Gradual reopening of economy on course, despite 3 new COVID cases

Government remains hopeful that the phased reopening of the economy can continue despite a handful of frontline workers testing positive for the coronavirus in the latest screening.

Premier Alden McLaughlin and Governor Martyn Roper, however, acknowledged concern that some workers, including a small number of employees at Kirk Market, had tested positive for the virus.

But these cases are just a small percentage of the thousands of total results, and public health officials believe they can continue to use testing to identify and control cases in the community.

McLaughlin said at Monday’s COVID-19 briefing that the results which emerge this week would determine the pace of the reopening of different sectors. But if the current trend continues, he believes plans to reopen construction sites can begin in controlled stages from next Monday.

There were three new cases of the coronavirus and 761 negative results reported after a weekend of heavy testing.

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Overall, of the 4,187 people who have been tested, there are 84 positives, 47 recovered, 36 active patients, one death, 94 in government isolation, and 98 in private quarantine.

Most of Kirk Market staff screened

Scores of employees from Kirk Market were among those tested.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez said 121 of the store’s staff members had been tested, and a “very low percentage of these cases tested positive”.

He said everyone from Kirk – which reopened Monday after a temporary closure on Saturday – would have been tested by the end of tomorrow.

He added that supermarket management had been in close contact with public health officials and was doing everything according to the guidelines.

He said a deep cleaning of the store had taken place over the weekend, and added that shoppers who had visited the supermarket had nothing in particular to fear, especially if they had followed guidelines on social distancing and hand washing.

Williams-Rodriguez said the main transmission of the virus was through ‘droplets’ so washing hands and covering coughs are vital.

Premier asks for patience on reopening schedule

McLaughlin said the latest test results were encouraging but urged people to be patient, saying government’s strategy was working.

He said the presence of asymptomatic carriers of the virus among frontline workers was worrying – though he said these made up a very small percentage of those tested.

Both the premier and governor said Cayman was on course to move to the next level of reopening the economy next week, provided the trend of results remained encouraging.

Though the Kirk Market positive results are considered a setback, Roper said the store had handled the situation “extremely efficiently” and that the odd case involving frontline workers was not unexpected.

He said this was the point of the testing strategy – to find such people and isolate them and trace their contacts.

McLaughlin said the results this week would be key to determining how prevalent the virus was in the community and if Cayman can move, as expected, to the next phase on Monday of next week.

Testing key to opening construction sector 

The premier said reopening construction sites would go hand-in-hand with increased testing and new public health standards in the workplace.

With as many as 8,000 people involved in the trade and related professions, he said it would be impossible to test everybody or for everyone to go back to work at once.

He said larger firms would be tested through “representative sampling” and the return to work would have to be carefully managed in stages.

“It is going to be critical that construction companies understand they will be subject to public health inspections,” the premier added.

Masks, social distancing and hand hygiene will be required on work sites.

McLaughlin again lamented the commentary from some in the community who he said wanted the entire economy to be reopened at once, saying, “the lawyers are the absolute worst”.

Several lawyers who spoke to the Cayman Compass have questioned aspects of the hard and soft curfews, but none have so far called for a full reopening of the economy.

McLaughlin said government would not yield to pressure to do that.

He appealed to the public for patience, saying the island was in a good position and would soon be able to relax many of the restrictions if the results continue to be encouraging.

Restrictions in line with the law

Pressed later in the briefing on the hard curfew, which includes two of the more controversial aspects of the lockdown – the beach ban and the full 24-hour Sunday lockdown – Roper said that had all been implemented in full accordance with the Police Law.

Though the fact that the written details of the curfew have not been published has been questioned by some lawyers, the governor said the “letter of the law” had been followed.

He added, “I don’t think we have released the police commissioner’s letter to me, but we can look at that.”

McLaughlin said that government was constantly monitoring the measures in place and rolling back the Sunday hard curfew was one of the restrictions up for debate.

But he said he had been inundated with what he considers less-valid concerns from some lawyers and even threatened with lawsuits.

“They have threatened to take me to court,” he said. “Let them get on with that if they think it is in the best interests of the people of this country.”

He said his objective was to save lives and suggested that was not the motive of many of the lawyers who had corresponded with him on the issue.

“We are more than satisfied that not only are the measures we have taken proportionate, but they have been incredibly successful,” he said.

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