(CMR) Cayman residents are becoming increasingly concerned about the potential of the virus reaching our shores as the World Health Organization announced today that the COVID-19 viral disease is now officially a pandemic. So far, Cayman awaits the test results of some six suspected cases.
The virus has spread to at least 114 countries and has now killed over 4,000 people.
“This is the first pandemic caused by coronavirus,”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared at a briefing in Geneva. It's the first time the WHO has called an outbreak a pandemic since the H1N1 “swine flu” in 2009. This is officially the highest health emergency level. Tedos remains optimistic the virus can be slowed if not stopped entirely and urges countries to take action:
“WHO has been in full response mode since we were notified of the first cases, … and we have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”
Eight countries — including the U.S. — are now each reporting more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19, caused by the coronavirus that has infected nearly 120,000 people worldwide.
“In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled,” Tedros said.
Here in Cayman concerns are mounting as neighboring Jamaica and Honduras have now confirmed cases of the virus. The suspected local cases involve both private and public sector employees including a CIFEC teacher. Additionally, sources indicate there are now two processing tents at the airport for suspected persons.
Thus far, the deputy postmaster general, family members of Water Authority (WAC) employees, CIFEC employees and several others are being quarantined as they await test results. Exclusive sources have indicated that an email was circulated at the Water Authority indicating that the laboratory manager's sister had recently traveled and returned with respiratory issues. The Public Health Department subsequently requested that she stays at home whilst the Public Health Department carries out the necessary COVID-19 testing.
Earlier this week the Public Health Department confirmed to the media that they have six suspected cases that have been sent overseas for confirmation. They continue to stress that there NO CONFIRMED cases of the coronavirus in the Cayman Islands and these are precautionary measures.
Sources have indicated that the current detention center at Fairbanks which houses Cubans refugees awaiting repatriation will be set up to house coronavirus patients. No official confirmation has been received for this particular plan but allegedly on Monday, they are being moved from that area to West Bay. CMR did confirm from official sources that the Health Services Authority (HSA) is not a quarantine facility and instead simply has a “designated treatment area” that can treat sick patients.
Additional concerns are being raised about the potential exposure of CIFEC students after management there have not addressed the fact that one of their instructors has been isolated at the HSA and is considered to be in serious condition with a respiratory illness and flu-like symptoms. Her spouse had some recent travel history outside of the jurisdiction before she fell ill. She has been at the facility from over the weekend.
Another instructor is self-quarantining at home after falling ill with flu-like symptoms after returning from a Miami trip.
Despite that, parents and students have received no official statement from school administrators or from the Ministry of Education. They have expressed concerns that students may have been exposed to this suspected case with no further instructions provided. One parent shared:
“Why are we not closing until we know with certainty what's going on, this is our children's lives potentially at risk here.”
The government has issued a statement that civil servants will no longer be engaging in non-essential travel. University College of the Cayman Islands has an international business practicum with some 40 students traveling next month to Panama – which has now also reported its first case of the virus.