We did all we could

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We did all we could

Gov't says Golden Age Home has COVID cases despite 'good attempts'

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, October 22, 2020

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GOVERNMENT officials are convinced they did all they could, procedurally, to avert the alarming cluster of COVID-19 cases recently discovered at the Golden Age Home in Vineyard Town, St Andrew. Now an investigation has been launched to find out why the system failed, and efforts are being made to ensure it does not happen at other facilities, which have been put on high alert.

“The fact is that there has to be some breach why the virus has infected so many persons. And, based on the testing that has been done and the tracing and the limited information that we know, it is clear that it is out of those breaches that the residents were infected. The investigations to determine how and who is underway,” Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie said yesterday.

Health authorities reported on Tuesday that 43 residents in a specific area of the facility tested positive for the virus, along with three members of staff.

But during a special joint press briefing with McKenzie yesterday, Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton said when he visited the facility three weeks ago he was satisfied that a fair amount of the prevention protocols were in place. This, he said, was because the management of the facility, supported by the two ministries, had made “good attempts” to ensure that the protocols were established.

He pointed out that institutions such as nursing homes, infirmaries and prisons will always present challenges in the fight against COVID-19 due to the confined spaces as well as the age and health conditions of individuals in these institutions. He noted that prior to the Golden Age Home outbreak there had only been a small number of cases in these types of facilities.

“To my mind, there was a fairly good set-up in terms of the infrastructure... That is an important requirement but not the only requirement to reduce or eliminate the possibility of the virus coming in,” said Tufton. “A lot depends on how the infrastructure is used... The truth is that a lot depends on the management of the institution to ensure that the infrastructure is utilised, and the protocols in terms of the behaviours — both for residents and for employees — are adhered to in the strictest form. Even when you adhere to all the protocols there is always still the possibility that the virus can take hold, because it only takes an improper wearing of the mask, and then touching it and then touching a surface.”

According to the health ministry, the last inspection of the Golden Age Home was done on September 28.

McKenzie, whose ministry has oversight for infirmaries, stressed that measures had been put in place to test their residents more than once, and he pointed to a potential weakness somewhere in the system despite their best efforts.

He said that the relevant agencies have been ensuring that the facilities are resourced, but pointed out that these measures would not have been able to detect — and prevent transmission from — someone with the virus but who is not displaying symptoms.

“It is going to be difficult to police every area of the infirmaries, despite our best effort... It is clear that the individual who started the transmission would not have shown any signs. Based on the discussions with the management, everything was done to try to [address] the weaknesses in the system,” he asserted.

Tufton advised that a review of the existing protocols for these facilities has been ordered, and that the ministry could ramp up random testing, particularly in vulnerable institutions, to ensure that it becomes aware of infections before clusters emerge.

He said the authorities are taking this development seriously and that the ministry will be beefing up its cadre of public health inspectors, as well as the frequency of visits to these facilities in order to stave off any recurrence of a similar situation.

He added that residents of the Golden Age Home who have tested positive have been isolated and are to be monitored by medical personnel, while staff members have been advised to isolate at home. In the meantime, the ministry says it is fast-tracking the testing of the remaining 428 residents and 162 staff members. That is to be done two days. The health minister noted that the affected residents are asymptomatic at this time except for a 73 year old who was the initial case. That individual has been admitted to a medical facility.

Restrictions are also being tightened to prevent spread, the government officials advised. According to the local government minister, as his team carries out its own probe into the outbreak, all infirmaries are being put on high alert. There are 214 nursing homes islandwide, 106 of which are operational and have been inspected, McKenzie said. He noted that 95 have met the requirements, and the health ministry is working with the remaining 116 to meet prevention standards.


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