Jamaica to ramp up COVID-19 testing

Jamaica to ramp up COVID-19 testing

Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

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THE Ministry of Health and Wellness is expanding the criteria for COVID-19 testing in the island, signalling its intention to, among other things, roll out mobile units for the collection of samples across parishes in the coming weeks.

The disclosure was made by Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton during last evening's virtual press conference, during which he stated that testing methods are constantly under review.

Jamaica has 36 confirmed cases of COVID-19, but that figure is expected to increase in the coming weeks as community transmission sets in.

Locally, one person has so far recovered from the virus that has claimed thousands of lives globally, with Italy being the hardest hit.

“There are some new methods of testing which will see us increasing the capacity to test. The extraction process of testing at the National Influenza Centre is being automated for greater efficiency, and this will increase the numbers for testing up to 100 tests per day. The National Public Health Lab is installing a COBAS 6800 machine — the next three weeks, equipment installation and training of staff will be completed and the facility will be able to expand testing capacity to up to 380 samples per eight-hour day.

“Right now, we're using less than 20 per cent of our testing capacity. So we still have significant capacity and you will see additional efforts being made, including using mobile units to go out into the parishes to collect samples for testing,” Dr Tufton told journalists at the press conference last evening.

Previously, the protocol included the testing of individuals who would have had contact with a confirmed case, people who travelled from an area where there is community transmission and presented with fever and respiratory difficulty, or individuals who meet the case definition of persons under investigation.

Last evening, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said questions remain as to whether or not the ministry had been testing enough.

Pointing to Tufton's declaration, Holness reiterated that the ministry has the capacity to test more and will be testing more.

“The minister of health informed me that he will be increasing the testing capacity by having buses going out into the country, into the rural areas, into all the parishes, and testing in urban centres, in rural townships, in areas where people are gathered, so that you can have a wider test sample to see exactly what that picture is. But I'm fairly confident in the methodology applied and in the numbers that we have,” the prime minister said, adding that the ministry has tested “as many as 50 cases in a day”.

Said Holness: “So I want to assure Jamaicans that we are testing; yes, we can test more. We have the capacity to test more. The Ministry of Health has given us the undertaking that they will expand their test and, therefore, that it is quite possible that you will see an increase in numbers, but certainly I'm not expecting that you'll see a massive increase in numbers because the methodology that was used, I think, was solid. Our fear is, however, that the unknown cases that have come into the island, if they are not quarantining, that they could cause a massive outbreak.”

The Ministry of Health and Wellness has now tested 362 samples, including samples that were tested for severe acute respiratory infections. A total of 317 returned negative results and nine results are pending. Fifty-one individuals remain in isolation and 34 are under quarantine in government facilities. The 140 Cuban health officials who arrived in the island last week also remain under quarantine.

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