Are we testing enough?

Letters to the Editor

Are we testing enough?

Friday, March 20, 2020

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Dear Editor,

We are in an unprecedented crisis as citizens of the modern age. I am sure a majority of us cannot ever recall a malady of this nature gripping the world like this and slowing down economies, systems, and significantly disrupting ordinary life.

COVID-19 has shown us that even the smallest of entities can have a great and lasting impact on the cogs and wheels of society and we are worse off for it.

I must first commend the prime minister, the minister of health and his permanent secretary, and the chief medical officer for so ably guiding us through this crisis. We have seen, through their regular press conferences, educational campaigns, and policy directives that they are really on top of this pandemic and that they show genuine interest in curbing the disastrous effects this pandemic may have.

I applaud our leadership on stressing the importance of social distancing, a concept that all Jamaicans must embrace so that we do not end up in a worst-case scenario.

I must commend my fellow citizens as well, for heeding the directives and staying home so that we can protect our most vulnerable.

But, I must wonder, are we doing enough?

I ask this because, after regularly tuning into the press conferences to get my updates concerning the island, it appears that testing is only done on patients who present symptoms. Indeed, from their reports, through the many contact traces done, only those who appear to have symptoms are quarantined. All others, though they may have had contact with patient 0, 1, etc, are not tested because they appear to be well. Now, therein lies a problem.

According to the many reports, it is increasingly believed that the asymptomatic (people who do not show any symptoms), the pre-symptomatic (people who are yet to show symptoms), and the mildly symptomatic (people who show symptoms, but not severely) could all be spreading the virus within communities. Indeed, an article from CNN ('Infected people without symptoms might be driving the spread of coronavirus more than we realise') quotes the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, who has gone on record to say that there is evidence that “asymptomatic transmission likely [plays] an important role in spreading this virus”. The same article reported an international study that found that “between 48 per cent and 66 per cent of the 91 people in [a] Singapore cluster contracted the infection from someone who was pre-symptomatic. Of the 135 people in [a] Tianjin cluster, between 62 per cent and 77 per cent caught it from someone was pre-symptomatic”.

Now, I do not want to induce panic, as I am quite the worrier myself, but I believe that we need to aggressively trace, test, and isolate if we seriously wish to “flatten the curve”.

South Korea has done an excellent job with their aggressive testing stance. According to a Reuters report ('How Korea trounced US in race to test people for coronavirus'), they have tested well over 290,000 people and identified 8,000 infections with new cases dwindling week after week. If I heard correctly last night, Health Minister Christopher Tufton said that we have reagents to test over 2,000 suspected infections, with more reagents being bought so that number can be increased. Also, that through contact tracing, approximately 400 people or thereabout have been identified as having had contact with patient 0 or 1. I propose that all these contacts, even if they are not symptomatic, should be tested so at least we can be fully satisfied that infections are not spreading right under our noses.

I am hopeful that Jamaica will get through this without too many fatalities, God willing, but if we are to stay ahead of the curve, we need to be decisive, aggressive and quick about what we do.

Andrew Hutchinson


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