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Powers broadened for public health officers

A public health officer or environmental health officer with “reasonable grounds” to suspect someone is potentially infectious with COVID-19 can direct the person to immediately go for screening; the officer can also request a member of the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) to physically remove the individual “to a place suitable for screening and assessment” if need be.

Similarly, public health and environmental health officers stationed at screening and assessment locations can direct an individual to remain at the location for 72 hours, which can be enforced by a Police Officer to keep the person in place.

These and other new powers are granted to public health and environmental health officers through the Public Health (COVID-19) Regulations of the Public Health Act. The regulations went into effect on September 16, replacing the Emergency Powers regulations that had been repeatedly revised over the past seven months.   Officer in charge of community relations Superintendent Vannie Curwen,  speaking at the September 29 RGPF press briefing, referred to the “significant authority” the regulations give to officials from the Ministry of Health to manage the coronavirus pandemic going forward.

It is expected such response in potentially infectious cases will require Police Officers to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Jessmon Prince, speaking at the press briefing, noted that because of the high level of compliance when there were active COVID-19 cases in Grenada, members of the Force did not have the chance to dress in PPE. He said officers must be prepared to be “fully clad” in PPE “if we had to physically handle a person.”

Police Officers are responsible for serving infectious and potentially infections persons who fail to adhere to quarantine and other directives with a penalty notice, as stated in Section 14 of the Public Health (COVID-19) Regulation.

“Where a police officer has reason to believe that a person has committed an offence specified under regulation 14 (2), the police officer may direct the person to state his or her true name and place of residence and serve upon the person a fixed penalty.”

A person placed in quarantine has to be tested within 72 hours by a public health or environmental health officer, who has the authority to revoke a quarantine order or extend an isolation period.

Public health and environmental health officers can allow a healthcare professional to take a biological sample from a potentially infectious person and require the individual to answer questions with information about health, travel history and others with whom he or she may have had physical contact. The regulations define a healthcare professional as a registered health practitioner; a registered nurse; or “such other registered healthcare professional as may be designated by Order by the Minister.”

If the screening proves positive or inconclusive, public health and environmental health officers can request the person have further screening and assessment at a specified place and remain there in isolation for a “specified period” not exceeding 14 days, taking into consideration a “person’s wellbeing and personal circumstances.” The individual is required to “install on all mobile devices as far as possible and, for the duration of a specified period, to comply with the instructions of the surveillance mobile application designated by the Minister.” Officers also have the power to restrict travel movements, business activities and contact with others.

In all instances, the public officer must inform a person of the reasons for imposing a requirement or directive and that it is an offence not to comply.

The regulations state that an “environmental health officer (is) employed or contracted by the Government and designated to discharge functions under these Regulations by Chief Medical Officer.” The Grenadian Voice askedPermanent Secretary Dr Francis Martin how many environmental health officers are employed and of those how many are on contract, as well as how many public health officers are employed. He advised the Ministry has 10 environmental health officers.


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