Keep calm, carry on, and continue to observe hand and respiratory hygiene.
That was, in summary, the message that the Ministry of Health had for residents of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, on Wednesday, after the country registered its first confirmed case of the deadly coronavirus—COVID-19.
“… we want to reassure the Vincentian public that we are making every effort and we’re ensuring that we keep the patient safe, and we keep others immediately around, and even wider, safe,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Simon Keizer-Beache told the press conference where the case was announced.
She said that the government had placed the patient in isolation and had implemented a 14-day quarantine for three other persons and will do the same for her immediate contacts.
“So all of her immediate contacts are also going to be under quarantine for 14 days and strict observation. So the patient is going to be under strict observation to ensure that the person has what we expect to be completely mild illness.”
The patient’s contacts will also be monitored closely to detect, as early as possible, if any one of them also develops signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
If they do, they will be tested immediately, Keizer-Beache said.
The patient is a woman who began to exhibit symptoms on March 10, three days after she returned to the country from the United Kingdom.
Health officials gave only the most basic information about the patient at the press conference, saying she was between age 30 and 35 and was in isolation and under the care of health professionals.
“This person is healthy; is not ill. When I say that, in terms of the person is not in any significant respiratory compromise, the person is comfortable, the person is not short of breath. So, this is one of the cases of a mild COVD-19.”
Keizer-Beache said that 80% of persons who contract COVID-19 will have mild infections, adding that the majority of cases will be managed at home.
“So, at this time, for the safety of the patient, we want to reassure you that they are safe, they are well taken care of. They’re in a secure place, but we will not be able to say which community that person is in,” the senior health official said.
Keizer-Beache said her ministry is doing contact tracing, not just for the immediate contacts but also was looking into every place that this person went to.
“… even though it was limited, we are still going to do contact tracing to determine who this person was in contact with, what we need to do to take every precaution.
“… as I said the person is safe; my staff is safe. I was extremely — I impressed upon my staff, in terms of them following all of the procedures. So we provide my staff with personal protective equipment. We ensured that everyone who went to see the patient was trained and capable of providing the care they needed to provide and at the same time to protect themselves. So that will be our assurance to protect the staff, protect my healthcare workers and to protect the Vincentian general public.”
Keizer-Beache said that as part of the contact tracing, the Ministry of Health would test persons “who are meet the criteria for a case”.
Persons would not be tested “unless that contact exhibits symptoms and signs of COVID”.
The chief medical officer said that the patient presented with symptoms, namely a cough and fever on Tuesday, March 10.
“Prior to that, there were no symptoms. There was nothing to suggest any sort of coughing to say they will spread in this in terms of massive coughing exposing persons.
“The person who had minimal contacts in terms of their family members, as soon as we knew of the case, we implemented quarantine for the patient to ensure that there was no other possible contact,” she said.
She said that the patient was “asymptomatic throughout the flight, developed no symptoms at all and presented with symptoms on the 10th [of March].
Keizer-Beache said the research has shown that if someone who is positive for a corona-like virus is not symptomatic — meaning they’re not coughing or have no fever — the benefits of doing contact tracing for the other persons on that flight are minimal “meaning that the risk to the other passengers is minimal”.
Keizer-Beache said her ministry will, however, “still make every effort to alert the person sitting three rows in front, three rows behind that person so that they are aware.
“As you know, when you sit in the plane, you’re given a number these days sometimes we move around, but this is information that is readily available,” the chief medical officer said.
She said that that if any of the persons locally with whom the patient came into contact “develops a fever, or develops or cough, or any sort of respiratory symptoms, they will then meet the criteria”.
She also reiterated that health official would test for COVID-19 persons who travelled from an area where the illness is present and then present with a fever and respiratory symptoms — whether that is a cough or cold, or shortness of breath.
“So, this first person, she met those three, she had a fever, she had a cough, and she travelled from the UK where there is spread… That’s why she was tested. If we then have somebody who is in contact with her, develops a fever, and a cough, that person would be the second case definition and that person would be tested.”
In an effect to reduce the chance of community spread of the illness, health officials are advising that person practice basic hand and respiratory hygiene.
“If you cough, you cough in your elbow. If you cough, you cough in your tissue and you discard your tissue immediately,” Keizer-Beache said.
She also advised frequent washing of hands with soap and water and avoiding touching one’s face.