St Lucia health authorities bamboozled: Is it COVID-19 or the flu?

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By Caribbean News Global contributor

CASTRIES, St Lucia –  At the ministry of health, press conference Wednesday, January 12, 2022, authorities appeared bamboozled – is it COVID-19 or the flu. Most conspicuous was the elevated nuance to COVID -19 messaging that exposed, mental and physical fatigue.

However, equally confusing and unclear messaging, personal responsibility (over the festive season) and/or deficient public health management in a comatose health care system all contribute to extraordinary high numbers, not seen in two years of the coronavirus pandemic. And to compound, an already comatose health system is the closure of outpatient clinics and elective surgery.

“Due to the ongoing fifth wave of COVID-19 spread in Saint Lucia, Millennium Heights Medical Complex (MHMC) regrets to inform the public that outpatient clinic services will be temporarily suspended beginning January 17, 2022.”

What’s the end game? Does the current administration have an opportunity to plan?

Emerging out of the press conference, a few comments trampled an already comatose healthcare system and apparent confused National COVID-19 Management Center:

  • Chairman of the National COVID-19 Management Center reportedly says, while the surge after the festive season was anticipated, the steep rise leads them to believe the Omicron variant is responsible, and seemingly left wanting to ask: “What are our options for controlling this fifth wave? What are our responsibilities to ourselves, our families, each other and our country?”
  • Although new variants of COVID-19 keep emerging, chief medical officer, Dr Sharon Belmar-George says the current situation is not new. “Over the last two years, we have learned the most effective measures and we have sufficient data on our local population to recommend targeted approaches to the areas of transmission in an effort to minimize the health, economic, social and educational impact of this virus.”
  • “The number of cases that we’ve seen in the first week of January surpasses the numbers we’ve seen weekly since the onset of COVID-19 in Saint Lucia”, Dr Michelle Francois, National Epidemiologist.

Related: Ontario launches school-based vaccine clinics

Saint Lucia needs a new strategy to balance “ lives and livelihood” and the remodelling from curfew to “confinement”. And with the reopening of school, widespread access to reliable at-home testing, N95 or KN95 mask, better air filtration systems in schools, workplaces and public buildings are essentials, including vaccine mandates (modified or otherwise).

The prevailing reference to déjà vu – COVID-19 or the flu? succeeds the undertone that “we have sufficient data on our local population to recommend targeted approaches to the areas of transmission”. Moreover, with poor, confusing and conflicting messages, missteps and guidance, it is appropriate for the ministry of health to shoulder the responsibility and consider media coaching and training to reshape the message.

For the past two years dealing with coronavirus, after it was first identified in Wuhan, China, the evidence suggests that past and present administrations are out of the ordinary – operating blindly. And thus, based on the “new normal of life with COVID-19” as a respiratory illness, similar to influenza or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – an appropriate risk threshold – to establish weekly deaths, hospitalizations, and community regularity of viral respiratory illnesses, is perhaps timely.

There is trouble all around. Meantime, activities for the 43rd Independence Anniversary of Saint Lucia on February 22, 2022, is taking shape, including Saint Lucia Carnival 2022 dubbed ‘The Vaxxed Mas’.” – Let’s get vaccinated and let’s enjoy the ‘Mas’!

Most are worried about being thrown under the bus unwilling to acknowledge that public health management has been politized. And that during this pandemic, media appearances and communication and policy has been confusing, unclear and risk further spread of the virus.

The ministry of health on Wednesday, January 12, 2022, reported: “426 new cases of COVID-19. This number of positive cases makes up 47.23 percent. These new cases bring the total number of cases diagnosed in the country to date to 15, 937. Active cases in the country to date is 2, 000. Currently, there are 25 positive cases of COVID-19 admitted at the Respiratory Hospital, of which one of these active cases is in critical care and three of them are severely ill. To date, a total of 50, 224 individuals have been fully vaccinated. Another 6, 100 are partially vaccinated and 5, 067 have received their booster shot.”

An unknown commenter wrote on social media: “ How can we … ? When it is business as usual. Everyone out there is doing as they please. I am hearing stay home if you have flu-like symptoms but take a walk on the street corners and by the market and you will hear vendors coughing in their hands with the masks underneath their chin.

“Crowded street corners, buses running with full capacity and some people sitting idle in groups on the streets. The strategy you have proposed isn’t working and sitting on your rocking chair and talking to the media will not work. So you are just wasting your breath if you continue this method.”

Perhaps, knowing one’s status is an unnecessary risk to further transmission of the virus. If the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “new guidance on ending isolation after five days without a negative test” is followed, potentially, a zombie culture of infected people will reach herd immunity, going about daily life infected with a viral respiratory illness.

The study, by Professor Tim Lenton and Dr Chris Boulton from the University of Exeter, and Professor Marten Scheffer from Wageningen University, is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Professor Lenton, Director of the Global Systems Institute, said: “Our results add to evidence that trust within society benefits resilience to epidemics. Building trust within communities should be a long-term project for all nations because this will help them cope with future pandemics and other challenges such as extreme events caused by climate change.”

The study shows the effect of stringent government interventions on coronavirus spread is not straightforward. Most governments applied similarly stringent restrictions but had hugely varying success in bringing down case numbers and deaths. This is partly because more stringent governments tend to be associated with less trusting societies.

Rebuilding confidence and trust in each other is fundamental in building a just and equitable society, regardless of wealth and social status. And, therefore, in less-trusting societies during a pandemic an apparent “cement trader” –  was awarded a no-bid contract to procure COVID-19 vaccines.

It is most likely that behaviors vital to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, staying at home if you have flu-like symptoms, complying with “confinement” frustrating changing guidelines, a social safety net, and responsible governance, depend on mutual trust to be effective.

Even then, we can all bury the thought, and pretend to be Boris Johnson and apologised for attending a party in the Downing Street garden during lockdown but claims he didn’t know it was a party  – insisted he thought it was a “work event”.

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