Since the Cayman Islands began repatriation flights back in April last year, more than 20,000 people have undergone quarantine at homes and hotels across Grand Cayman.
The number of people in isolation on any given day in the past several months, as more flights slowly have become available, has been around 1,000.
The entire process, from the time prospective travellers apply for permission to come to or return to Cayman to when they are released from quarantine, is handled by the 91-strong team of Travel Cayman.
They share a wide variety of tasks. Some handle the online portal, through which people apply for permission to come here; some make the regular phone calls to check on the welfare of those in quarantine; some visit residences to ensure individuals in isolation are OK and that their tracking devices are working correctly; while others who come into closest contact with the passengers don hazmat suits at the airport and place monitoring bracelets on the incoming travellers’ wrists.
There was a time when coming to Cayman meant landing at Owen Roberts International Airport, stepping off the plane into the warm sunshine, going through passport control, picking up your luggage and breezing out into the balmy air, ready to head straight to a poolside or beachside bar. Not so these days.
Entering Cayman is now a process with many moving parts, made somewhat more complicated and resource-heavy for Travel Cayman since quarantine requirements changed with the increasing availability of vaccinations, meaning that incoming travellers are now divided into those who quarantine for five days, 10 days or 14 days depending on their vaccination status.
Travel Cayman’s work begins before a traveller even steps foot on a plane, with sorting applications submitted via the online portal. Those who are given permission to enter Cayman are issued a travel certificate, which they must bring with them when they arrive here.
Since people have been allowed to quarantine at their residences, the work of the team has also expanded to inspecting homes to ensure they meet the relevant criteria, such as that there are no shared bathrooms, kitchens or living areas, with others who are not in quarantine; that it is sufficiently distant from neighbouring properties; that the air-conditioning system is self-contained and does not circulate air to other residences; and that garbage can be disposed of safely.
After the travellers touch down in Cayman, they line up at the various checkpoints they must pass through at the airport.
First, they are met by a travel management team and sign a participation agreement, in which they agree to abide by Cayman’s quarantine rules and COVID-19 restrictions. They are given a coloured sticker that denotes if they’re staying at a government facility, their own residence or another accommodation.
Next, the arriving passengers approach the hazmat-clad Travel Cayman mobile compliance team, who check documents and ask questions in relation to where the arrivals will be staying.
If a passenger is quarantining in residence, the staff will secure a monitoring bracelet on their wrist, hand them a mobile phone which contains a GPS app, and explain how the devices work, before directing them to the Customs and Border Control counter.
Those staying at a government-sponsored facility are not required to wear the wristband and are not assigned a phone because security is provided at the hotels to ensure those in quarantine remain in quarantine.
The next stop for the incoming passengers is the baggage reclaim hall, where Public Health Department staff are waiting to check if passengers have been vaccinated. Depending on their vaccination status, the Public Health team determines how many days of quarantine each person must go through: five days for those with securely verified vaccination certificates, 10 days for those with vaccination cards that cannot be electronically verified, and 14 days for unvaccinated travellers or those who have not been fully inoculated.
Meanwhile, the luggage coming off the plane is decontaminated before being placed on the baggage carousel. Passengers are then permitted to retrieve their bags.
Departing the airport
At that stage, it’s finally time to leave the airport. Outside the arrivals greeting hall is another team from Travel Cayman and a waiting line of taxis. The team oversees all the transportation between the airport and the various accommodations at which the passengers are staying.
Each taxi must be authorised by Travel Cayman to carry incoming passengers and the taxi drivers have undergone training on how to interact safely with their passengers. For example, everyone in the cab, including the driver, must wear a mask and there is no exchange of money.
After each trip to drop off a passenger at a quarantine site, the vehicle must be professionally decontaminated by a team of cleaners at the airport before it can pick up the next fare – whether that’s another arrival at the airport or a member of the public.
Once the passengers have arrived at their homes, they activate their devices and their GPS location is noted. It’s now up to the Travel Cayman team at their communications centre in George Town to keep track of them – how long they need to stay in isolation, when to schedule their exit PCR tests, and regular check-ins with them to see if all is well, or to discuss any issues regarding their monitoring devices.
Sometimes those calls are just a short chat about what’s for lunch that day and what the weather looks like outside the window – a simple check-in and a chance, especially for those quarantining alone or feeling anxious about being locked inside for several days, to hear a human voice and know there is someone at the end of a line to whom they can reach out.
Members of the communications team sit before computer monitors that give details of each individual currently in quarantine. On the day the Compass visited the centre, a number of trainees were watching and listening as the calls were being made, picking up pointers on the tone of voice, the questions being asked and generally how to tell if the person at the other end of the line needs any additional assistance.
For those who do need help, or whose devices may be having issues, or if there has been a report of a person in quarantine being in a place they’re not supposed to be, a compliance team makes in-person visits.
At the government quarantine facilities, security guards are in place 24/7 to make sure everyone stays in their rooms. Food deliveries are made daily.
At the Holiday Inn, small tables are in place outside the hotel room doors on which the occupant’s lunch or dinner is placed, so that they is no direct contact between the staff delivering the food and the person behind the door. It’s a nicer touch than just leaving it on the hallway floor, staff say.
A third option for travellers is to stay at a number of other hotels that have been cleared by Travel Cayman as appropriate for quarantine purposes.
When the arrivals are nearing the end of their mandated quarantine period, they’ll get a call from Travel Cayman, letting them know that their exit PCR test will be the next day.
They are told which testing centre to visit. Back at the communications centre, that journey is factored into the GPS tracking for those individuals, so that if they make a detour, that is monitored, or if they don’t show up for their test, they get a call to remind them.
Some people who are quarantining at home are allowed to drive themselves to the relevant test centre, while others without their own transport are assigned an authorised taxi which will pick them up and then drop them back home to await the results of the tests.
The people quarantining in government facilities are tested on site, so do not need to leave their hotels.
The travellers are notified of the results of their tests by Travel Cayman. If positive, they must remain in isolation until they return a negative test. If negative, they can leave isolation. Images of scissors snipping through the white wristbands can be seen on many postings on social media accounts, often accompanied by the exclamation “Freedom!”.
Now, it’s time to finally hit that beach bar.
For more information on incoming travel requirements, visit www.exploregov.ky/travel.