Thousands to be tested in new COVID-19 strategy

Premier Alden McLaughlin
Premier Alden McLaughlin. - Photo: GIS

More than 1,000 people will be tested for coronavirus in the next two weeks as public health officials try to gauge the spread of COVID-19 throughout the community.

All Cayman Islands prisoners will be tested as part of the new strategy of testing people who do not have symptoms and are not believed to have the virus.

Frontline health workers and in-patients at hospitals will also be part of the first wave of tests.

Dr. John Lee, Cayman’s chief medical officer, said hundreds of people would be swabbed and tested, adding that this would help determine if the virus had spread throughout the community.

Various strategies are being considered as testing progresses, including possible random sampling throughout the entire population.

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Lee said the screening tests would be treated and reported as a distinct group and would give a better idea of the prevalence of the virus in the Cayman Islands.

He said these tests had begun already and around 400 samples had been taken. He expects well over 1,000 people to be tested in the next two weeks.

“It was started last week,” he said. “There are several hundred tests going through the system.”

Lee said there were no new results to announce Tuesday as the testing machines were undergoing routine maintenance.

The first results from the screening tests will be announced later this week.

Cases linked to people who have travelled or are connected to people who have previously tested positive will be treated as a separate category for reporting purposes.

Premier Alden McLaughlin said the testing programme would be critical to determining if the coronavirus had spread throughout the community.

Only when those results are analysed, he said, could authorities consider lifting restrictions.

“By this time next week, we will have a very good idea of the prevalence of this virus in the community. I remain hopeful that we are not into sustained community transmission,” he added.

“I just ask everyone to remain patient. I know it is very stressful and it is very frustrating but it would be a mistake if all the efforts and all the sacrifices and frustrations we have gone through were to be for naught because we made the wrong decision at the wrong time to start opening up the community.”

He said testing people without symptoms – healthy people who are in the workforce – was the only way to get a clear idea of the likely incidence of the virus in the broader community.

Virtual Legislative Assembly meeting

A meeting of the Legislative Assembly will be held on Wednesday, McLaughlin confirmed.

The meeting will feature a reduced number of legislators, including six from the government benches, Leader of the Opposition Arden McLean, one other member of the official opposition, and two independent members.

A member of the opposition will chair the meeting, the premier said.

The reduced line-up is to comply with social distancing. The purpose of that meeting will be to amend the house standing orders to allow for a full ‘virtual meeting’ of the Legislative Assembly, likely via Zoom.

That virtual meeting will take place Thursday and several legislative amendments will be considered. Those changes are designed to allow people to access their pensions and to allow for people to renew their vehicle licences without inspection, among other things.

British Airways flight

A British Airways flight will arrive in Cayman Tuesday and leave Wednesday evening at 6.05pm, Governor Martyn Roper confirmed.

“The plane will be bringing much-needed medical equipment, including extraction kits and swabs (used in the testing process) and will bring Caymanians back here,” he said.

The flight will also a team of nine military personnel from the UK, who will help with logistics and planning around Cayman’s response to the coronavirus crisis and to support hurricane-preparedness plans.

Anyone who has registered with the emergency travel line will be sent details on how to book tickets on the BA flight back to London.

Pension advice

Following up on the government’s announcement Monday that residents can access part of their private pension funds, Health Minister Dwayne Seymour urged people to be sensible about whether they needed to tap into their pension funds at this time.

He said anyone who had lost jobs or whose business was in danger because of the tourism shortfall should take the money out.

But he said, “If you don’t need it don’t take it. If you are still employed and your household is still employed, don’t use it … be wise about it.”

Additional reporting by Compass reporter Kayla Young.

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