Health officials have confirmed two cases of COVID-19 in Cayman involving local transmission.
One of the patients is in hospital but is doing well, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee. The second patient, from the same household, is isolating at home and is symptomatic, he added.
Lee said a range of tests had been done on the contacts of the patients and 24 negative tests had been returned with no further positives. He said all the contacts of the two patients were now isolating.
Four children were among those tested, including two who attended school early on Thursday. Those children are now in quarantine having been removed from school.
Both the patients who contracted COVID-19 had no travel history and were fully vaccinated, Lee said.
While the vaccine provides protection against serious illness and death, it does not prevent people from contracting the virus.
Lee, speaking at a press conference via Zoom from his home where he is in quarantine after returning from overseas, said a case like this had been anticipated for some time and the situation demonstrated how easy it was for such an infectious virus to get into the community.
He added that the patient admitted to the Cayman Islands Hospital had not initially been suspected of having COVID-19 and, as a result, a number of Health Services Authority staff had been exposed to the patient and are now in isolation.
“This situation is under control,” Premier Wayne Panton said at the press conference, thanking public health responders for their swift action.
He confirmed two students from Clifton Hunter High School had been pulled out of school but had tested negative for the virus. The school will remain open.
“While this appears to be an isolated incident the uncomfortable truth is there is going to come a point when COVID is more prevalent in our community,” Panton said. “This incident has also been a real-life reminder that our local context is and will be changing.”
He said there were no immediate plans to push back the reopening of the borders to vaccinated visitors, tentatively scheduled for 14 Oct., noting that some level of increased risk was always anticipated as travel restrictions began to be eased.
He acknowledged, “It makes the whole consideration of the plan more difficult but it does reflect a reality.
“There is no plan that avoids this type of risk. Nothing avoids this type of risk if we are going to have some degree of open borders.”
Premier: Take precautions
He said everyone should take necessary precautions to protect themselves through testing, vaccination and by wearing masks in crowded public spaces or when interacting with the elderly and vulnerable.
As a cautionary measure, he recommended people don’t attend large gatherings or parties over the next 24-48 hours as health officials work to trace the initial source of the local cases.
The premier said there was no immediate plan to tighten any of the regulations on public gatherings or mask wearing but said government was closely monitoring the situation and had the ability to move quickly if necessary. If the source of the transmission can’t be identified, he said, additional measures could be taken, including masks in schools.
“At the moment,” he said, “we are not going to mandate that, except as is currently required on buses.”
He warned that discipline around community health within the community may have lapsed after so long without local transmission.
“It is time to return to community wide vigilance and compliance as COVID-19 is here,” he said. “We know what we need to do. The same team of public health professionals, experts and advisors that brought us through the initial shock of COVID-19 is the one that is taking us through this next phase and those that follow. I trusted them then and I trust them now and so should you.”
He added, “Today was a test run with real-world implications. Stay safe Cayman and we will get through this together.”
Quarantine breaches a concern
Governor Martyn Roper said the situation was not surprising.
“This is really all part of being able to live with this virus as we move forward. We may get more situations like this,” he cautioned, pointing to the positive news that all the contacts of the patients had so far tested negative.
He urged everyone to get vaccinated, saying, “It may not stop you getting COVID but it will for the large majority stop you getting seriously ill or dying.”
Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Derek Byrne issued a warning over a number of breaches of quarantine – a potential source of the spread of COVID-19 into the community. He said there would be cases coming to courts in the next week.
“Generally, from a policing perspective,” he said, “what we’re seeing is an overly relaxed approached to the threat and risk of harm in the community from COVID by persons who are resident in the community here in the Cayman Islands.”
The police chief said many of the breaches involved people visiting individuals in quarantine to deliver goods and remaining there for longer than is permitted.
“On some occasions, we’re seeing people engaging in drinking and playing dominoes adjacent to the place of isolation, or quarantine,” he added.
Byrne said there had not been cases of incoming travellers leaving isolation.
Governor Roper added that the two local transmission cases should be a “wake-up call” that while quarantine measures remain in place, everyone should obey the rules.
Vaccines still the key
Health Minister Sabrina Turner reiterated that the Cayman Islands was ready and prepared for a possible surge of infections, if necessary.
The HSA flu clinic will reopen Monday, while the hospital is also reopening its Respiratory Care Unit for moderately symptomatic COVID-19 patients, and restricting visitation to the hospital.
Turner urged people to take care, stay home as much as possible, to practise social distancing, and to consider wearing masks in public spaces. She added that businesses had the right to require customers to wear masks if they saw fit.
She joined the chorus of calls for the remainder of the eligible population to get vaccinated.
“I must again reiterate that the core element of our protection is, and will be for the foreseeable future, the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine, by the majority of our eligible population.”
Lizzette Yearwood, CEO of the Health Services Authority, said health chiefs already had an action plan that anticipated the return of COVID to the community when the borders reopened and were simply activating that plan a few weeks ahead of schedule.
She encouraged anyone with flu-like symptoms to stay home and call the hotline.
Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who took the vaccine last month, urged others to follow suit.
“It is for your benefit,” she said, “I ask you again, Cayman, is there not a cause to sit and think and be still, that it is in your interest to wear the mask and get the vaccination?”
Another government press conference is scheduled for Friday.