be a permanent situation to keep the variant out. It’s just not practical. And I suspect the holiday season will only serve to add a greater risk or probability of that happening.”

So two events in 24 hours. After months without them. With everyone on the verge of pivoting to Christmas and year end activities. Let it not be said, however, that the year ended without these two mechanisms being resurrected to warn about the 4th wave and update about the preparations for same.

PBCJ Recording of Joint Select Committee on the Covid-19 Pandemic and Related Matters, December 16, 2021


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350 Words or Less: No Need for Covid Conversations Anymore?

One of the communication tools the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) has used during the pandemic to share information with the public is the press conferences dubbed Covid Conversations. For some periods, these Conversations took place routinely on Thursday evenings and included an epidemiological update on the Covid situation in Jamaica, with slides, presented by the Chief Medical Officer or the National Epidemiologist. Aspects of policy and administration would be dealt with and current issues that had recently arisen. Importantly, it was also an opportunity for members of the media to ask questions of MOHW representatives, including the Minister and Permanent Secretary, and have them answered on the record. And the PBCJ recordings of these events have provided a very useful archive for tracking aspects of the pandemic and the MOHW’s approach.

In more recent months, however, these Covid Conversations have been held less frequently, as I and fellow blogger Emma Lewis have commented on on Twitter:

It isn’t that the Minister or the CMO or the Director of Family Health Services are not accessible to the media. They certainly do interviews on various radio programmes. However, these are not archived in the way that the PBCJ recordings are and quickly become inaccessible to the public and they certainly won’t be available via Access to Information requests. And when the Minister speaks in Parliament, members of the media don’t get to ask him questions there.

The last Covid Conversation was held on the morning of Tuesday, October 26, 2021, an unusual day and time, as the Minister himself commented. That’s 4 weeks ago today. There has been no Covid Conversation in November. Why not? Has MOHW decided that these convos are no longer useful? If so, what is the strategy being used to replace them or to provide other means for the sharing of the information they provided and the regular opportunity to have questions asked and answered? Or is it that there’s nothing new to share or to answer questions about? Covid’s over?

Maybe this Thursday we’ll have another Covid Conversation…or maybe not…


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Chief Medical Officer’s Covid-19 Update for Oct 7, 2021

Jamaica’s Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) had established a practice of weekly Covid-19 press conferences, usually held on Thursday evenings. For the past few months, however, this weekly practice has been less reliable, with gaps of a week or more occurring between press conferences. This was particularly problematic during the height of the current wave of the pandemic; fueled by the Delta variant, it has been the worst of the three waves Jamaica has experienced.

Yesterday was Thursday and I tweeted the MOHW a question about whether there would be a Covid Conversation (what the press conferences have been called for some time) and they responded saying no. This actually wasn’t much of a surprise, given that there had been a press conference last week and that the Ministry had been facing a lot of pressure and criticism from the public and in Parliament this week.

What was a surprise was to learn last night, via a Twitter thread by Gleaner journalist Jovan Johnson, that CMO Dr Bisasor-Mckenzie had given a recorded Covid-19 update, which was sent to the media by MOHW. This is not a common practice.

I am glad that this update was given. It is not a true substitute for a live press conference, but it does give the public some additional important information. Neither the text nor the video recording of the update has yet been posted online on the MOHW website. It was said that the video recording would be released by the Jamaica Information Service(JIS), but I have not seen a link on the JIS website. This all shows immediately the difference in access by the public compared to when MOHW press conferences are carried live by Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) and immediately posted on their YouTube channel. PBCJ has actually used some of the CMO’s recording in their news roundup today and in a special report.

I have posted here a copy of the text of the CMO’s update:

To illustrate the way in which these updates add to the information given in the daily MOHW Clinical Management Summaries, I will refer to this chart I compiled using some of the figures given in these summaries.

The hospitalization numbers in the daily reports show a strong downward trend but in her update yesterday, CMO Bisasor-McKenzie noted that daily hospital admissions have been increasing in the past week.

And she made the added comment, “This means that despite the trending down of hospitalizations, if the trend for admissions going up continues, our bed occupancy will increase.” This changes the perspective of our current situation somewhat.

Also of particular note in yesterday’s update are the comments about the delay in the availability of the 2nd dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

With so many ongoing issues, questions and concerns, it would be useful for MOHW to return to regular, weekly press conferences.

For convenience, I have included the statement below as well.


Covid Reflections: Time for one of Dr Bisasor-McKenzie or Dr Webster-Kerr’s Covid-19 Updates

I’ve seen or heard pieces of information in the media about where we now are in the 3rd wave. For example, last week in an interview on Nationwide News Network, National Epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr spoke about the expectation that the peak of this wave would occur in 2 weeks’ time and she gave projections for deaths in the coming weeks. During a discussion on Nationwide on Wednesday, Prof Winston Davidson mentioned that the reproductive number was now at 1.1. (For full disclosure, I was one of the other participants in the discussion.) In today’s Gleaner there is an article that refers to information said to have been obtained from Dr Webster-Kerr and the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW):

“A hair-raising 250 COVID-19 deaths occurred in August, with another 60 fatalities still under investigation, said Dr Karen Webster-Kerr, national epidemiologist. Scores of other deaths reported in August occurred months earlier.

August 26 was the deadliest day for the month, with 20 persons succumbing to the COVID-19.

However, the 296 COVID-19-related deaths for March outstripped August’s.

Data from the Ministry of Health and Wellness obtained by The Gleaner showed that another 20 deaths in March are under investigation.

With the country recording a total of 69,054 COVID-19 cases as at September 2 and a total of 1,568 deaths as a result of the disease, the ministry is reporting that the overall (2020 to 2021) COVID-19 case death rate is 2.3 per cent.

The death rate in August (1.6 per cent) plunged only because infections soared almost fivefold, month-on-month, to more than 15,300.”

At the Office of the Prime Minister’s (OPM) press briefing on Wednesday (1-9-21), Prime Minister Holness included 3 of the slides that are normally included in the MOHW PowerPoint updates and he commented on them, something which he has done before, though moreso in Parliament. Although both the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie and Dr Webster-Kerr were present at the press briefing, neither spoke from the podium or gave the ususal update.

(Perhaps this was in keeping with the brief nature of the press briefing…only 3 slides, and only two questions allowed in the Q&A.)

The last of these MOHW Covid-19 updates that I can find is the one given at the OPM press briefing on August 19, 2021, by Dr Bisasor-McKenzie.

That is now more than two weeks ago, two weeks in which we have moved towards the peak of the 3rd wave. In that time there have been dramatic increases in the number of cases, the number of hospitalizations, the number of deaths. But we are being told that with the reproductive rate reducing and the positivity rate down from the high of 54%, there may be glimmerings of hope. This is exactly the time at which we need a full update from the CMO or the National Epidemiologist. To place us now in the context of indicators that the MOHW has used for so long.

Why haven’t we had one of these updates, at one of the times when we perhaps need it most, since the start of the pandemic?

We have been getting these periodically. They have been a useful way of tracking changes. Whatever problems some may have with aspects of the data, this is a way of following what the MOHW says the position is, what they are using to base decisions on, what the government is basing decisions on.

There was no MOHW Covid Conversation yesterday; Thursday is the ususal day for them if they are being held. No presentation at the OPM press briefing on Wednesday. No presentation at Parliament’s Joint Select Committee dealing with Covid-related matters on Tuesday; Parliament is on summer break. These are the three places that the public usually gains access to these updates. A presentation with commentary by Dr Bisasor-McKenzie or Dr Webster-Kerr would be best. But if that’s not going to happen, post the PowerPoint online on the MOHW website. In fact, press briefing or no press briefing, Covid Conversation or no Covid Conversation, Joint Select Committee or no Joint Select Committee, post it at regular intervals on the MOHW website.

During a crisis such as this pandemic, information to the public is crucial. With this Delta-variant-fueled 3rd wave, with our public hospitals not offering anything but emergency services, with bed capacity overwhelmed, with dangerous oxygen shortages, we are in a crisis within the crisis. We need more information, not less.