Countering the effects of the Coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic was the topic of a small community discussion on West Bay district, from the Seven Mile Beach to all the respective communities, as more than 30 residents attended a recent gathering called by Speaker McKeeva Bush, including fellow MLA and Health Ministry Councillor Eugene Ebanks, and others, to review the situation.
The district’s elected representatives shared information and answered questions from a range of community leaders, including District Community Development Officer Vanda Powery, even as senior government officials and a range of key government agencies continued meeting.
While Minister Tara Rivers was still engaged in a separate meeting, there were representatives from her office as well, in addition to former government Minister Rolston Anglin – who now sits on the Health Services Authority (HSA) Board.
Opening the forum, Mr. Bush said, “This is a major crisis, for it really affects all of human life, and this is the most worrying aspect. This poses a threat to the economic well-being of the country, and we will take a hit. Especially small businesses, which are the strength of the community.”
Apart from the serious health implications, the other concerns expressed by those present included unemployment, commercial activities, banking, health services and insurance arrangements. Many are employed in the tourism industry, which is a mainstay on the West Bay corridor.
“As good community members, we can provide a good forum for the work that has to be done, especially from a civic standpoint. Government will do its part, but we can only do so much, we need helping hands; I am especially concerned about the vulnerable sick, elderly and shut-ins across our three Islands,” added Mr. Bush. “However, while this threatens our way of life, good Caymanian common sense can prevail – and must prevail!”
He said that there are several existing groups and councils already engaged in the process, and that the civil service is “really on the ball” - making positive impacts in areas of strategic concern.
Participants fielded issues such as possible payment abatements for laid-off workers: “There are many who are living paycheck to paycheck,” shared one attendee. A tourism worker said, “We’re all going to need some kind of bailout.”
Mr. Bush then called for remarks from Mr. Anglin, who was appointed to the HSA board in September 2018. Mr. Anglin encouraged calm, conscious measures: “We each need to stay in-tune with our own bodies, look out for key symptoms, and call the Flu Helpline if there are questions or suspicions. But - we’re trying to keep people from visiting the hospital unnecessarily.”
“The HSA has taken an aggressive stance against this pandemic, and no-one who presents with any inkling of this virus will be turned away”, he stated. All residents will receive free testing where necessary, health insurance companies will cover COVID 19 related issues and the Cayman Islands Government will cover any remain under- or uninsured expenses.
Sharing that “There are just so many considerations,” Anglin noted that an initial order of 400 C-19 test kits are now on-island. In the interim, local tests are being shipped to regional labs for determinations – which can take up to a week. “Once we can do testing here, this will reduce to 24 to 48 hours.”
“Health City has seen what COVID 19 looks like, and they are constantly sharing indicators and other information with the HSA,” he added. “This couldn’t have come at a worse time, as we were in the process of major upgrades. For instance, we recently occupied new offices in the Smith Road Centre.”
Outlining some of the strategies being implemented by HSA, he explained that the national hospital has a plan to establish a flu clinic, and to have plans on how to accommodate mild to serious cases. Mr. Anglin assured attendees the HSA’s CEO Lizette Yearwood and her team were being proactive in their preparations.
While the West Bay attendees speculated on the need for more hospital beds, Mr. Anglin explained that the HSA team is working cooperatively with other facilities to serve the public. “The big question is, ‘What do we do if even more capacity is needed?’”. To that end, he shared, the HSA has reached out to tourism properties, as a strategy preferred to converting open community centers. “The potential challenge will be how to isolate and separate people.”
Even so, the HSAs staffing levels are another concern. As a result, the CEO earlier announced restrictions on staff travel. “We need to hunker down and keep as many of our people here as possible,” said Mr. Anglin.
He emphasized that residents with suspected C-19 should not go to General Practice or to the district clinics for attendance – but only to the HSA’s Emergency Care Unit. For detailed information, residents may call the Flu Helpline at 1(800)534-8600.
Councillor Capt. Eugene Ebanks also fielded questions, and shared that there are ongoing high-level meetings between CIG and banks, insurance providers, utility-service providers and other businesses - which are “very receptive to the measures being undertaken.” He added that CIG will try to assist parents who need special help. “This is a crisis the likes of which the world has never seen, and we are prepared to deal with as many circumstances as possible. Government is prepared to do what it must!”
As has been reported, commercial shipping imports are not expected to be impacted, except where there are supplier shortages, schools are on a 60-day shutdown effective Friday, some travel bans are already in place, cruise lines will not be calling as a voluntary decision, and public gatherings of 50 people or more are prohibited under emergency legislation.
Mr. Bush added that there are plans to set up a West Bay COVID 19 Response Committee once he consults with other colleagues. He thanked participants of their constructive feedback, and said that, in addition to sharing info with the various area groups and committees, he also expects to establish a formal means of keeping residents updated.