Anxious but calm


Anxious but calm

Front-line health care workers prepared should coronavirus get to Jamaica

Senior staff reporter

Sunday, February 16, 2020

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FRONT-LINE health care workers are reporting that they are calm despite feeling anxious about the possibility of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) being confirmed on our shores.

Dr Ernestine Watson, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Jamaica (PSJ), said while there is anxiety among pharmacists, it is not to the point where it can cause panic.

“Of course there is the human aspect of it, where we will be taking extra precaution. However, we do understand that the coronavirus is currently not in the region and we want to ensure that it doesn't enter into the region,” she said.

Dr Watson went on to explain that in order to allay panic or anxiety, being informed is key, and subsequently, the PSJ has been disseminating information about the virus to its members with emphasis on practising standard protective health measures.

“So, for example, ensuring that you do the things that are recommended by the WHO (World Health Organization), CDC (Centers for Disease Control)... to ensure that you avoid contact with any person who comes into the pharmacy with a cough or any of the relevant symptoms of the virus,” Dr Watson said.

However, she asserted that health care workers are dependent on the Government to ensure the various points of entry to the island are properly manned.

In addition, she said, proper hand-washing is being encouraged and pharmacists are being urged to be vigilant should they suspect someone may have the virus.

“If you come into contact with persons who exhibit symptoms, we advise that they would have gloves and medical masks available so they can use it in case. Also, if a patient comes in and there is any suspicion, you want to ensure that the patient is isolated and call the emergency centre so that the patient would be sent there,” she said.

Other concerns include the availability of protective gear. In a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer, infectious disease specialist Dr Tamara Thompson had pointed out that one of the main concerns of front-line workers at hospitals stems from whether they have the appropriate personal protective gear such as gowns, goggles, gloves, and face masks to protect themselves should they come face-to-face with individuals who are infected.

“Workers want to know if there are measures in place to quickly diagnose individuals and quarantine individuals. As we become more and more aware of the outbreak we started putting our own measures in place locally slowly we're beginning to see workers becoming a little bit more relaxed. In addition, the Ministry of Health [and Wellness] has begun sensitisation workshops and provided interim guidance for doctors on the front line,” she said.

Consequently, Dr Watson said regarding the availability of protective gear for health care workers, there is adequate supply.

“Right now, there is a shortage of medical masks on the market, however, we have been assured that for persons in the front-line practice, the public system has sufficient to support and protect front-line staff. The public sector has emergency equipment masks, robes, gloves they have in the public system,” she said.

But where the issue lies, according to Dr Watson, is with the general public who may want to buy such supplies for their own protection.

“That's where they have a shortage [and] it's not just in Jamaica we have a shortage, it's worldwide,” she said, while noting that wearing a mask without practising proper hygiene is useless.

Continuing on the concerns of doctors, another medic was not convinced and asked a number of pointed questions.

“Where are you going to quarantine patients? How many hospitals have isolation rooms in their emergency departments and in the hospital itself? How many isolation beds are there? How are they going to transport these patients? When you have overcrowded emergency rooms where people are sitting in wheelchairs for days, how are you going to screen persons and isolate them if they come with respiratory symptoms?” he asked.

“Everybody who works in health knows there are no answers to these questions which are satisfactory,” the medical doctor charged.

So far, St Joseph's Hospital has been designated as a quarantine facility for Jamaicans who are returning from China and have not started showing symptoms of the deadly coronavirus. The individuals who have been quarantined will be kept in the facility for 14 days as required by the protocol. During the period, they will be observed and assessed for coronavirus.

In terms of isolation, at a recent press conference chief medical officer in the Ministry of Health and Wellness Dr Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie said every hospital has the ability to accommodate the patients for 24 to 72 hours, before transferring them to National Chest Hospital, which is the designated isolation area.

“We have two beds at that area and then we also have other facilities at the University Hospital of the West Indies where we have additional beds. We are now exploring the other facilities [and] as you can imagine, most of our facilities for managing patients are open doors and so we have to look very carefully at these facilities to ensure, whichever area that we select, it meets the requirements. So right now we have the National Chest that is ready, as well as the University Hospital, and we are exploring others we can use just in case we need them,” Bisasor McKenzie said.

Further, Carmen Johnson, president of the Nurses Association of Jamaica, told the Sunday Observer that while the island's nurses remain on alert and prepared for COVID-19, the main concern is whether they are willing to sacrifice their lives.

“They are willing to work, but they are not willing to sacrifice their lives because they have family members, they have their parents, they have their children, they have their spouses whom they have to care for. Some of them are the breadwinners of their family. Some of them are single parents. So though they are willing to work, they want to ensure that they, too, are protected and in the event that anything should happen to them they would be adequately cared for,” she said.

Besides the general concerns, Johnson encouraged fellow nurses to continue educating themselves about the novel coronavirus and practising proper hygiene.

“Our infection control nurses [and] our service education officers within the health institutions ought to be educating themselves, ought to be educating the other nurses and the other health care workers within the facility so we would not have a level of panic if it should come into one facility. We encourage persons, both within the health care delivery system and the general populace, to ensure we practice proper hand-washing technique. Do it regularly, after we go to the bathroom, touch anywhere,” she said.

“I am also saying to the public, those who operate establishments, work out a plan to ensure that your door knobs or your surfaces where persons come in regularly to touch are sanitised on a regular basis. The normal surgical mask is not so protective of it because if you wear it for long, you start breathing, it becomes moist, things can pass through it. Therefore, we practise our hand washing. Let us be cognisant and educate ourselves and we continue to hope we won't get it here.”

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