Minister of Health and Social Security Hon Nickolas Steele warns that many Grenadians, including frontline workers, are experiencing “battle fatigue” in the fight against the coronavirus and we are “dropping our guard” at our own peril.
While acknowledging that frontline teams continue to work tirelessly 24/7 in maintaining border controls, monitoring, inspecting and keeping persons in quarantine, there are individuals and groups under quarantine who continue to breach established protocols and guidelines.
The battle fatigue among frontline workers is resulting in shortfalls, which the Ministry of Health acknowledges, adjusts to and immediately corrects, he assured at Wednesday’s post Cabinet press briefing.
“We do recognise that there will be shortfalls and there will be breaches,” he said, referring to the three levels of control which are “not perfect;” namely border control, contact tracing and, most importantly, the wider community adhering to protocols of wearing masks, hand sanitising and social distancing.
Minister Steele provided an update on the situation with a medical doctor and his wife who arrived in Grenada on November 1 from the United States. They were granted permission to quarantine at their home, but ignored the protocols, left their home and visited four restaurants.
“The assumption of the team that a medical doctor, a retired experienced medical doctor, could be trusted to home quarantine cannot be criticised at that point in time,” he said, adding that “on hindsight we would have liked to have a different decision.”
The Minister acknowledged that a GPS device/tracking watch was not placed on the individual as is mandated by protocols and legislation. He said the Ministry was unaware of this, as a third party service provider is responsible for ensuring this was done. The service provider has since been asked to strengthen his resources and his abilities or find an alternative means to carry out his responsibilities.
He also acknowledged that the GPS devices previously used are faulty. Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Lucia and the British Virgin Islands have worked together to source new devices that are expected to arrive this week.
“These new devices address some of the shortfalls we have seen, not just here in Grenada but in other Caribbean islands as well in that all stakeholders will be monitoring the device,” including the Ministry’s health wardens, the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF), the provider of the device and the Chief Medical Officer.
The doctor had a negative test before arriving in Grenada, a negative test at the Maurice Bishop International Airport and was scheduled to be tested on the fourth day of his quarantine. The man was swabbed on Thursday, November 5 with tests results expected on Friday or Saturday.
“On Friday evening at 8:15 the health desk was in contact with the individual informing him we did not have test results for his second test,” Minister Steele said. That evening the doctor left his home with his partner and visited a restaurant. Without receiving any test results, on the following day the couple visited three more restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Contact tracers and health wardens confirmed the doctor was at his home on Saturday evening when the Ministry of Health was trying to reach him.
“However, we were unable to reach him,” Minister Steele explained, and it was then that his residence was placed under 24-hour surveillance. The doctor remained in his residence and early Sunday morning the Ministry informed him of the positive test results, at which time they learned of the four restaurants he had visited. As a result, 38 persons have been placed in quarantine with their testing to begin today.
“At that point we will know how many, if any, were fully exposed to the virus and possibly caught the virus from this incident,” Minister Steele said.
He confirmed that the medical doctor is an alumnus of St George’s University (SGU). The university issued a press release on Wednesday stating that none of the recently reported confirmed cases are SGU employees, faculty or students of the True Blue campus.
When asked why the Ministry included the fact that Case #31 is a medical doctor when all previous announcements of confirmed cases did not include information about a person’s profession or occupation, Minister said the determination is made on each case as to what is in the public’s best interest and to assist with contact tracing.
“In this instance, I would say also that because this individual was home quarantined, the Ministry felt it necessary up front, I felt it necessary up front, to explain to the Grenadian public what was our thought process in giving this individual the privilege of home quarantine.” When asked if the doctor is an American, the Minister said that is a question for “further on down” and as far as he is aware, the person is not a citizen of Grenada, which gives the RGPF “certain options to pursue.”
Three of the four restaurants that the couple visited had maintained confidential logs with the names, addresses and phone numbers of staff and everyone visiting their premises, which enabled contact tracers to find anyone who may have been exposed. However, one restaurant violated the protocols and did not maintain a visitors’ log.
“Therefore the risk is considered to be quite high” for exposure, he added, noting that managers and staff who fail to adhere to the protocols are the first to be infected, in most instances.
With no log of visitors, contact tracing must depend on memory of the staff as to who visited the restaurant, which is more time consuming, Chief Medical Officer Dr Shawn Charles told reporters. The Ministry currently has a team of 117 persons working in districts as health wardens and/or contact tracers, some of whom are serving as both. The Minister added that the health wardens are delegates of the Chief Medical Officer, which gives them authority to inspect accommodation sites and private homes. The Minister said they are required to visit every approved accommodation site every other day, as they also have to visit private homes.
Minister Steele pointed out there have been other instances in which people give a fake name and number to businesses, which means these people would not know they are infected and, if they are, will infect others.