By Staff Writer
The confirmation of two positive COVID-19 cases, one requiring hospitalisation, and both thought to have occurred from sources other than travel, have sent Cayman’s COVID response system into overdrive.
The two cases were officially confirmed on Thursday following Wednesday’s government press conference where it was indicated that Cayman had been fortunate not to have experienced any community spread of the virus.
In an emergency follow-up press conference on Thursday after the news broke, Chief Medical Officer Dr John Lee reported that the health authorities had responded to the situation with an extensive ongoing investigation including contact tracing.
Of the two positive cases one person has been hospitalised for treatment and observation but their condition was not regarded as critical.
Of the 24 primary contacts including four children, none of them had tested positive but have been placed in isolation as a precaution.
The CMO also reported that there was no threat to schools.
With the source of the cases still under investigation, it could not be immediately determined which variant of the virus was responsible.
“Public Health Cayman sprang into action,” the CMO stated, “including reactivating the Respiratory Care Unit.
A number of front-line staff who were in contact with the persons who tested positive have themselves gone into quarantine.
Asked how this came about as they should have been in protective gear with strict medical protocols in place, Dr Lee said that was also being looked into the ensure that it doesn’t reoccur.
While the investigating is ongoing, one of the main concerns is to determine how the two patients contracted the virus.
One growing concern voiced at Wednesday’s press conference and repeated during Thursday’s update is that of breaches of the quarantine regulations.
The Commissioner of Police Derek Byrne in addressing that issue stated that in the majority of instances the violations were caused by residents more than travellers in quarantine.
Noting that Cayman “continues to operate in a relatively safe environment” regarding COVID-19, Commissioner Byrne however observed “an overly relaxed approach to COVID by residents”.
He said the quarantine breaches were largely the result of residents visiting and socialising with persons who are in isolation.
A number of cases are due to go before the court in the coming days where the maximum penalty is CI$10,000 with a possible two-year prison sentence.
Addressing the day’s development, Hon. Premier Wayne Panton said it was reminder that that there will come a point, linked to the eventual reopening of the borders when COVID-19 will be more prevalent in Cayman.
In pressing home the case for vaccination, Mr Panton also urged residents to “take all necessary precautions” to protect themselves including mask-wearing, social distancing and practising good hand hygiene.
He also advised that “out of an abundance of caution” that residents should desist from parties and other large social gatherings for the next 24 hours while the health authorities try to pinpoint the source of the two positive cases.
“According to Premier Panton, “some behaviours may have lapsed” as previously there had been no incidents of the disease in the community, a situation largely attributed to Cayman’s closed borders bubble and strict protocols.
“Today was a test run with real world implications,” Mr Panton stated while saying his administration is committed to keeping Cayman safe.
He praised the health authorities for the quick response saying that the steps taken so far “prove the effectiveness, and efficiency of our plans.”
HE Governor Martyn Roper said he was not surprised about the two cases being seen as community spread. He said it was expected and that there may be more cases in future.
Mr Roper repeated his call for persons to get vaccinated.
“Let’s not panic,” he urged. “The response should be calm and measured.”
Impassioned pleas for persons who have not yet been vaccinated to get their shots came from Hon. Minister of Health Sabrina Turner, reviewing appeals she made just the previous day, and the Hon. Min for Education Juliana O’Connor-Connolly.
Min. Turner announced that in light of today’s developments, plans which were timed to coincide with the reopening timeline have been brought forward.
These include the reactivation of the flu hotline, the flu clinic being reopened on Monday sooner than previously planned, and bringing the Respiratory Care Unit back into operation, as well as restrictions on hospital visits.
She again reassured that the HSA is adequately resourced to deal with emerging situations.
Min. Turner said going forward will require a number of behavioural changes by residents including mask-wearing in public buildings and public transport and school buses, as well businesses being authorised to require face coverings on their premises.
The Health and Wellness minister said these were necessary steps to avoid the “onerous” but necessary lockdowns of 2020 and she appealed to the public to adhere to the protocols.
Education Minister O’Connor-Connolly said she was relieved that the children who were tested were found to be negative. However, they have been taken out of school and placed into home isolation for 14 days but will be able to continue their schoolwork remotely with laptops provided by the government.
She also stated that government funding had been set aside to purchase masks and other safety items for schools.
In a passionate appeal to residents, Min. O’Connor-Connolly also urged people to get vaccinated saying “it is the responsible thing to do.”
CMO Dr John Lee had reported Thursday that the vaccination rate had started increasing after a lull over the past few months.
Premier Wayne Panton said that the outcome of the investigations into these two particular cases could have an impact on government’s reopening plans.
An update is expected by this weekend.