THE Department of Health and Wellness on Thursday announced that a shipment of equipment for local diagnosis of the Novel Coronavirus arrived on island on Tuesday 10th March.
But testing for the coronavirus will not commence until the training and validation of laboratory staff is complete. This training is scheduled to begin next week and will last for a period of five to seven days. All testing for coronavirus is currently done by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad.
The announcement was made by Dr. Michelle Francois, National Epidemiologist, at the National Media COVID-19 Seminar, where she made a presentation of the COVID-19 plan for Saint Lucia.
There are six territories on Saint Lucia’s list of restricted countries to date, namely: Mainland China, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, Japan, Italy and Singapore.
Dr. Michelle said that public health training for border control officers at all ports of entry was underway. She said the Department of Health was collaborating with SLASPA to ensure that adequate capacity was available and fully equipped with a functional quarantine area at the airports. She announced that screening and surveillance of incoming passengers will also be enhanced.
“There have been training of regional outbreak teams. Within each health region in Saint Lucia there is a team responsible for investigating any abnormalities that occur within their region,” Dr. Michelle said, adding that there were eight health regions in Saint Lucia.
“Each team comprises of a public health nursing supervisor, the district medical officer, a representative from the Bureau of Health education as well as a representative from Environmental Health,” she said.
She continued, “The team normally goes out in light of anything that looks abnormal. These teams are dispatched to investigate and report to the Epidemiology Unit, as well as the Chief Medical Officer, any findings so that the necessary interventions can be done.”
She stated that additional staff will be deployed to strengthen ports as well as to conduct clearance of yachts at Rodney Bay and Soufriere.
“Another measure that has been put in place is that we have enforced that yachts and leisure vessels present a maritime declaration of health just as the larger vessels,” she added.
She said that isolation rooms at all healthcare facilities had been identified as part of the plan. She added that guidance on Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) had been circulated to both public and private healthcare facilities, and that training on personal protective equipment was also being provided for healthcare workers.
In Dr. Michelle’s review of the capacity of the Intensive Care Units (ICU) in Saint Lucia, she stated that there were currently three ICU beds at Victoria Hospital, two at St. Jude Hospital and two at Tapion Hospital.
On that note, she added, “We have been in contact with PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) and they are continually assessing capacity within the region and so we have put in a request for additional ICU beds.”
Dr. Michelle went on, “Any suspected case that we have, be it private or within the public sector, we are notified. There is a level of investigation that needs to be done; interviewing that case as well as persons who they may have come into contact with, because these persons may be exposed and we have to determine the level of risk so that we determine whether persons will be isolated or quarantined.”
She said this exercise will be carried out within 24 hours of reporting. She said suspected cases of coronavirus will be isolated at the hospitals, whereas quarantine for individuals who do not exhibit signs and symptoms can be managed at home.
“If their homes do not have the capacity for doing that level of quarantine, then they would be removed from the home and placed in another facility with conditions for such,” she added.
Dr. Michelle noted that the Chief medical Officer had the authority to quarantine any individual who is considered to be a risk. She indicated that it was an offense for persons identified as a risk to avoid quarantine and that they would get arrested. For that reason, the Department of Health and wellness is appealing to members of the public to comply entirely with the COVID-19 plan.
A COVID – 19 hotline, 331, has been established by the Department of Health of Wellness for persons requesting information about the coronavirus.