National COVID-19 Management Center (NCMC) this week issued yet another warning to Saint Lucians to protect themselves against the coronavirus as active cases continue to climb surpassing two thousand.
The NCMC said the country is now experiencing the fifth wave of the coronavirus, which started exactly one month ago, further warning Saint Lucians that this latest wave has not yet peaked.
Saint Lucia Thursday recorded 2,448 active cases and 310 deaths.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sharon Belmar-George Wednesday during the NCMC’s first press conference for the year, spoke of anticipating large increases in COVID-19 infections in the coming days, and asserted that the Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs is preparing to deal with the after-effects of the festive season.
“This press conference is taking place against the backdrop of a significant increase in daily COVID-19 infections. While the surge in cases after the festive season was anticipated, the steep rise leads us to believe that the Omicron variant is responsible. This is consistent with the increase in infections that are being observed in countries around the world especially in Europe and the United States,” Cletus Springer, Chairman of the NCMC said.
What does this mean for Saint Lucia?
According to Springer, it means that things can get better or worse depending on citizens’ behaviour and the choices they make.
“Many, if not all countries around the world, have decided that while living with COVID is challenging, that at the very least, it is worth the try because the alternatives are extremely painful for the entire population. Every Saint Lucian has a vested interest in ensuring that our country overcomes this fifth wave in the shortest possible time. The simple reality is that our future and that of our country is in our hands. We can and we must beat this fifth wave quickly. There is simply too much at stake,” he said.
Compared to previous waves, the fifth wave has the highest transmission rate. Nonetheless, the Ministry hopes that citizens will be able to live safely with the virus, with new measures in place.
“Over the last two years we have learnt the most effective measures and we have sufficient data on our local population to recommend targeted approaches to the areas of transmission, in an effort to minimize the health, economic, social, educational and health impact of this virus. We are hoping that those new targeted approaches would allow us to live safely with COVID,” Belmar-George said.
COVID-19 data trends have revealed a great deal. According to National Epidemiologist Dr. Michelle Francois d’Auvergne, the number of cases recorded in Saint Lucia in the first week of January alone has surpassed weekly numbers since the onset of COVID-19 in Saint Lucia.
“In comparing the past seven days which is from January 5 to January 11—I’m comparing it to what happened (at the) end of December to the beginning of January, we note an infection rate of 116.6 per 100,000 population. This is compared to the 47 that we were at in the previous seven days, so we have more than doubled the infection rate. Our test positivity rate has significantly increased as well,” Francois d’Auvergne explained, adding that the Ministry looks at a number of indicators to determine the best approach.
“The hospitalization rate at the Respiratory Hospital— this is data as of January 11, we need to be at less than 50%; we are currently at 34%. In terms of the rate of hospitalizations due to COVID-19, we would like to be under 20% and we are currently at 18%. These are targets that we have given ourselves to effectively manage patients and do it in a comfortable manner so that we are able to give the best care to our patients,” she added.
But based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Saint Lucia, undoubtedly, has missed the mark.
Francois d’Auvergne spoke of the daily infection rate being at 116, however, explained that really and truly it should be under 10.
“As per CDC guidelines, when you are under 10 per 100,000 it indicates that you have very low transmission in-country. We are operating at a reproduction rate of 3.3 to ensure that we do not have transmission. The goal is to have it under one,” she said.
“For a country to be deemed low transmission, it should be under five and we are currently at 13.7 and we hope to keep our cases under 100. We are currently at 1,671 active cases in community,” Francois d’Auvergne noted Wednesday. However, just 24 hours later the number of active COVID-19 cases climbed to 2,448.
She observed that whilst the fourth wave was “long (and) drawn out”, the fifth wave on the other hand showed a “steep increase” with Castries being largely affected.
“This steep increase we are seeing is cause for concern obviously because what we may have is our healthcare system being overwhelmed. During the fifth wave these are the areas or the health districts where we have identified the majority of cases. When we look at the number of cases, we see that Castries is the area most affected, but when we consider the population we see that Gros Islet is actually one of the areas that has the highest incidents of cases followed by Dennery, Babonneau and Castries,” the Epidemiologist said.
And whilst many individuals are experiencing COVID fatigue, Francois d’Auvergne warned that the Omicron variant is quite transmissible.
“We have not detected any cases in country, however, based on what we are seeing on the ground, in our neighbouring islands (and) internationally, we do suspect that it is on island and we behave as if it is in island at the moment,” she said.
Belmar-George stated that public cooperation is crucial at this point. According to her, public health measures should be enforced and implemented.
National Immunization Manager Tecla Jn. Baptiste also reminded individuals to get vaccinated and said that vaccines are the most cost-effective public health measure, in addition to the infection control and prevention measures.
“Vaccine hesitancy continues to be a major challenge for the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines in Saint Lucia. As of January 11, 27.7% of the population has been fully vaccinated. This is a little over 50,000 people; 3.4 % of the population (are) partially vaccinated. To date we have administered 5, 067 booster doses,” Jn. Baptiste said.
“In terms of our trends what we have noticed is an overall decrease in the response at the vaccination sites over the past two to three months. We see the highest uptake of vaccines in our 25-49 year old age group followed by our elderly population. The lowest uptake remains in the younger population group which is the 18-24 year old group and our under 18’s,” she added.
According to Jn. Baptiste, COVID-19 infections and its complications are highest amongst unvaccinated people. 95% of Saint Lucians who are hospitalized are in the unvaccinated group; 1.8% of those who are hospitalized are partially vaccinated and 3% are fully vaccinated.