Cayman Islands has embarked on the first phase of a mass COVID-19 testing campaign.
The outcome will provide the basis for decision-making on whether and how the government relaxes the public gathering restrictions in the coming weeks.
Over the next two weeks, it’s expected that over a thousand people will be screened and tested for the virus starting with medical staff and other frontline workers, hospital in-patients and prison inmates.
A key aspect of phase one of the exercise will be testing those persons displaying symptoms as well as those who are classified as asymptomatic and are not displaying any signs of having contracted the virus.
The recent arrival of a shipment of medical supplies including testing kits ordered from South Korea by the government is kickstarting the campaign.
Chief Medical Officer, Dr John Lee said “all current admissions to the hospitals as inpatients will be screened, all staff, frontline healthcare staff, people presenting with respiratory symptoms (or anyone referred by their doctor), all prisoners and prison staff” will be included in the first stage.
He said 400 hundred samples have already been taken with those results expected by the end of this week, adding that they hope to have completed over 1,000 tests island wide over the next two weeks.
Regarding persons who have tested positive - to date 66 - Dr Lee said he was confident that they were abiding by the requirements to stay at home in cases where they have not been hospitalised.
He reassured that there are people who have been required to quarantine in a government-supervised facility and reported that they have complied with the government request to do so.
“For most people, they are complying well with our request and we have tabs on them so to speak, not only Public Health but we have a broader range of tools to see if there are concerns and we are exercising those. But in the main, we are happy that people are complying.”
Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin said the outcome of the testing programme would significantly influence the government’s decision on lifting the ongoing restrictions.
“By this time next week, we will have a taken about a thousand samples, quite how many of those will have processed I can’t say, but there will be a significant number.”
On what the results are expected to indicate, the Premier pointed out that “because we are dealing with frontline staff, we should get a real indication of the prevalence of this virus in the community.”
But Mr McLaughlin said, “One of the great fears is that a significant percentage of people who do contract the virus are asymptomatic…in many cases they won’t even know they have it but they pass it on to other people some of whom react very badly.”
Because of that, he said, “the only way to know who has it is to do a test.”
The Premier also said: “We believe that will give us a pretty good idea of where we are in terms of risk and will allow us to make an assessment about what we can and what we should and should not be doing in terms of furthering or lessening the restrictions."
Hon. Minister of Health Dwayne Seymour welcomed the expanded testing regime as “great news for Cayman.”
He said the results would enable the government to “better understand how the community is being affected by this coronavirus.”
Adding that “to be forewarned is to be forearmed,” Mr Seymour said “this is only the first phase of testing. As time goes on the plan will be expanded to include more of the community including people who face the public on a daily basis like supermarket workers.”
He said there has been a collaborative effort between the public and private doctors and nurses from both primary care in the hospitals.
The Health Minister said he applauded this joint approach against what he called “this national threat”.
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