No need to panic
Health minister urges calm as country enters fifth wave of coronavirus pandemic

JAMAICANS are being urged not to panic, now that it is confirmed that the country is in the fifth wave of a surge of COVID-19 cases, but should continue to maintain some form of normality in the face of moderately rising infection numbers.

Outlining the epidemiological data at a press briefing on Wednesday, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton stated, “This is not a signal to panic although we must be mindful to protect ourselves against the virus…while there has to be some comparisons we must not see each (wave) as the same. It’s not a reason to be complacent, but in this wave we are seeing less severe illnesses, less deaths, less hospitalisation and when we have suspected cases, or even confirmed cases, the stay in hospital is normally less. The trend is suggesting that discharges are just below admissions, so the net effect of that is we are holding somewhat in terms of hospitalisations, even with the high increase in positivity. Let’s try to maintain some level of normality because it’s important, but don’t be complacent.”

The country saw 147 new cases up to Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases since March 2020 to 133,250. There was one death in February, and another in April, marking a total of 3,013 persons who have perished as a result of symptoms associated with the disease. Three hundred and thirty-three of those deaths are still under investigation.

The seven-day positivity rate remains high, at 25.6 per cent, and the increase in transmission is being attributed to the Omicron variant, and the increasing presence of its sub-variant – BA2 – in the population.

National epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster Kerr explained that the data shows a modest increase in the number of COVID-19 patients who are moderately to severely ill, with the majority of persons having mild symptoms. She stressed that the positivity rate is not as sharp as with previous waves of the virus, and that the pressure on the health system is at medium level for admissions, which are fluctuating at this time.

As of the May 17, 79 people who tested positive are in hospital isolation, in addition to another 94 suspected cases in those institutions. There is one critically ill individual, two severe and 15 moderately ill.

Director of health services planning Dr Naydene Williams said there has been a de-escalation of the number of beds assigned for COVID cases because of reassignment to general use. She noted that cumulatively the four health regions have less than 75 per cent bed occupancy, although there are higher rates in the southern and western region in some hospitals.

“So what we have here is that generally our COVID hospitalisations are very modest, even though they have been an increase in the number of persons hospitalised,” she stressed.

At the same time, she advised that some field hospitals, including at St Josephs in St Andrew, have been closed. The field hospital at the Spanish Town Hospital remains in use.

In the meantime, COVID-19 vaccination levels remain too low to have any effect on the transmission rate of the virus, with only 29.1 per cent of the population having taken at least one dose of a vaccine, and 25.4 per cent being fully vaccinated.

A total of 1.43 million doses have been administered since March last year; 593,866 of them second doses and 100,100 single doses (Johnson & Johnson). Another 696,700 have received their second dose.

The health ministry said unvaccinated people continue to make up the vast majority of those who are hospitalised after contracting COVID-19, with only 1.5 per cent, or 37 out of 2,463 persons who have died from COVID complications since last March 2021, being fully vaccinated.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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