Health authorities still tracing COVID contacts, says Tufton

DR Christopher Tufton has emphasised that the Ministry of Health and Wellness has not abandoned contact tracing, despite the country being in the community transmission phase of the COVID-19 pandemic which makes it extremely difficult to track how individuals are becoming infected with the virus.

The health ministry has also made it clear that, where necessary, it will still effect quarantine measures for communities in the event of significant clusters of novel coronavirus cases.

Since the Government declared that the country had entered the community spread phase in the first week of September, the health ministry has repeatedly stressed that this means the virus is at large in all communities across the island and that it is now extremely difficult to make an epidemiological link from person to person. Based on this development, it has also emphasised that individuals must now double down on personal efforts to avoid infection.

Speaking at the ministry’s COVID Conversations briefing yesterday, Dr Tufton said health teams are now tracing 3,690 contacts throughout the island.

“Contrary to reports, we are still engaged in contact tracing; that is why we have the engagement of additional staff in the field in the form of community health aids. Contact tracing is a critical part of the response, and more so during this phase as we seek to cauterise, as best as possible, any further transmission, once we determine where the positive cases are,” he said.

In the meantime, Chief Medical Officer Dr Jaquiline Bisasor-McKenzie said placing communities under quarantine, where significant clusters of the virus are detected, remains a part of the prevention and control process.

“There is no intervention that is ruled out at this stage…As we continue to monitor the cases, as we discover that there are problems that are specific to areas, then we would still try to wall off those areas. What we are seeing now, for example in Kingston and St Andrew and St Catherine where we are seeing the majority of our cases, [is that] there are several areas that are affected but the cases are sporadic. We are not detecting huge clustering, however, we have quite a number of cases that are under investigation,” she said.

Dr Bisasor-McKenzie said the ministry is trying to expedite that process in order to identify where there are clusters, which would trigger a response.

Meanwhile, Dr Tufton advised that the ministry, in collaboration with the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, is conducting a knowledge, attitudes, practices and behaviours study for further scientific assessment of the COVID-19 situation on the ground.

The health minister also stressed that while the ballooning cases are of concern, the country is doing much better than projected.

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