Workers sanitise the area outside Pennywise Cosmetics’ Long Circular Mall branch yesterday. The branch was closed after a person in the household of a customer who visited it this week tested positive for COVID-19.

Pennywise Cosmetics Limited was forced to shut down two of its Port-of-Spain outlets for sanitisation yesterday after the Ministry of Health confirmed that someone living in the household of one of T&T’s latest COVID-19 cases visited the outlets.

The closure of the outlets at Charlotte Street and Long Circular Mall, St James, created a scare in the capital and nationwide as the positive patient, a woman who is one of four new cases reported over the last 48 hours, is being investigated as a possible community spread case. The ministry had also initially instructed First Citizens’ San Juan branch to close yesterday but later found out that the person who came into contact with the positive case only used the ATM outside.

Speaking during the ministry’s virtual press conference yesterday, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said they were now investigating the source of infection for the woman, who is Case 139, as she has no recent travel history. Parasram did not give details of the gender or age of the patient, who was announced as one of two cases on Tuesday. Rather, he said the patient was sick for a week but continued to move around in public and was now under quarantine at the Caura Hospital in Tunapuna. He said it was the first case of local transmission in two and a half months. The other two confirmed cases recently returned from Canada and Saudi Arabia and at 6 pm yesterday, the ministry announced that the fourth confirmed case of the latest batch was still under epidemiological investigation. Up to late yesterday, there were five people receiving treatment at the Caura Hospital in Tunapuna.

“There is no overt or open link to recent air travel, so it is being investigated. Of course, as soon as that investigation culminates, we will have a better idea of what the source of that infections is,” Parasram said.“They would have functioned as normal, moved about the community and gone to different places. In the household itself, there would have been upwards of eight persons visiting or residing in that particular household, so those persons who visit or live in that household become primary contacts of the case.”In a statement last evening, however, Pennywise Cosmetics said it was given the all-clear to reopen by the ministry after the person who visited the stores tested negative for the virus.

“Thanks for the concern shared to our staff via messages and calls. The Ministry of Health has just given us the news that the swabs from the contact that visited our locations came back as negative for COVID-19. This means that all our branches have been given the clearance to open as usual tomorrow (today) but out of an abundance of caution they are being thoroughly sanitised this evening (yesterday),” the company stated.

Customers who went to the Charlotte Street and Long Circular Mall outlets yesterday met closed doors.

“What is going on here?” one woman asked.

“Yeah! Closed for the day. Just today alone,” the security guard replied at the Charlotte Street outlet.

The scene was similar at Long Circular Mall where many customers inquired why the store was closed but got no reason. Guardian Media was told that close to 25 staff members were inside the Charolette Street outlet, including some who were off duty but worked on Tuesday. They were called out for testing. Relatives of employees stuck inside came by the doors to visit their loved ones but were unable to meet them.

In an earlier post, the company said the ministry said in tracing the confirmed COVID-19 case, it learned the patient visited two of its outlets, as well as several other business places. Pennywise said Dr Avery Hinds, Technical Director of the Epidemiology Division, had indicated there was a relatively low risk that anyone at the branch got infected but the ministry was taking all precautions.Parasram said the ministry would list all staff and test as necessary, primary, secondary and tertiary contacts of the patient. While the epidemiological investigation takes place, he said there might be further closures for sanitisation and line listing of contacts.

“Remembering this is the first case we have had of this nature for over 80 days, and we want to ensure there is no further spread, and we are able to identify exactly where this case came from, which will take a few days of investigation, as well as testing, before we can make a definitive statement as to whether we think it has come because of contact with someone that may have travelled or possible contact with a healthcare worker,” he said. “But we need to do the investigation and complete it before we can say definitively, what is the source of this particular case: whether it is the primary or is it linked to another case that we may find along the way.”

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said he gave FCB CEO Karen Darbasie the contact’s name and the bank was able to track the person’s activity at the bank.

In a release, FCB head of Brand and Marketing Larry Olton said the San Juan branch’s operation was not interrupted. He confirmed the patient used the ATM but noted the machine and room are thoroughly sanitised.

“As such, the staff at the San Juan branch would not have been exposed to the risk of contracting the virus from the said customer at the branch and the branch and ATM services remain open for business,” Olton said.

Deyalsingh noted that Case 139 underscores the importance of people adhering to public health measures. However, he said the ministry is not considering reverting to previous COVID-19 measures as it was weighing the economic impact.