No cases of Delta variant detected in Cayman

Genome sequencing equipment at the HSA that was purchased through donations from the R3 Foundation. Photo: Alvaro Serey

Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said Cayman has not recorded any cases of the infectious COVID-19 Delta variant in travellers found positive, based on local genomic sequencing results.

Lee, responding to questions at Wednesday’s COVID-19 press briefing, said genomic sequencing, which recently commenced at the Health Services Authority Forensic Science Lab, picked up a number of variants in five samples that had tested positive for coronavirus.

However, none of those samples showed the Delta strain.

In differentiating the samples, Lee said the lab has found the UK variant; the New York variant, which he noted was not “a variant of concern”, it was just a “variant of interest”; two related South American variants; and possibly one other.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee.

He said should any cases of the Delta variant be picked up here it would “be very newsworthy.”

The rapid spread of the Delta variant, one of four variants of concern according to the World Health Organization, prompted a four-week delay in the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in the United Kingdom.

It has now become the most dominant strain in the UK.

According to Forbes, the variant is starting to spread rapidly in parts of the US and could quickly become “the dominant strain, risking a similar surge and a wave of hospitalizations”.

Workflow for genomic sequencing

Lee said genomic sequencing in Cayman is still in its infancy and the forensic lab, which is doing the specialised testing, still needs to sort its workflow and processes.

“It’s a very time-intensive process. I know that on two occasions already scientists have been working into the early hours of the morning which is not an acceptable or sustainable way of providing results. So we need to make sure that that doesn’t happen on a routine basis,” Lee said.

The CMO said government is looking to do genomic sequencing on all the positives that Cayman detects.

“We have the capacity to do that, we just need to give them a little bit of space to get the processes correct so that we can make sure that that happens,” he said, adding that there will not be daily results reports on the results of the genomic sequencing.

He said there will be a weekly generated report that will be uploaded to a global database so the world can see how the variants of COVID-19 are spreading.

The variants and the infection spread, he said, are the reason why government is being cautious and looking at what happens as the country moves forward.

“We’ll continue to be cautious. We would be in a great position if we never had to take a backwards step but we always have to recognise that we might at some point have to take a backwards step [but] we hope not,” Lee said.

A formal date for the unlocking of borders is yet to be announced. Premier Wayne Panton said government is working in its reopening plan and is looking tentatively towards mid-September.

Lee stressed that no one can predict what will happen in the coming months as the pandemic stretches on.
“People always want science to be exact and it never is exact. It gives us likelihoods rather than exactitudes,” he said.

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