Uncertainty fuels finger-pointing in Portland

CONFUSION rippled through Portland on Tuesday following a disclosure by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) on Monday that a fifth person from the north-eastern parish had tested positive for COVID-19.

Three of the five cases are said to be under investigation, as officials hasten to determine their source of infection.

Fuelled by this uncertainty, residents have begun pointing fingers at neighbouring communities as speculation mounts over which among the more than 30 communities have produced cases.

“A fist me and a yute from Black Hill go fi fist it out wah day because him a tell mi seh case deh a Buff Bay, and mi a tell him seh, ‘No, nuh case nuh up ya or mi woulda hear ’bout it’”, Buff Bay resident George Thomas told the Jamaica Observer during a visit to the parish on Tuesday.

Portland, along with Kingston & St Andrew, Clarendon, St Ann, and Manchester, have all recorded five or more cases of the infectious disease since Jamaica confirmed its first case on March 10.

Portland’s cases include a 60-year-old female retiree, whose case was first listed as under investigation before it was changed to import-related; a 32-year-old man with no travel history; a 63-year-old woman with no travel history; a 52-year-old man with a travel history from Brazil; and a 43-year-old man with no travel history.

The health ministry has not identified the communities in which the individuals who tested positive reside, but the Observer has learnt that the 60-year-old retiree is from the community of Breastworks, while the 63-year-old woman is from Sommers Town in Port Antonio.

“Mi a seh why dem hiding it? Why? Because we know seh we have 59 (now 63) cases and some of it deh right here suh, and dem a hide it, and we just a walk all ’bout and nuh know, that nuh right. It going to increase. So dem should not hide it,” Thomas, who is known as “Lucky” in his community, declared.

Andrew Gordon, who is also from Buff Bay, acknowledged that while some Jamaicans have responded negatively to individuals who have tested positive for the disease and the communities in which they reside, the Government must inform the country about the spread of the virus — which has killed more than 90,000 people worldwide.

“Why dem hide it is maybe because the people them illiterate. If a tyre bring it come them a go batter-bruise the tyre and all a dem thing deh, but the truth is, the truth affi out there. Speak the truth; this is a serious thing,” Gordon argued.

The two men, who seemed to be fairly familiar with each other, both insisted that none of the cases involved individuals from Buff Bay, while in the same breath making a case for Black Hill.

The Observer moved on to that community, where residents there also beseeched the Government to name the communities where cases have been identified.

“Mi really feel scared because mi nuh know who is who and at one point my immune system was compromised with lupus, so this a the nearest mi come to people,” Shelly Passley, who was among a group of people at a shop in the community said.

“We want to know. At least we would know weh fi go from weh nuh fi go. It is not right that them not telling us. We deserve to know where here (in Portland) dem find the case dem,” the middle-aged woman stressed.

Others, who asked not to be identified, told the Observer that they “run” from people in Buff Bay having heard rumours that one of the cases had emerged in the popular Portland community.

Similarly, they noted that residents have been avoiding the Breastworks community, which MOHW officials reportedly “shut down” two Sundays ago after a resident there tested positive.

When the Observer arrived in the community, residents confirmed that MOHW officials were in fact in the community on March 22, “doing door-to-door interview”.

According to the residents, the community was shut down for a day.

“They lock down from the iron bridge to Ken Wright Primary [and Junior High] School up by Wain Road [District] and told us not to come out while them go door to door. This [is] where they said they find the first case in Portland. They just locked us down because they wanted to ensure it wasn’t nuh community spread,” a man, who was among a group of six people volunteered.

The group of mostly men later pointed to Sommers Town, where the 63-year-old woman was picked up by MOHW workers last weekend. This community is a stone’s throw from Breastworks.

The woman’s mother confirmed that she was, in fact, picked up by MOHW workers and taken to the University Hospital of the West Indies where she remains in isolation.

Her neighbour, Jody Francis, said while she is aware of the case in Sommers Town, she, too, wants the Government to list the other areas where COVID-19 cases have been identified.

“Mi want dem talk the area dem, that a my biggest problem. If mi know seh a yah suh or a deh suh, mi do what mi doing and move off. People a shop all over Port Antonio and you don’t know who have what and where dem come from. So mi very worried right now. In fact, mi more than worried. Mi want the Government come talk to wi ’bout all what going on here,” said Francis.

On Tuesday, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton noted that the combined 11 cases under investigation are “a little concerning”.

He said what this suggests is that there is possibly additional spread of which the MOHW is unaware.

“That then raises the issue of how much that may contribute to community spread, which is the next stage that we anticipate will come, having had the clustering of cases. I want to say to the public that, as has been said by the prime minister, by the chief medical officer and the PS (permanent secretary) and myself, we anticipate that there is going to be a surge. The extent of that surge is a function of how we manage, what information we have and can discern, and the process of containment and treatment.

“Very important in all of that is to get persons to be aware, to recognise their role and to comply with the rules of engagement — whether it is to stay home, to report if they have issues, whether they feel ill or otherwise, or know someone who is. If all of us play that part, we could, I think, manage the process even with the surge. That would keep us relatively close to normality while we treat the virus that is among us, but the under investigation [cases] does raise some concern, because it means there is more information that we need to find out and that’s a concern for us,” the minister said.

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