On March 17, 2022, when the use of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) for Covid-19 management orders ended, the general mask mandate ended.
On March 18, 2022, under the Public Health Act – Public Health Enforcement Measures (Coronavirus Covid-19) Order 2022 – a mask mandate for enclosed spaces came into effect and was scheduled to expire on April 15, 2022.
On March 22, 2022, Minister of Education Fayval Williams confirmed to Morning Agenda host Jodi-Ann Quarrie that the wearing of masks was no longer mandated for schools. Highly recommended but no longer mandated.
On April 15, 2022, the mask mandate under the Public Health Act Covid-19 Order expired and was not renewed.
On May 18, 2022, at a Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) press briefing, Minister Chris Tufton officially confirmed what others had been saying, that Jamaica was now experiencing a 5th wave of Covid-19. He said the wave was probably caused by the highly transmissible Omicron BA.2 subvariant and had an inflection point of around April 20, 2022.
At the May 18, 2022 MOHW briefing, Minister of Education Fayval Williams confirmed that an increase in Covid-19 cases in schools was being reported.
On May 19, 2022, via a General Bulletin, the Ministry of Education and Youth (MOEY) informed school administrators that “the wearing of masks is mandatory at school effective immediately and until further advised.” The general public learned of this reintroduction via the media…social and traditional.
On May 20, 2022, while speaking at a handover ceremony in St James, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that “It is going to be a requirement shortly for all of our citizens to return to wearing their masks.” This was widely reported in the media, with clips of the PM’s words.
On May 22, 2022, Jamaica Information Service (JIS) published a report about the PM’s statement titled “Gov’t To Reintroduce Mask Mandate”.
But here we are, on May 30, 2022, ten days later, with no mask mandate reintroduced and with no indication when…or if…this reintroduction of the mask mandate will take place.
Quite frankly, this inaction and lack of certainty is unacceptable. We have heard nothing further since Prime Minister Holness spoke about it. Was it an off the cuff statement to ease the pressure at the time but with no substance to it? Or has the PM changed his mind since? Or have the public health experts at the MOHW advised that the reintroduction of a mask mandate isn’t necessary, advice which they have supported with scientific data or references?
The PM has left us hanging. Not a comfortable position to be in at the best of times. And a Covid-19 wave, however gentle when compared to previous waves, is not the best of times. The public is entitled to some clarity on this. PM Holness? Minister Tufton? CMO Bisasor-McKenzie?
(And, yes, I know that we keep being told that these are policy decisions. And advice from the technical experts to the Cabinet is privileged. And that is the convention. But I increasingly question this convention, as decisions on serious public health matters during a pandemic are being made, with the public not entitled to know if our government’s decisions are in line with or contrary to the advice being given by public health experts.)
Below is a chart showing some of the MOHW numbers for the past 2 weeks.
And the report for yesterday has just been released…
In Parliament last week Tuesday, November 30, 2021, Minister of Health and Wellness Chris Tufton made a statement in Parliament about the current situation regarding Covid-19 in Jamaica.
One of the questions put to him following his statement was from MP Julian Robinson:
“Minister, I just have one question and really recommendation. As we move forward to reopening schools, I believe it is imperative that we allow and provide testing in the schools. What is going to happen without testing in the schools, when the children get sick, their parents can’t afford the significant fees to privately test them. They’re going to keep sending them to school because they don’t have either the support at home to keep them at home. So gonna have sick children continue to go to school. It might mean doing the antigen test which is cheaper than the PCR test. But as we move to reopen the schools, we must have some capacity particularly in larger schools. I mean Excelsior in my constituency is 2200 students, right? You’re bound to have sick children infecting others and right now it is too difficult, it is too expensive, for persons to get tested.”
MP Julian Robinson, Parliament, November 30, 2021 (transcribed from PBCJ recording)
Minister Tufton responded:
“So, Madam Speaker, I think it’s a…there’s no difference of opinion there. The reality is that the school population is going to be a point of vulnerability, not so much, to be totally frank, for the students, who could weather the storm, so to speak, in terms of the virus, because they are stronger, stronger immune systems, but more so for those they take it home to. Their parents and grandparents. And we still have a large unvaccinated population among that older age cohort. Which is why we have to pursue a dual strategy – promote vaccination among the older population and offer protection to our young people to get to face-to-face.
Testing will be available based on an assessment of conditions or symptoms and I am prepared to ask too for some amount of random testing as part of sort of just sampling a population. And I think that can be easily organised because contrary to popular opinion that I have seen on social media and so on, the government provides free testing. I do appreciate that you can’t just go and request it because it is given based on a doctor’s assessment. Now where a school has a sick bay or otherwise – because we’re always in touch with the schools, we’re putting protocols in place – and a child displays the slightest symptom, then they’ll be automatically tested and a conclusion drawn in order to protect the rest of the population. So, I’m with you on that.”
Thank you, Madam Speaker.
Minister Chris Tufton, Parliament, November 30, 2021 (transcribed from PBCJ recording)
So Minister Tufton says that testing will be done on children who are symptomatic, though it is known that many people who have Covid-19 are asymptomatic. No mention is made of rigorous testing protocols in schools where a child has tested positive or where a child has been exposed to Covid-19 in a setting other than school. What level of contact tracing will be done where a child does test positive? And what notification protocols are in place to inform other students, parents/families and staff when there has been a confirmed or suspected case in a school? And what level of testing is meant by “some amount of random testing as part of sort of just sampling a population”? Perhaps Minister Tufton could be more specific.
In Parliament on that same day, Minister of Education Fayval Williams delivered a statement dealing with the expansion of face-to-face classes in more schools. Below is a copy of the text of her statement:
A friend called me late Friday afternoon (March 13, 2020) simply to share her feelings of unease. We agreed that it felt as though we were on the brink of a major event or shift, that it felt as though we were living into a period of grave change. Much has happened since that call that bolsters the feelings we were experiencing that Friday the 13th afternoon.
Somewhere in the wee hours of that day, Jamaica’s Ministry of Health & Wellness had issued a press release giving a delayed update regarding the status of Covid-19 cases in the country, indicating that there were six new cases on the island.
Jamaica has confirmed six new cases of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) on the island.
The cases, which bring to eight the number of confirmed cases, include:
Two males, aged 63 and 67, who came into the island on March 7 from Trinidad, having travelled from Malaysia by way of Dubai and London. They presented at hospital on March 11.
One male, 36, who travelled from Manchester, England. He was taken to hospital from his hotel via ambulance on March 11.
One male, 31, a Jamaican overseas ship worker who came in from the Canary Islands via Portugal and Miami. He arrived in the island on February 25 and presented to hospital with symptoms on March 10.
One male, 58, who is the father of the first patient who was confirmed with COVID-19. He was discovered ill at home on March 11.
And one female, 34, who is a close contact, also of the first patient who was confirmed with COVID-19 on the island.
The Minister of Health and Wellness Dr the Honourable Christopher Tufton will meet with the media on Friday afternoon to provide further details. He is currently examining the level of preparedness for COVID-19 in western Jamaica.
Ministry of Health & Wellness Press release, March 13, 2020
I had watched the rather bizarre press conference held by the US President at the White House that afternoon, which once again illustrated the problematic nature of the federal response to COVID-19 in that country. I had seen reports of the Cayman government’s measures announced that afternoon, in the context of their first confirmed case. (He was a passenger on a cruise ship, who had been hospitalized in Cayman with serious heart problems, who later showed symptoms of COVID-19 and unfortunately died. Medical staff were exposed to the virus while caring for him before he showed symptoms and the hospital has now been closed for two weeks.) The measures included no cruise ships being allowed for 60 days, schools being closed until April 27 and gatherings of 50 or more people being banned.
I had been waiting for the promised press conference by the Jamaican authorities to update the country on the new confirmed cases, initially announced for 2pm, but which got underway after 6pm. You can watch the full recording on the PBCJ YouTube page or on Prime Minister Holness’ Facebook page.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness at COVID-19 Press Briefing, March 13, 2020
Some major developments were announced at that press briefing, at which the following officials also spoke: Minister of Health & Wellness Chris Tufton, Chief of Defence Staff of the JDF Rocky Meade, Commissioner of Police Antony Anderson, Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health & Wellness Dunstan Bryan, Minister of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Local Government & Community Development Desmond McKenzie, Minister of Science, Energy & Technology Fayval Williams, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation with responsibility for Land, Environment, Climate Change and Investments Daryl Vaz and Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett.
Some of the developments announced included:
the declaration of the entire Jamaica as an area of disaster
the quarantining of the communities of Seven & Eight Miles, Bull Bay, St Andrew, because of need to check for evidence of community spread of COVID-19 (related to the first confirmed case in the country)
the adding of the United Kingdom to the list of countries on which travel restrictions have now been placed
the expansion of isolation areas across the country
efforts to increase the number of medical professionals to deal with the situation, including 21 specialist nurses arriving from Cuba on March 24 & requests for retired nurses to return to service
the restriction of visits to government golden age homes and infirmaries for the next 15 days
special arrangement for increased trucking of water to areas experiencing water shortages
Since Friday, there have been additional developments related to COVID-19 here:
March 16, 2020 – 5 More Preliminarily Confirmed
In a press release sent out shortly after midnight this morning, the Ministry of Health & Wellness notified that there were 5 more preliminarily confirmed cases in the country. With the two cases confirmed yesterday (March 15, 2020), this brings the current total of confirmed cases in Jamaica to fifteen.
March 15, 2020 – 2 More COVID-19 Cases Confirmed; 17 test negative
Press Release from the Ministry of Health & Wellness
“The Ministry of Health & Wellness is reporting that two new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the island. This is following the results from the National Influenza Centre, where 19 tests were conducted in the last 24 hours. Seventeen (17) of the cases tested were negative.
The country now has a total of 10 confirmed cases. One of the new cases was identified through contact tracing relating to the index case (Patient 1), while the second patient presented at hospital with a travel history to Trinidad and Tobago and had symptoms similar to COVID-19. Both persons were isolated and samples collected and tested.
The seventeen (17) other patients, who tested negative, included persons who are from Kingston and St. Andrew, St. Ann and Clarendon and who were identified through contact tracing from confirmed cases, where a similar protocol was observed to isolate and test.
Up to Saturday, March 14, 2020, 27 patients were in isolation facilities. They remain stable, including patients 1 and 2, who no longer have symptoms. Patients whose test results are negative will be released shortly.
The Ministry wishes to remind all persons, who suspect that they have had exposure to COVID-19 and are displaying symptoms to self-isolate immediately and contact the Ministry of Health & Wellness at 888-ONE-LOVE (663-5683) or 888-754-7792 for further instructions”