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600 rooms needed for recovering COVID-19 patients

BY VERNON DAVIDSON
Executive editor — publications
davidsonv@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

THE Government has issued an appeal to Jamaicans for help in securing facilities to accommodate people recovering from the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in order to free up space in isolation wards at hospitals for patients in need of specialist care.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton made the appeal at a news conference yesterday at Jamaica House, after a lengthy meeting of the Cabinet at which measures implemented to stem the spread of the virus were discussed.

Tufton said the health authorities need 600 rooms within the island's four regional health authorities.

“These are rooms that have to have a bedroom and bathroom so that an individual can be relatively isolated,” he said.

Two hundred rooms are needed in the South East Regional Health Authority, which comprises Kingston, St Andrew, St Catherine, and St Thomas; 200 in the southern region, which encompasses Manchester, Clarendon and St Elizabeth; 100 in the western region, which comprises Westmoreland, Hanover, St James, and Trelawny; and 100 in the North East Regional Health Authority, which includes St Ann, St Mary, and Portland.

“We are asking the public for support in helping us to identify these facilities. We know there are a number of facilities, like hotels that are not now operating. The Government would like to engage them in a conversation around the availability of these facilities and, of course, we'd like to engage them in a manner where we're not paying the normal market hotel rate,” Tufton said.

“We have patients who we have treated in hospitals who are now recovering. They show no signs of illness, but to release them we have to achieve two negative tests, which have to be done 48 hours apart. Until that time, we can't release them into the general population because they're classified as shedding, meaning the virus is still active and can be spread, but in the meantime we're holding them in an isolation ward in a hospital, which takes up space which others who are more critical could be taken to.

“So in a sense, what we're looking for is a transition house, if you will, that will allow them to be isolated, to give them appropriate care while they recover, and the science is suggesting that this could take up to 30 days or less, and to have someone in an intensive care unit for that period of time we would just simply run out [of space],” the health and wellness minister added.

“So we really do need these facilities to give support to those who are transitioning from overcoming the worst to getting back to full normality.”

Tufton also appealed to private doctors to avoid “or be discouraged from shutting down their operations”.

He said information coming to the health authorities suggests that some private practitioners are closing shop, either because they feel they're not fully equipped to carry out their duties or they have other concerns.

“If you have an issue and you would like to engage us in conversation we're available for that type of conversation,” he said, adding that when private doctors, who see about 55 per cent of the population on a normal basis, close their practice, “it creates a crowding effect on the hospitals which we really would like to avoid”.