With limited numbers of laboratory technicians in Cayman, those working daily to churn out COVID-19 test results are starting to feel the pressure from the volume of testing needed for the virus on local shores.

However, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said on Wednesday that government is moving to bolster staffing so government can step up its testing efforts, which will be expanded to screen frontline staff for coronavirus.
“We have been recruiting people able to do it at Health City, as well as having trained extra staff to be able to do that at the HSA, and there are also a couple of potential recruits to work on the molecular side of things, that’s the most technical aspect of the process,” he said as he addressed the daily COVID-19 press briefing.
Lee said he is hoping Public Health might at least get one of the two technicians to assist with the expanded testing regiment.
“So we’re trying across the board to increase that human resource and and we are achieving it. We have added to those numbers,” he said.
The issue of skilled technicians was highlighted on Tuesday as Lee had stated that no test results were available for the daily COVID-19 press briefing.

“We’ve kept promising the lab that they can have days off and every single day that we promised them they have not had it. (Tuesday) again has been a day that the senior lab person has been, again, at work, but had been promised a day off,” he explained Tuesday.

He said there were 40 tests being run on residents at a George Town apartment complex at which the most recent positive case was confirmed, and there were some other cases in the queue waiting to be put through the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine.

Those 40 residents have since been cleared.

As of Wednesday, Cayman has recorded a total of 60 positive cases and 576 negative results, with six people fully recovered and six clinically recovered. Patients are only declared fully recovered after they record a negative ‘clearance’ test.

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Cayman commenced local testing early last month; prior to that testing was solely done by the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad.

However, Lee said Tuesday’s decision on testing was “just a matter giving people a bit of a break”.

“We’re trying to reduce the intensity a little bit,” he added.

At present, Cayman is the only British overseas territory conducting COVID-19 testing. All local positive tests and 10% of the negative tests are being sent to CARPHA for validation.

Lee, in explaining the situation with local lab technicians, said there are lots of different steps that need to be taken into account when conducting COVID-19 testing.

The chief medical officer said there were nine core staff on island that have the particular special expertise to perform the testing.

He also outlined the links along the chain that make the testing possible.

“The people that can actually handle the PCR machine are, I would say, four. Three at the HSA and one at [CTMH] Doctors Hospital. Those are the staff that would be maintained over time,” he said.

Extra expertise may be heading into Doctors Hospital, but he said the permanent complement there is one person.

“Then there are people who do laboratory-based work and the number currently at the Health Services Authority is three; Doctors Hospital, I think it’s the same one person …  and the people able to do the laboratory work are two at Health City. So … you could say five and a half people to do the laboratory-based work,” he said.

Doctors Hospital lab still being assessed

Lee said an additional meeting had been held Tuesday on CTMH Doctors Hospital conducting COVID-19 testing, and an update should be available on that soon.

He assured that health officials are trying to move the matter forward.

However, Lee said the concern is “if we weren’t in a wartime footing, which it feels very much like we are”, then Cayman would be able to have experts come in to review and determine what things needed to be done, fix them and give the go-ahead.

“Clearly, we can’t do that at the moment. So we’re trying to move the matter forward, but I am not prepared to make the leap … to say that somebody can … provide results on the behalf of public health, because we need to be able to trust those results,” Lee said.

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