The Jamaican experience
On March 10, 2020, the first patient with COVID-19 was confirmed in Jamaica. By March 18, 2020, the number of people with the disease had reached 15. We also lost our first patient to this disease. So our Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) has moved the country into the next stage of managing the COVID-19 crisis. Our goal now is to contain the disease so that we can protect the vulnerable members of our population, and ensure that the number of people needing hospital care does not exceed our capacity to provide that care. This process is referred to as flattening the curve of the epidemic.
What is the MOHW doing to contain COVID-19?
The containment strategy for COVID-19 is built on two main pillars: contact tracing and separation of people who have been exposed or infected from the general population. Contact tracing is the process of tracking down everyone that a person with COVID-19 has come in contact with, going back to one day before that person became symptomatic. This is a tedious, time consuming activity which is necessary to accurately identify people who have been exposed to or infected with the SARS-CoV-2.
Contacts are then separated from the general population in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. In the process of tracing contacts, if it becomes clear to the doctors that a large number of people may be involved, an entire community may be separated from the rest of the country because we do not have the time and resources to track down every contact quickly enough to effectively contain the spread of the virus into other communities. This is what has happened in the Bull Bay communities that were placed under quarantine. The term quarantine is used when we separate people who have been exposed to the virus but are not showing signs of illness. When they start showing signs of illness the separation process is called isolation.
The success of Jamaica’s containment strategy depends on every single person supporting the work of our MOHW teams, and cooperating with the contact tracing and quarantine/isolation measures. Remember these measures are intended to protect our elderly grandparents, our hypertensive and diabetic parents, our asthmatic sisters and brothers, and our friends with heart disease. This is how we flatten the curve and allow our health care facilities to be able to provide adequate care for any COVID-19 patients and any other patients who need hospital care. Failure to contain will force our doctors to make difficult choices about which lives get saved when resources are limited.
How can I help to contain the spread of COVID-19?
Follow the clear guidelines that our MOHW has issued to the general public. If you think you have been exposed or are having symptoms of COVID-19:
- STAY AT HOME.
- Call the MOHW hotline numbers or your family doctor for guidance.
- The numbers to call are : 888-ONE LOVE, 888-754-7792, 888-542-5998, 888-542-6006 to 7.
- Do not take public transport.
- Do not go to any health facility without calling ahead.
Depending on your symptoms and history of exposure you will be instructed on whether to stay at home or go to a hospital. You will be told how to get to the hospital, and the process of testing for COVID-19. At this time all tests are free of cost to the patients and done through our National Public Health Lab. Private doctors cannot request the tests from other laboratories. Following these instructions is critical to ensuring that you get appropriate care as well as for preventing the virus from spreading, especially to our vulnerable population: the elderly (over 60-70), and ones with other conditions like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, emphysema, sickle cell disease.
The MOHW cannot reveal personal details of each individual with COVID-19 to the general public. So contact tracing is done behind the scenes. If you are identified as a contact by the public health workers, you can help by being honest and accurate when you are interviewed. Lying about your movements, who you have come in contact with, and any symptoms you have will put you and your loved ones in harm’s way.
Social media being what it is, if people who are diagnosed are known to you, chances are that you will hear who the individuals are. So if you think you may have had direct contact with that individual at the time they became symptomatic, you can help by calling the MOHW hotline numbers and identifying yourself. You will be guided by the public health team as to whether you need to take further actions.
You can also help by following the instructions for hand hygiene, social distancing and cough etiquette. Obey the new laws that have come into effect with the declaration of a national disaster, which serve to discourage large gatherings and allow community wide quarantines to be imposed. Although they will affect school, transportation and our work routines it is important to take these instructions seriously so that we can all contribute to “flattening the curve” and keeping our loved ones safe.
How do we overcome the challenge of COVID-19?
We need to recognize and acknowledge that our MOHW has a well thought out plan for managing this crisis. That plan utilises appropriate public health measures, incorporates the lessons learned from observing mistakes made by other countries, and engages all aspects of our government including support from the ministries of finance, education, transport, foreign affairs and local government. Regular, clear and credible communication with the public which is a prominent feature of the plan has empowered us with information and guidance. The success of this plan depends on us as individuals doing our part by following the clear directives given by the government.
We all need to use our talents, skills and resources to become part of the solution and avoid undermining the efforts of the people elected to lead us through this crisis. We need to get and share information from reliable sources, with the people around us. By being informed, being prepared, looking out for the vulnerable among us, and working together, we can indeed flatten the curve and overcome COVID-19.