Cayman’s leaders continue to examine how stayover visitors could begin arriving 1 Sept., the date the country expects to reopen its borders to international travel.
The big problem, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee, is COVID-19’s incubation period makes it difficult to ensure all visitors are free of the disease by the time they reach the Cayman Islands – even if passengers were screened just before boarding a flight.
“The PCR test and other such molecular tests can be done exceedingly quickly these days,” Lee said during a roundtable discussion with the Cayman Compass, adding that tests conducted at airports could be turned around in as little as 45 minutes. “That’s not the issue. That’s easy. But people need to understand, the problem is the incubation period of this disease. So even if you turn a negative result within 48 hours or 24 hours before you bought that plane ticket, you could be harbouring something.”
Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez and Health Services Authority CEO Lizzette Yearwood join host Kevin Morales to talk about health, medicine and the way forward for Cayman during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Posted by Cayman Compass on Monday, June 22, 2020
It generally takes around five to six days – sometimes up to two weeks – for an infection to show up after coming into contact with a person carrying coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization.
“It will give a false sense of security,” Medical Officer of Health Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez said. “So, we have to make sure that we have everything in order here in Cayman, just to make sure that if we get any of these imported cases, we are able to track them and manage them appropriately.”
To that end, Lee and Williams-Rodriguez, recommend a multi-pronged approach that could include isolation and testing before arriving in Cayman, along with health and location monitoring once visitors touch down.
“It will give a false sense of security”
“The more intensely you monitor, the more likely you are to be able to assist them with any illness they may develop, and also to ring-fence the rest of the population,” Lee said. “It’s how well we can provide that intense surveillance on the visitors to the island which will dictate how we succeed, really.”
Lee, on 3 July, announced he is trialling a device called BioSticker. The device has been approved by the US-based Food and Drug Administration and is used to monitor a person’s temperature, pulse and breathing. It potentially could be worn by visitors and alert public health leaders if the person experiences a spike in temperature or other symptoms common with a COVID-19 infection.
“It’s the sort of thing we’re thinking of trialling to see whether it might assist us in really being leading edge in how we monitor people that are coming to the islands,” Lee said.
Premier Alden McLaughlin last month announced that government had formed a committee tasked with figuring out how to best reopen Cayman’s borders.
“There are all sorts of discussions, discussions about travel bubbles, discussions about rapid testing,” he said.
Testing in other jurisdictions
London’s Heathrow Airport recently announced it is launching a PCR testing programme for arriving passengers. However, McLaughlin said such a test would not be suitable for the Cayman Islands.
“There’s no point in flying them here, testing them and finding a positive, and then what do we do with them?” McLaughlin said. “The plane is not going to take them back. So we’re going to have to put them in some facility, and we clearly can’t accommodate, you know, hundreds of more people, and there’d be hundreds of people coming every day.”
Dr. Lee has said a multi-pronged approach is needed for international travel beyond just testing. The China-Singamore ‘fast-track’ is an example.
- Test 48 hours prior to flight
- Test upon arrival
- Isolate at non-residential address until arrival test result ready
- No public transportation
- Tracing app
Austria’s Vienna International Airport has a testing programme in which passengers are tested at the airport. Passengers make an appointment, samples are taken at the airport, and results are sent to the tested person generally within three to six hours.
Earlier this month, it was announced that businesses travellers between China and Singapore did not need to quarantine for 14 days if they were tested 48 hours prior to departure, were tested again upon arrival, and remained in isolation for up to two days at a non-residential address until the arrival test result is known. They must also avoid public transportation and download the TraceTogether contact tracing app for the duration of their stay.
It may be easier to roll out similar COVID-19-prevention measures in Cayman with a certain type of traveller, McLaughlin said.
“Long-term residents or people who will come and stay for more than the usual four or five days… how can we get them back?” he said. “Because, of course, they provide a greater opportunity for us to be sure about – because the length of time here – whether they are safe or not.
“And we’d like them to come back quickly because they will also provide us with information to see how well this can work, rather than the hundreds of people that come in once you open the borders and the commercial flights come back on a regular basis.”
The Cayman Compass reached out to a Cayman Airways spokesperson asking if the airline had discussed airport testing. The spokesperson referred the Compass to official government representatives. A Caribbean Airlines spokesperson responded to similar queries advising the Compass to reach out directly to other jurisdictions regarding their travel policies.
While McLaughlin announced the creation of the committee, he did not provide a timetable as to when a plan would be announced.