Experts cite possible correlation between election campaign and COVID-19 jump

Experts cite possible correlation between election campaign and COVID-19 jump

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, September 18, 2020

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PUBLIC health experts say there could be some correlation between Wednesday record 210 COVID-19 cases within a day, and campaign activities for the September 3 General Election, but noted that the situation had begun to snowball prior to that.

Professor of public health, epidemiology and HIV/AIDS at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, Dr Peter Figueroa, said the spike and election campaign activities can be connected to the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases which the country is now seeing.

“However, the problem goes back before that because the strategy followed when we reopened [borders], nothing was wrong with the handling of the reopening, but the preparation was inadequate and the people got a mixed message,” he said.

Dr Figueroa explained that firstly there was some degree of satisfaction that the initial restriction measures had stemmed the tide because the Government took decisive measures, alongside the hard work of the public health teams with contact tracing, but with the opening, the country was not adequately prepared.

However, he said swept up in that success was a belief that COVID was under control.“Many people thought we had managed to control it without realising it was inevitable that we were going to get cases coming back into the country and beginning to have spread. There wasn't adequate preparation and people were getting a mixed message because on one hand they were hearing wash your hands, wear your masks, sanitise and physically distance but we weren't always seeing that behaviour in the leaders,” he said.

Furthermore, he said, a significant number of residents continued to return to the island from North America, where there was an explosion of cases. Cooked with that, he said, the local authorities were not able to sustain testing at the airports as well as being slow out of the blocks with the requirement for people to provide pretest results for entry.

He pointed out, too, that there were also issues with the JamCOVID app not functioning efficiently. “The app was not automatically taking the lab test results back to the health staff, so there were challenges. The initial reopening strategy meant it was only a matter of time before we got reintroduction of significant spread in Jamaica which was aggravated by the activities around Independence, nomination day, and the election campaign, so we are now in a major surge where in the wake... we will have more hospitalisations and more deaths, unfortunately,” he said.

President of the Medical Association of Jamaica Dr Andrew Manning, meanwhile, told the Jamaica Observer that while close contact activities such as those related to the election must be considered a factor in the spread of COVID-19, this would not be the only cause. He pointed out that the country is in fact in its second wave of the virus outbreak as the numbers had been escalating over the past several weeks, entering community spread phase prior to, or around the time of activities related to the polls.

Professor Winston Davidson also believes it is reasonable to connect the dots between the highest number of cases recorded — since Jamaica had its first case of the virus in March — and general election activities which tapered off two weeks ago.“There is correlation between the national community mobilisation that took place during the re-election and the election period,” he stated.

Still, public health specialist and telemedicine research pioneer Professor Winston Davidson said this does not fully explain the skyrocketing numbers, as the issue goes back at last four months. Like Dr Figueroa he pointed to the re-entry programme.“What is clear is the the public health infrastructure and the system put in place to manage the pandemic had been succeeding [but] what happened during the period of the summer and after the success was evident to everyone is that the system was loosened or became a bit slack.

Persons coming from the US came in their numbers and the first thing that was noticeable was that they didn't in fact conform with the public health measures and there was a loosening the extent that it was inevitable,” he stated.

Professor Davidson pointed out that the public health system lacked the resources for early detection at the time and added to that there were challenges with tracking and tracing.He asserted that, “This got out of hand during the summer and this increase was also seen along a corridor where the movement of people and personnel was more prevalent and we see the manifestation of that in the communities adjacent to these corridors.

It is, therefore, no surprise that after you had a declaration of the period of the election, it is inevitable that with the greatest will in the world you would not be able to control the extended movement of people.”

The experts said that regardless of the contributors to the current spike, controlling the spread is still the responsibility of each Jamaican.Dr Figueroa said it is critical that people realise that each individual must take personal measures to protect themselves and others.He said this means wearing a mask, and maintaining the recommended physical distance, along with the other safety protocols. “You can't tell by looking who has it. Someone could have it and not know.”

He stressed that the disease is highly contagious within the first week of onset.“It appears that once people are exposed they are infectious for one to three days before they develop symptoms, and they tend to be highly infectious just before they develop symptoms and then during the first week of having symptoms they are highly infectious,” said Dr Figueroa.

Professor Davidson added that “the blame has to go not only to the Government but every Jamaican who has the responsibility to adhere to the scientific principles by the public health personnel”.

Meanwhile, he warned that public health capacity needs to be strengthened to manage the outbreak through the Ministry of Health in cooperation with the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development.He insisted that the health ministry must work very closely with the institutional capacity provided by the parish councils and the parish medical systems in order to have the best impact through the public health infrastructure.

Professor Davidson argued that without this community capacity the authorities will not be able to get on top of the explosive spread of COVID-19, which is now at large in the population.


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