Minister of Health and Wellness, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic, has said there is evidence of community spread of the viral illness in Barbados.
He made the announcement on Saturday during a televised press conference from Ilaro Court, stating that the decision to do so was based on consultation with public health officials.
“We know, based on what the public health officials have reported, we have reached the stage where we believe we are declaring that there is community transmission in Barbados. This is a situation we have discussed with the Pan American Health Organization and we have informed them of our decision to do so,” he stated.
Community spread, as defined by international agencies, is the inability to identify the source of infection.
Minister Bostic explained that at the onset of the upsurge in late December 2020, based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of community transmission (or community spread), health officials in Barbados “did not consider, at the time, that we were at that stage” of the pandemic.
He said aggressive contact tracing was undertaken across various communities where new cases were emerging. However, he revealed the exercise had reached a point where in some cases, health officials were unable to find a link between those persons and the existing COVID-19 clusters, or a known positive case.
“We did not want to put cases into clusters for the sake of doing so. It has to do with where contact tracing leads us, and some of those cases, up to this point in time, have not yet been determined. But we have also seen some other cases that are coming up, and the important thing for us right now is to focus on new cases,” he stated, assuring that contact tracing efforts will continue.
According to him, the analysis shows the majority of positive cases among Barbadians were “not coming from associated institutions, that is business places, where you might find a positive case”, while attributing this to Government’s COVID-19 protocols.
Instead, these cases were emerging from “environments where people would tend to drop their guard”, such as family and community settings.
“What we are seeing is families of positive cases…. In some cases, we’ve seen as many as 12 persons from one family because of exposure to a contact,” the Health Minister revealed.
In spite of the current situation, Lt. Col. Bostic pointed out that based on a number of factors outlined by the WHO regarding the assessment of the level of transmission, Barbados had “low to moderate community incidents or risks of community transmission beyond clusters”. This was based on the island’s low mortality and hospitalisation rates, case incidents, and increased testing capacity.
The Health Minister also assured the country that Government was proactive, and had a wide ranging management plan in place.
He said it includes allocating additional resources from within the Ministry to conduct contact tracing; intensified testing of all primary contacts; and the use of WHO-approved rapid antigen tests for screening at the hospital.
He further disclosed that “as a matter of urgency”, efforts would be initiated to identify and locate symptomatic persons within communities. Measures would also be put in place to reduce the risk of infection, transmission and outbreaks to vulnerable persons in settings such as nursing homes.
As it relates to the implementation of further restrictions, as a means of containing the spread of the virus, Minister Bostic said this would be done “if necessary”, but discussions would be held with the Social Partnership before any decision is made.
Lieutenant Colonel Bostic also responded to the question of making the wearing of face masks in public mandatory. He said while the proposal was “under active consideration”, Government would be looking at a number of factors, including the difficulties some persons may have wearing masks, medically or otherwise.
Meanwhile, he appealed to individuals to ensure that they practise physical distancing and good hand hygiene; and wear appropriate face masks, while calling on businesses to ensure both staff and customers complied with the COVID-19 protocols.
“Barbadians, residents, visitors, we have a challenge on our hands, but it’s a challenge we have the capacity to deal with …. [It] is one for all of us to come together, civil society, to collectively resolve the issues and stop the spread. “At the end of the day, it is up to each and every one of us to do our part; wear the [face] mask …. No retreat, no surrender! In good times and bad times, together we can fight through this; we can overcome!” Minister Bostic declared.