Playing Russian roulette with COVID-19

Playing Russian roulette with COVID-19

Glenn Tucker

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

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It took 99 days for the United States to record its first million COVID-19 cases. It took 48 days to record its second million. It took 23 days to record its third million, and just 16 days to pass four million. Do I see five million?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Interpretation of Cumulative Death Forecasts is based on forecasts from 32 modelling groups — 30 provide forecasts of both new and total COVID-19 deaths, one provides forecast of new deaths only, and one provides a forecast of total deaths only. Recent national ensemble forecasts predict that weekly reports of the new COVID-19 deaths may increase over the next month, with 5,000 to 11,000 new deaths reported during the week ending August 22. The ensemble forecast predicts that 168,000 to 182,000 total COVID-19 deaths will be reported by August 22.

A few days ago I checked some other countries and attempted to compare their progress with the United States. France and Germany had no new cases that day. China, with 18 per cent of the world's population, recorded 43 deaths that day. Our neighbour to the north, the United States, with just 4.2 per cent of the world's population, recorded 48,869 new cases that day and accounted for 25 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths. Because of the limited testing and tracing done there, and a policy from the White House that only people who tested positive for the virus should be classified as dying from COVID-19, many COVID-19-suspected deaths are being attributed to other ailments like asthma, flu, lung infection, etc. So deaths from this virus are suspected to be much higher than reported.

I felt this information would be useful to readers because the overwhelming number of our cases are Jamaicans returning from that country. Also, a significant number of the other cases were infected by them.

Earlier this year the Government was pilloried for its apparent tardiness about admitting people back into the country. I supported the Government's position, but since no one knows where I live, I was safe.

I am concerned, however, that this Government's habit of being calm and respectful to us is being interpreted as 'softness'. They do not raise their voices and seem to have not even one expletive in their vocabulary. This is worrying, because that is what catches our attention. The reality is that — thanks to an absence of leadership — the virus 'get weh' from the US and the will to do what is necessary to bring it under control does not exist.

Trump was hoping to campaign on a strong economy. It is in tatters, and recovery cannot begin if businesses are closed. So sickness and deaths be damned, he wants everyone to go back to work and children in schools so that his campaign for a second term can take off. His actions and words reveal that he really couldn't care less how many people die. Here we cannot forget that the deaths are disproportionally among the working class and people of colour.

But this is the condition of that country that is feeding a steady stream of COVID-19 spreaders into this country. And many here are not taking the pandemic seriously because the instructions are conveyed in a respectful manner.

And what is the situation here? There are a number of areas that are ripe for spreading. It is no mistake that some of the first places where shutdowns are ordered in other jurisdictions are bars and other places of entertainment. That's because they are major spreaders of the virus. The potential 'super spreader' in Jamaica is the minibus. I have observed them in action. Masks are not mandatory. Occupying all the seats is not satisfactory. The added seats in the passage and beside the driver have to be filled before the journey starts. That may take 30 minutes. Imagine a 'spreader' fresh from the US, ignoring the rules and taking a bus at Parade headed for Lawrence Tavern. Some passengers (victims) disembark at Half-Way-Tree and their spaces are taken by a fresh set of potential victims. The same thing happens along Constant Spring Road, Cassava Piece, Manor Park, Stony Hill, Golden Spring, and Temple Hall. All passengers, maybe some 50 people, would get a hearty dose of the virus into their systems and on their clothes, because this virus moves around very efficiently. How long would it take for the excellent work the Ministry of Health has done on containment to count for nothing? So how is this problem to be monitored? Did I hear the police? Well, I watched a 'ductor' stuffing two more passengers into a loaded bus and, asked about the likelihood of the police seeing his bus so full, he was dismissive: “…Police? No man, dem nah chubble we. Dem realise we jus a help out a situation…”

I have neither the clothes nor the 'pocket' to attend some of these hot, nocturnal events, but I asked someone to keep me apprised about social distancing and police operations, if any, on one of these well-advertised occasions where at least three of these recent returnees who should be in quarantine had planned a “link up”. At 1:10 am, I got a call. I could not hear. The music was too loud, leaving me picturing everyone there shouting (spreading) to be heard. So I suggested she text me:

1:12 am: Car load of P just come in

1:22 am: Box a beer and quart a something carried to P

1:31 am: Soup

2:14 am: Place RAM

2:16 am: One P a wine, LOL, smh

2:20 am: Every P get a big, big plate a food

At 2:21am I asked: Dem pay?

2:25: LOL, You joking, right?

Perhaps the police did what Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton expected them to do. If they did, it was after 4:00 am.

With just a few weeks remaining before schools are scheduled to reopen, there remain a number of questions about the risk COVID-19 poses to children and their role in the transmission of the disease. The latest available data indicates that, while children who are infected with COVID-19 are more likely to be asymptomatic and less likely to experience severe disease, they are capable of transmitting to both their peers and adults. So, if we open ourselves to a situation in which there is widespread community transmission brought on by irresponsible spreaders from the US not being adequately monitored, there is clearly a risk of further spread associated with opening of schools.

My uncle was a businessman in Cuba during the revolution. He had some very interesting and revealing stories to tell. He told me one when I said I could not believe that Cuba was ever an indisciplined society. Immediately after the revolution, he said, Castro converted a number of the mansions into government offices. One in particular seemed to be special to him. It had a magnificent lawn. Castro, born to wealth and privilege, hated to see people destroying the lawn to get to the building. So he sent out instructions that people were to desist from this practice and use the designated footpaths. His instructions were ignored. That Thursday, the order was repeated along with an explanation. Friday morning, it was again ignored. The following Monday, as the first set of people attempted to step on the lawn, they froze. Standing on the roof of the building were soldiers with rifles pointing in their direction. If my uncle is to be believed, that was the last time one of Castro's orders was disobeyed.

Indiscipline is a major epidemic in Jamaican society. Appearing in public places without a mask during this pandemic is just downright disrespectful to others. The Government will have to sacrifice some of its popularity and protect that section of the population that respects rules. They do not deserve to be infected by the unrestrained and ungovernable among us who seem to be winning every decision.

In the meantime, it might be a good idea to provide help and guidance to that hapless minority regarding ways of protecting themselves from the virus; like strengthening their immune system. Many who are aware of the advantages seem to think this means swallowing copious amounts of Vitamin C, Panadol, etc. They need help to understand that they are on the wrong track. A balanced diet, sleep, and exercise go a long way to achieving this goal.

I am struggling to find a nice way to put this. OK, here goes: Our hard-working police need your help to prevent unruly citizens from breaking the rules laid down to fight COVID-19. Therefore, every citizen is asked to identify, isolate, and report anyone breaking the rules and putting the lives of other citizens at risk. Everyone who understands the danger facing us must frown on this reckless behaviour. And, bringing thousands of people from a country that the rest of the developed world has closed its doors to because it continues to play footsie with a deadly disease is just Russian roulette.

Glenn Tucker, MBA, is an educator and a sociologist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or

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