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Police still awaiting COVID-19 test results, a month later

Sunday, September 20, 2020

POLICE officers who were placed in quarantine close to a month ago, because of possible exposure to COVID-19, are still in the dark about their test results although they are being asked to report for regular duties.

One cop, who spoke to the Jamaica Observer on condition of anonymity, said it is unacceptable that police officers who were quarantined because they were experiencing symptoms or were exposed to a COVID-19 positive case are being asked to return to work, when they have not received their COVID-19 test results.

“It can't be a case where we did the test almost a month ago and don't get our results. This would come in like you do an exam and don't get your results — you're hanging in the balance, you're expected to move on and carry on as if nothing had happened. You did a test, you need fi know the result,” the officer said. “We are front line workers and it can't be that a front line worker who is supposed to be on the front line working as an essential worker did a test, you have them in quarantine for over three weeks, some four, they don't get a result and the next step you're hearing is that you've exhausted 14 days without symptoms so now they can get a discharge and go back to work without even knowing what their results are.”

Detective Sergeant Patrae Rowe, chairman of the Police Federation, told the Sunday Observer that he was aware of the development which affects six per cent or roughly 600 members of the constabulary, and shared that part of the issue is inconsistency in communication between the health and wellness ministry, affected police officers and managers within the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

“You have officers out for a month who were tested and have still not been able to get the result and are still not able to leave quarantine or return to work without a release letter from the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW)...You have another category of officers who have been in quarantine because they came in contact with a positive case or are experiencing symptoms and have tried to make contact with the Ministry of Health, gone to local health clinic or health centres to get the test done and the test was not done and these officers have been at home in excess of three weeks, without being able to get a test done. After that period, there is contemplation among managers within the JCF to call those officers back to work on a claim that one, they're not experiencing any symptoms or two, that they get advice from health officials within a particular parish that once the officers are not experiencing symptoms, they can be called back to work.

“I have gotten feedback from members who said that having been on a period of quarantine without testing, they contacted the MOH for a letter to go off to work and the Ministry of Health is saying that they cannot give them a letter to go back to work because they were not the one who placed them on quarantine. There is a level of inconsistency across the health sector across the island, because different parish health officials are communicating different things to different managers within the Jamaica Constabulary Force,” Rowe said.

On Thursday, chief medical officer in the MOHW, Dr Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie, confirmed that there was a backlog with COVID-19 PCR tests, but explained that the issue should be resolved once the MOHW approved antigen tests are available, which will see symptomatic patients getting their COVID-19 test results within hours of testing.

Further, the Police Federation chairman said a communiqué was issued to managers within the JCF to ensure the protocols of the constabulary regarding COVID-19 are followed as some officers were given ultimatums that go contrary to the JCFs established guidelines to manage the pandemic.

“Earlier this week, we sent out a message to advise our managers that under no circumstances our members should suffer the detriment of loss of leave because of quarantine period as that was being proposed by some officers and a number of our members were being told that their leave would be debited because of their quarantine period. This is clearly against the protocol from high command. The protocol from high command is that once a member is exposed or feeling symptoms he should go off into quarantine, and that should be accounted for as a quarantine period and not to the detriment of the members leave,” Rowe said. “We are seeing cases where commanding officers are calling back people to work off quarantine, but that is clearly against the directives because we have a Medical Services Branch within the Jamaica Constabulary Force as well as the JCF admin and support branch, which are the competent authority to monitor the COVID-19 cases across the island and give directives as it relates to whether members return to work or continue on a period of quarantine having satisfied the requirements and the protocol established by the Ministry of Health or by the JCF to manage the pandemic within the JCF.”

Senior Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, head of the JCFs Corporate Communications Unit, admitted that officers who were still in limbo about their test results were being asked to return to work but explained that the MOH has revised its protocols and as a result, so too has the JCF.

“I admit there's a weakness from the MOH side where we're not getting the results as quickly. However, the MOH has revised the protocols and they are saying that if you were tested and after 14 days you have not showed any symptoms then you can return to work. When they started out if you tested positive after a certain time you would need two negative tests. Now after you have gone 14 days and you are not showing any signs or symptoms you can go back to work. Our Medical Services Branch has been working the results to get the results and there has been several discussion with persons at different levels to see if they can expedite the testing for police officers,” Lindsay said.

She added: “The JCF has been revising its protocols based on advice from the ministry. The advice they give is for public and private sector, so if people feel that they don't want to come back to work then, if they go on sick leave, it's going to start affecting their leave. If we have a protocol that guides, all the police officers have to do when they go back to work is follow the guidelines — wear your masks, keep it on all the time, wash your hands, follow the protocols. I understand the concerns because I would want to know my status...I know that there is a list of persons who were tested especially those who have completed their 14 days and to me that's unacceptable. It's not the best thing to have people tested over a period and they're supposed to be in quarantine, they've finished the period and you don't know your status and you did a test. We are hoping we will see some improvement in the testing results.”

But Rowe said if the protocols have changed then it needs to be properly communicated to members, so that members are not confused or apprehensive about their state of vulnerability

“The Police Federation is doing everything we can to communicate with our membership as it relates to the directives from the Ministry of Health but this is a police force. Everybody can't be listening to the radio, listening to Ministry of Health bulletins or changing protocols and applying them as they feel. It's a police force with command and control and we take directive from high command with respect to these matters. Notwithstanding the fact that the Ministry of Health may release new protocols, those protocols must be adapted by the JCF high command and be filtered through the managers to the members so that we are clear on what the direction is as to how to treat members who are affected by COVID-19,” Rowe said.

He added that JCF managers must ensure that the need to provide policing service does not trump the health of members on the ground, and at all times the scales must tilt in favour of the health and security of police officers by first ensuring a safe place of work is provided.

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