Good COVID-19 news for St Elizabeth

BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth — Health officials brought good news to the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation’s monthly meeting here last Thursday.

Participating in the meeting via videoconference, medical officer for St Elizabeth Dr Tonia Dawkins-Beharie reported that all five people who had tested positive for COVID-19 in the parish had “recovered and are currently at home”.

Further, Beharie said, sample testing had revealed no new cases of the novel coronavirus in St Elizabeth.

Then came a question from councillor for the Myersville Division, Layton Smith (People’s National Party), which appeared to leave everyone off balance.

Noting that bars are scheduled to be reopened on today following a COVID-19-related shutdown for several weeks, Smith wondered what measures the St Elizabeth Health Department would be taking to prevent the spread of the infectious virus.

This was especially important since, according to him, “95 per cent of our bartenders [in St Elizabeth] are from Clarendon and St Catherine”. He suggested that the health department may need to “take measures”, possibly including temperature and other health checks, in an effort to ensure bartenders returning to work were COVID-19-free.

In recent weeks, sections of Clarendon and St Catherine have been described at various times as epicentres of the COVID-19 spread in Jamaica.

While Smith’s estimate of the percentage was notional and undoubtedly inflated, anecdotal evidence suggests large numbers of young women from St Catherine and Clarendon do work in bars in St Elizabeth. Some remain, only returning to their home parish to visit relatives.

Rising to support Smith, Councillor Christopher Williams (Santa Cruz Division, Jamaica Labour Party) said his colleague had “opened a can of worms”.

It was important, said Williams, that the health officials do whatever was possible, under the circumstances, to ensure bars did not become a source of COVID-19 spread in St Elizabeth.

Beharie and Chief Public Health Inspector Everod Lewis said while the health department would take every possible measure and “our inspectors are out there”, it would be a challenge to “monitor every single bar”.

Lewis pledged that health personnel would “continue to do what is necessary” and take steps, as appropriate, but he, too, said it would be “a challenge to monitor more than a thousand bars…”

Beharie told the municipal corporation that up to last Thursday, 177 sample tests for COVID-19 had been done in St Elizabeth, “at roughly about 30 or so per week”.

She said samples were mostly taken from people at hospitals and health centres.

— Garfield Myers

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