ONE week after announcing the threat of a community wide spread of COVID-19, health authorities are still scrambling to get a better picture of just what is happening in Saint Lucia.
Yesterday Prime Minister Allen Chastanet activated the National Emergency Management Advisory Committee (NEMAC) which held a special meeting in the afternoon.
Yesterday as well the Cabinet of Ministers met to discuss Saint Lucia’s current situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. At that meeting Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sharon Belmar George made a presentation to the Ministers. In attendance were key officials from the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force (RSLPF), the Ministry of Education, members of the Command Centre and other relevant authorities.
Compounding fears of a community spread of the virus is what transpired this week as almost each day news of a new COVID-19 case spread across the land.
It all begun last Saturday when the news broke of a bus driver plying Route 2H tested positive for the virus.
With confirmation from the CMO that same day and the fact that her team could not identify the source of the bus driver’s contagion, fears of a community spread started to surface.
An effort by Prime Minister Chastanet and CMO Dr. George to halt the fears seem to have partially succeeded, despite their television appearance violation of two basic tenets of COVID-19 protocols – social distancing and the wearing of a mask.
However, despite the two’s reassurance to the public that COVID-19 can be controlled if they all do their part to safeguard themselves and each other from the virus, fears of a community spread resurfaced, this time with a vengeance as news of unconfirmed positive cases began to spread.
Fueling all of this was the order issued last Sunday by the Prime Minister, during his television address for all Saint Lucians to wear a mask or in violation feel the full weight of the law which has a penalty of $1000 and/or six months imprisonment.
It was an order that had merit as within the course of this week the country recorded three other positive cases that pushed the number of positive cases recorded in the country to date to 32, the last one being a 14-year-old secondary school boy who at the time was attending school when the results for cases 30 and 31 were made known. The boy, a student of the Castries Comprehensive Secondary School, is the child of cases 31 and 32.
They were confirmed to be a couple, a 38-year-old female and a 47-year-old male of Castries. They developed respiratory signs and symptoms which led them to seek care at a Community Respiratory Clinic on Monday October 12, 2020 where they were treated and tested for COVID-19.
These latest cases, which have no travel history and which appear to have been locally contracted seemed to have pushed the entire country into a state of alarm, forcing the authorities into a huddle to see how best they could tackle this new situation that threatens Saint Lucia’s survival on several fronts.
So far, this reporter has been able to ascertain that health authorities do not have evidence to determine whether there exists a community spread of the virus or the extent of such a spread.
The question the health authorities has yet to answer is, where or from whom did cases 29, 30 and 31 received their infection?
In the absence of an answer many are pointing to Saint Lucians entering the country illegally from neighbouring Martinique as the source from whence the new cases of the virus got infected.
Said Prime Minister Chastanet Sunday, “Let us pray that it’s (community spread) very limited and that we’ve caught this early but certainly I want to implore all persons who have information on persons who are currently in Saint Lucia, who came in illegally, to please assist the police in identifying them so that we could put them in isolation so that there is no possibility that they can create any further spread.”
This past week has been a rather trying one for the Chief Medical Officer and her team at the Ministry of Health, with the CMO declaring that “Saint Lucia is at a critical stage in the COVID-19 outbreak.” And that “undertaking an effective response on all levels will determine our success in quickly identifying, treating and managing cases and preventing possible complications and deaths.”
An effort deemed as an effective response to tackling the spread of COVID-19 was the closure of the Castries Comprehensive secondary School for two weeks.
The Ministry of Education yesterday said that after dialogue with the Department of Health and Wellness and in the best interest of all our stakeholders, it had decided, as a precaution, to keep all schools island-wide, closed for one week and the Castries Comprehensive Secondary closed for two weeks.
“During this period the Ministry of Health and Wellness will continue to conduct its necessary screenings, the results of which will help determine the way forward. In keeping with our commitment to continuously engage stakeholders, we will continue to rely on guidance from the Office of the Chief Education Officer and by extension the Ministry of Health and Wellness, in the best interest of all,”
The Ministry advises parents and guardians that instruction will revert to the multi-faceted approach of online learning and safe distribution of instructional packages from teachers, during the period students are at home.