'Major margins of error' with COVID-19 pretesting, says Tufton

'Major margins of error' with COVID-19 pretesting, says Tufton

Senior staff reporter

Friday, July 10, 2020

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WITH visitors who have pretested for COVID-19 set to start arriving in the island today, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has advised against expectations that negative results mean all arrivals are in the clear.

Speaking yesterday at a special select parliamentary committee on public health, Dr Tufton said there remains a wide margin of error, even with pretesting.

“Pretesting offers a limited guarantee around identifying a positive case. I do not want the population to think that pretesting is going to guarantee that one who has done a test eight to 10 days prior to coming in means that they are free of the virus. There are major margins of error with pretesting. It will pick up if you're positive at a particular point in time, but you could be carrying the virus and it doesn't show up, so when you come in, the screening at the airport will take place [and], assuming you're asymptomatic and you end up in a hotel or at home, you must comply with the other elements of the protocol,” he said.

Tufton stressed that pretesting is, therefore, not completely reliable, which means that surveillance and personal responsibility are now even more important to protect the population.

On June 29, the Government announced that some visitors from the United States who plan to enter the island, as of July 10, will have to be pretested for COVID-19 and upload results that are no older than seven days from the time of their arrival to the Visit Jamaica website, in order to have their applications for entry considered. The requirement for entry applies to individuals coming from states which have a high number of cases — Florida, New York, Arizona, and Texas.

Dr Tufton said that with more people entering the country now, the challenges at the island's two airports have increased in recent weeks.

“In the last week and a half, the approach to testing at the airport has been periodically fairly chaotic because of the numbers that are coming in, and we have had to try to make adjustments to try and accommodate and to smooth out the backlog in processing of individuals. But that backlog has also manifested itself at the labs where testing of samples take place, so the new arrangements are going to attempt to smooth that out, but it is going to require greater surveillance, greater compliance from the populace,” he told the committee.

Emphasising the need for individuals to stick to the anti-spread protocols, St Andrew East Rural Member of Parliament Juliet Holness lashed out at those who continue to return and flout the quarantine rules. Holness said she had personally observed a citizen dodge Ministry of Health personnel and intermingle with others.

“I want to encourage Jamaicans, when people come from overseas, scorn them if necessary, if you realise that they should quarantine and they're up and out. We need to take our health into our hands because we cannot just depend on the State to enforce the law... I am begging Jamaicans, the persons who you know have travelled and you see them out, report [them], and, at a minimum, keep your distance from them,” she advised.

Up to July 8, there were 751 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the island, 233 of which were imported, 39 locally transmitted (not epidemiologically linked), and 236 contact-related.

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