The Ministry of Health now faces an anxious wait for the results of tests for COVID-19 done on a man who arrived on a direct flight from Canada on Monday and is now being kept in isolation at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital.
The patient has not travelled to any of the countries severely affected by the deadly virus, nor has he been in contact with anyone who might have been exposed to the virus.
Following the thermal screening process on his arrival at the Piarco International Airport on Monday, however, a decision was made to have the man taken to the PoSGH as he was exhibiting flu-like symptoms, including fever and coughing.
Senior officials at the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA) yesterday confirmed the patient remained warded and had also been quarantined as a precautionary measure.
The man’s stay at the hospital has, however, caused panic after a hospital employee recorded a 23-second video and posted it to social media on Monday showing the patient’s arrival at hospital and the hazmat suits worn by two ambulance attendants who had taken him to the health facility.
Also fueling the public’s fear was a voice note around 8 am yesterday, narrated by an alleged female nursing student, who claimed the patient was at the PoSGH and that staff were hesitant to interact with him for fear of becoming infected.
This claim was yesterday rubbished by Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram, who said there is no confirmed case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in T&T. He did say though that they were still awaiting test results on the man, adding he was admitted to the Accident & Emergency (A&E) Department at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital (POSGH) was still being treated for an “influenza-like illness.”
Parasram said samples had been sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) to test for both influenza and COVID-19 but it would take between 24 to 48 hours before the results are received. He confirmed that the patient is being kept in isolation at the hospital and had not travelled to any of the severely affected countries or been in contact with anyone who might have been exposed to the virus.
Commenting on the video, Parasram said the decision by the two employees contracted to Global Medical Response of T&T (GMRTT) to wear hazmat suits as they transported the patient to the hospital may be part of their company’s policy when dealing with such patients.
Addressing claims of a cover-up by the Ministry of Health, Parasram explained that “T&T was not doing the test itself.” Instead, he said CARPHA was an independent institution acting on behalf of T&T to carry out the test which had been sanctioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Parasram explained the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) is a very specific test using the patient’s DNA, which had a high percentage of positive results and a very low probability for false negatives.
The PCR test is a technique used to amplify trace amounts of DNA located in or on almost any liquid or surface where DNA strands may be deposited.
Senior North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA) officials also rubbished claims that hospital employees had been denied Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as they attended to the patient.
“We have adequate PPE and it is available to all staff when they need it,” one official, who did not want to be named, said.
The official added that the Infection Control Department continued to host sensitisation seminars for all staff members as part of the hospital’s outreach policy.
In reference to the video, NWRHA officials also urged hospital employees to respect a patient’s right to privacy and reinforced the industry’s confidentiality protocols.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh will update the public today about the status of the nation’s preparedness for COVID-19. Deyalsingh is expected to lead the press conference at which senior CARPHA officials will also be present.
Also adopting a proactive stance is the University of the West Indies (UWI), who has launched a COVID-19 Task Force to assist with the mobilisation of the region’s public health providers to deal with the incoming virus. Four years go, the Zika virus triggered a similar response.
Like before, the Task Force will be chaired by Professor Clive Landis, who is the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Undergraduate Studies and former Director of the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre, who has considerable experience in the field of Caribbean public health.
The membership is comprised of qualified experts from regional UWI medical faculties and external people experienced in the laboratory and field deployment of an active scientific approach.
The disease that first emerged in central China has so far hit at least 70 countries, with 90,000 cases and 3,100 deaths worldwide. The vast majority of cases and deaths have been in China. While the number of new cases recorded daily in that epicentre country has declined for weeks, the virus continues to spread fast in South Korea, Iran and Italy, prompting increased travel warnings and restrictions.