The Cayman Islands Hospital will soon have the capacity to test up to 500 people a day for the coronavirus.
A consignment of 165,000 COVID-19 test kits arrived in Cayman Wednesday morning from South Korea. The remaining 35,000 tests out of the US$4.4 million order will arrive via London at a later date.
Governor Martyn Roper said securing the tests, which are in short supply around the world, would enable Cayman to adopt a new approach to tackling the coronavirus.
“This puts us in a position to step up our testing – up to 500 a day. That is a key part of our strategy now for suppressing this virus and hopefully being able to relax and open up at some point in the future,” the governor said at a press briefing Wednesday.
There were no new results to announce at the briefing. Cayman has reported 45 positive cases since the crisis began.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said the Health Services Authority lab was being used Wednesday to check the new test kits.
Though there is now no shortage of kits, Lee said, there were limitations around the capacity of the lab. He said a ‘clinical panel’ had approved a strategy of more widespread testing, but it would take time to ramp up.
“We will loosen the ability for us to test and move away form World Health Organization recommendations to test more widely,” he said.
The WHO has a recommended protocol to help medics decide who to test, if there are limitations on capacity. But the organisation recommends ‘testing, testing, testing’ as a strategy for countries that have the ability to do so.
The new shipment opens up that possibility for Cayman and frontline workers will soon be able to get tested for the virus.
Lee cautioned it would not be an overnight transition and suggested it would take around 10 days for the Cayman Islands Hospital lab to be ready to process 500 tests every day.
“200,000 or 165,000 tests would challenge any laboratory. Clearly you can’t pass that through in a week. There is a finite length of time for any test to be done, especially when you pay attention to the quality assurance that must be done to get these tests right.”
He said there was also a lack of expert technicians to process the tests, and training was taking place to build capacity.
“At the moment we can do 150 tests a day, with improvements on that side we should be able to push that up to around 500 a day…”
Lee added that CTMH Doctors Hospital should get clearance shortly to open its own testing lab.
Of the COVID-19 cases announced in Cayman so far, five are fully recovered and five are considered clinically recovered but have yet to test negative for the virus. He said 19 people are showing some symptoms, including one person in hospital, and 15 are asymptomatic. One person, an Italian cruise ship visitor who was diagnosed after recovering from a heart attack, has died from the coronavirus.
The next batch of results is likely to be announced Thursday.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said it had been a tremendous collaborative effort to bring the tests to Cayman and thanked the governor in particular for helping to make it happen.
At Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing, the premier also confirmed that a shipment of medical supplies, including eight ventilators and 50,000 masks, that had been ordered from the US, had been stopped from coming to Cayman under a new federal policy preventing the export of such equipment.
He said this was a “huge disappointment” and government was going through all diplomatic channels to address the issue.
The premier confirmed that local schools would not reopen at the end of April as originally planned, saying they would likely be the last institutions to open.
He also confirmed that no additional shopping days would be added because of the Easter break. Supermarkets will be closed Good Friday but will be open Easter Monday. The premier acknowledged that this would mean those in the A-K category could not shop between the end of Wednesday and Monday, but said this should be manageable.
There will be no press briefing on Good Friday or Easter Sunday.
Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Derek Byrne said compliance with the curfew remained generally good and a new ticketing system will come into effect next week.
The Cayman Islands is operating under a fluctuating soft and hard curfew to contain the spread of the virus. The hard curfew, now in place from 7pm to 5am and all day Sunday, limits movement to essential workers only.
The soft curfew restricts movement during the daylight hours while allowing people limited freedom to visit the supermarket or pharmacy or to exercise.
As of this week, further limits are in place. Anyone with the surname beginning A-K is only allowed to go to the supermarket, bank or gas station on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
The L-Z group is able to do the same on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Exceptions are made for 90 minutes of exercise, which is still allowed every day except Sunday, as well as for trips to the pharmacy or medical facility.
Police now have the power to issue on-the-spot tickets for breaches of the soft curfew. Penalties range from $250 for failing to maintain six-feet social distance in a public space, to $500 for supermarket shopping outside of people’s allotted day, and up to $750 for opening a business without exemption. Byrne said there were still logistics to sort out and ticketing would not start until next week Tuesday.
- With reporting by Reshma Ragoonath