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COVID spike possible in January after holiday travel

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Health officials have warned that a potential increase in COVID-19 cases from the Thanksgiving and Christmas period could be multiple times more than the spike the country experienced in August if Jamaicans are not careful.

Speaking at the health and wellness ministry's virtual COVID-19 discussion on Thursday, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Jaquiline Bisasor-McKenzie pointed out that there is a significant difference in the situation which the country faced in August and what it could face January after festivities are over.

She noted that in the summer there were decreased hospitalisations but end-of-year hospitalisations tend to go up as health facilities deal with trauma cases, illness from non-communicable diseases, and a range of other health issues.

“Therefore, our ability to respond is not exactly the same. We wouldn't be able to come. Our health system can't match up to these numbers,” she stated.

The CMO advised that the spike will not be as great if the amount of expected movement around the Thanksgiving holidays occurs later, but “still, the spike would be four or five times greater than what we experienced in August — still pretty significant, still beyond the capacity of our system to manage,” she said.

However, Dr Bisasor-McKenzie advised that the country could get ahead of a potential devastating spike if infection numbers can be suppressed from now. She said this would put the public health system in a better position to manage the expected increase in COVID-19 cases.

According to information from Norman Manley International Airport, about 76,886 passengers are expected to arrive in the island between November and December.

This compares to 14,426 in June when the Government took the decision to reopen the country's borders and the island began to see a rise in COVID-19 numbers. Another spike occurred again after Independence activities, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said at the weekly COVID-19 news briefing.

“We anticipate that it will happen again, which means given the traditions of Christmas we will see a spike come January,” he said.

The CMO said that already there is now significant traffic into the island and the majority of individuals are coming from countries where there are exponential increases in the numbers of COVID-19 cases.

Up to Thursday, this week, the country recorded 10,151 cases of the novel coronavirus, 512 of which are imported. St James is now a hotspot, the ministry says, followed by Hanover, Trelawny, Westmoreland, and St Ann.

National Epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster Kerr said there has been a “gentle” decrease in cases but there has been a slight increase over the past few days.

She said the country could actually see the 12-month prediction of 1.5 million cases but noted that this would not represent only the number of confirmed cases, as suggestions are that there are more than 10,151 people now carrying the virus across the island.

Meanwhile, the CMO urged Jamaicans to take every precaution to combat the trajectory. “Based on the response of Jamaicans over the last couple of months it is clear that Jamaicans can work together and with the Government to keep the numbers down,” she said.