Statement from Ranelle Roberts-Williams, Patient Zero, St. Vincent and the Grenadines                                                                                                              April 10, 2020

Dear reader, my name is Ranelle Roberts-Williams. I am a 34-year-old wife, mother and Vincentian lawyer. On March 11, 2020, I was diagnosed with COVID-19 becoming St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ first confirmed case. Today, one month later, by God’s grace I am fully recovered, having tested negative twice for the deadly coronavirus. I have decided to share my experience not only to reassure those who have questions or fears, but also as part of my own therapy following this unfortunate ordeal.

I decided to contact the Ministry of health Wellness and the Environment (MOHWE) of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) on Tuesday March 10 to report that I was experiencing a persistent dry cough which, though not severely disturbing, was worrying, given that I had returned from the United Kingdom three days prior, where COVID-19 was becoming an epidemic. My first call for help was made to a health care facility, and was not taken seriously as the worker was unprepared to handle such. I, therefore, persisted until I was able to get the attention of the relevant health officers. Fortunately for me, I was able to get tested on the same day and was, therefore, able to isolate myself from my young son, my family members, staff and the public before the virus was able to spread. I dare not imagine what the consequences would have been had I not insisted that I be tested for COVID-19 after having been told that I “did not fit the criteria” as I would have been commuting daily and conducting business as usual. Even if I was able to fight it, my other contacts may not have been able to do the same.

On March 11, 2020, I was informed of my positive COVID-19 test result and it was at that moment I understood why people would ask, “Are you sitting down?” before delivering bad news because had I not been sitting I would have fallen to the floor. It was at that moment that the world as I knew it came to a grinding halt. I was scared! In fact, I thought I had been given my death sentence. A very “urgent” press conference dedicated to my case was held the said evening and it was during the press conference that I realised that my positive COVID-19 test result was known not only by me, my family and workers in the healthcare system, but also to the general public despite assurances by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) that my information would be kept confidential (as it should be). My name and photos were being circulated on social media and calls were made out loud at the most extreme, for my execution, disclosure of my personal details and more reasonably, for my isolation (but if possible on another island). Imagine having to cope with a medical diagnosis for an emerging virus, while being in isolation away from your family and loved ones, with your business and staff impacted, while much inaccurate and malicious rumors are swirling around about you and your family. 

The physical effects that this virus has had on my body so far have been minimal. I am especially grateful to God that my case was “mild” considering the daily media reports of fatalities linked to this virus globally. In fact, the backlash from the unauthorised dissemination of my medical information has proven to be far worst than the impact from the actual virus. A serious conversation needs to be had about confidentiality, cyber bullying and stigma in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but I will address those issues in more detail at another time and place. On the other hand, I was able to experience the more positive side of humanity where family, friends, associates and even clients checked up on me and offered prayers and words of encouragement. Some assisted me with everyday tasks as far as permitted and others showed up for me in more ways than I could have imagined. This aspect of my experience will forever be etched in my heart and memory.

I would now proceed to answer some of the questions that I have been asked as well as to issue my personal advice to the public and officials. It is not my intention to point fingers or to cast blame on anyone but instead my sincere hope is that each one can learn lessons from my experience as much as I have.

What medical care was received?

Fortunately for me and those assigned to my care, my symptoms were mild and my illness was brief. My cough lasted approximately three days and I was isolated for 23 days. Each day during my isolation, I was asked to take my temperature and report the figures along with any symptoms to a doctor and/or nurse via the telephone or WhatsApp. Apart from that I received no other medical attention or medication. I continued, however, to exercise my personal responsibility as we all should, in building immunity, eating healthily and monitoring my symptoms. I was a bit disappointed that much of the information that I received about COVID-19 was from my own research. Many of the medical professionals that I interacted with were scared by their response and unsure when it came to basic information with respect to the virus. No official instructions, advice or reading material was provided by any health official.

What was isolation like?

Isolation was difficult and has been a rollercoaster of emotions. I realised by day 3 that it was best to have a daily routine. During this time, I was able to get much work done and catch up on TV shows. I am grateful to my staff, business partners and legal colleagues who made this process seamless and stood in many gaps for me. My husband, family and friends never left room for me to be lonely, anxious or depressed and I love them even more for this. I am also grateful that I was able to be isolated in the comfort of my own home.

How did your contacts in quarantine cope?

A few members of my family, my staff and other colleagues were in quarantine for 14 days because they were in contact with me before my COVID-19 diagnosis. All of them were tested for COVID-19 and thankfully all of them were negative. While this was also challenging for them, they all understood that it was necessary in order to keep themselves and the public safe. Other family and friends who were not even in contact with me have reported being stigmatised and being discriminated against at some point during this ordeal and to be honest, I think this hurts me more than it hurt them.

Did you take any local remedies?

On a daily basis I tool vitamin C, ginger and garlic tea, and simply try to eat foods that boost the immune system like beet, carrots, spinach, etc. At intervals, I would also drink soursop leaf tea and coconut water. I am unable to confirm whether or not these actually helped but they were certainly part of my routine.

Did the Government provide food?

No. I was isolated at my own expense. In fact, in order to restock groceries at my home, my family (who were not in quarantine) would go to the supermarket purchase my items and leave them at my gate for collection.

Do you have any advice for the public?

  1. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, which according to the World Health Organization include fever, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath Do NOT go to your health centre, A&E or private doctor. Call instead and, tell them your symptoms and share your travel history for the past 14 days and a health care provider will advise you accordingly. Do NOT worry about what people will think!It is the responsible thing to do.
  • Listen to the authorities; practice social distancing, wash your hands with soap and water often, use hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze, do not touch your face if your hands are not clean and STAY AT HOME.
  • Be kind to one another. COVID-19 does not require the stigma attached. Desist from shaming and discriminating against suspected or confirmed cases and their family and persons in quarantine.

What have you learned from this ordeal?

  1. No man is an island. We need each other.
  2. It is important to let our loved ones know that we love and appreciate them
  3. Leadership involves listening and making and communicating critical decisions with humility and with empathy.

Finally, this novel coronavirus is a killer. It is dangerous and should be taken seriously by individuals and leaders alike. It has rendered even the most sophisticated health care systems inadequate and has caused pain to thousands of families, world leaders, health care workers and businesses, having spread to every continent on the globe and remaining undetected and undocumented in many more instances including here in SVG. It is my humble opinion that we are not ready for even the smallest wave of this natural disaster much less its full force. We should all do everything we can on a personal level to minimise its impact on our blessed nation. My advice to anyone else who contracts COVID-19 is to eat healthily, build a strong immune system, and just like with the flu, do not to stay in bed. Get up and keep moving. Take much sunlight and Pray!

On another note, I am making a request to our leaders to assist Vincentian sailors and oil rig workers in returning home during this time of crisis and uncertainty.

11 replies on “Statement from SVG’s COVID-19 ‘Patient Zero’”

  1. Thank you for sharing, it’s sad that you and your family had to go through such a rough time, we should look out and think of each other more, we can but pray for a change. As for confidentiality, like you said that’s another story.

  2. Concerned Citizen says:

    I am so glad to read of your recovery from what can be a deadly condition. I am currently stranded in the UK, and as you are aware, we are u dear very strict lock down conditions which has quite rightly been mandated by the government. I did experience a very mild infection from C19, although I was never tested to have my condition confirmed it I did have some symptoms such as a fever for two days and body aches but fortunately no cough. My son, who I believe had passed this on to me was greatly affected, but also never confirmed by a test, he had all the usual symptoms over 6 days/nights including a very high fever, dry cough, aches all over, loss of taste and smell and fatigue. He has recovered from this infection as do 80% of all who are infected by Covid 19, some folks are not even aware that they have been infected as the symptoms range from very mild to critical. Everyone who are infected, however, can pass it on to others, that is why it is such a persistent disease. Those infected can infect others without even been aware that they are infected. The current rules relating to minivans are totally inadequate as even at the low passenger loads mandated an infected passenger could quite easily pass that infection on through breathing in the confined space of a bus. I accept a total shutdown is not an option open to the government in the fraught economic conditions that prevail in svg but at the very least non essential places should be encouraged to close together with the street traders even if this means raising taxes to pay them, the street traders, to stay home for a month, or until the situation can be brought under control.. We simply cannot afford to have even a minor outbreak of c19 in svg, and I hope that citizens are aware that if they fall in the 20% of infected individuals who have a severe infection because of perhaps compromised immune system then it will be immaterial if we have ventilators or not as it appears that globally upwards of 70% of patients die even with these machines and those that survive can face months of rehabilitation. So we have to all try not to be infected by whatever means.
    I will not comment on your privacy been abused, because it is so disgusting that this happened that it is beyond the pale, suffice to say that we must do better.. Thank you for sharing, as we all can learn something from your experience.

    1. I agree Regis. She should be awarded for writing this article. The vast majority of Vincentians keep thier mouths shut when they should be speaking out, otherwise we cannot make improvements to whatever problems we have.
      Shocking to me is how much we humans are like the beasts. When one of the dogs in a pack get wounded and weakened the other dogs attack and kill that dog. Many humans will kick you when you are down. You would think it is a crime to get sick.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. It’s a great thing you have done. I’m pleased that you have recovered, and it’s a hope for the rest of us. I agree with the comments above. I especially concur about the lack of privacy and poor management of people’s personal data in our country. This needs to be addressed.
    Our eagerness to condemn and ostracize one another need to change as well.
    You are quite right, SVG is not prepared and does not have the resources to tackle this global pandemic. Look at the developed and well off countries, people are dying by the thousands, even with all their resources. We are a tiny nation and this virus is a death sentence to many, particularly those people with underlying medical conditions and the aged. . We all need to be responsible, be each other’s keeper, practice social distancing as much as possible. The government need to put tighter actions/policies in place to minimise the spread of COVID-19. At this moment, there are 12 confirmed cases, and I’m certain there are more. Actions need to be taken now to avert this potential catastrophy. I pray God continue to protect us, but we ALL have to do our part.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story with us, you have earned my respect and admiration.
    Your level of responsibility and persistence is admirable and your actions undoubtably prevented further spread of the virus
    Thank you and all the best going forward.

  5. Sandra Small says:

    This is at Vincent for you , this is very unethical and the culprits should loose their jobs.

  6. Does “Patient Zero” not suggest that this lady was the cause of every other case? How can she be patient zero when all cases were imported, or am I just not up with terminologies? She is simply the first case, “Patient one”.

  7. Hashtag Prince says:

    I commend you Mrs Roberts-Williams, God bless you!
    A virtual hug to you from my heart. Your moral courage is to be admired.

    I attribute much respect to you my dear lady.

    Great advice for the public, and I accept your stipulation that you are not beating up
    on anyone by finger-pointing or casting blame. I feel your heart and passion, not only
    towards your family and associates but towards your nation. Much respect and love
    to you Ma’am!

    These experiences make you stronger and build your faith. I would daresay that
    Jehovah God allowed you to go through this because in His Omniscience He knew
    your strength, even to stand in the gap now. I won’t say you are a statistic, nor a
    survivor, no, but you have become an advocate and friend to your homeland SVG.
    You walked the treadmill and came out a fit ambassador!

    God bless your heart and may you continue to inspire others and walk under the
    abiding Grace and Favour of God.

  8. Elnette Charles says:

    Thank you so much for sharing and for your unselfish caring attitude in protecting not only your love ones but the Vincentian community at large. Hats off to you, I pray that others will indeed learn from you. I realise that at times back home we tend to take everything with a ‘grain of salt’ and drag our feet but please my people; do be vigilant and practice social distancing and wash hands as often as possible and may Almighty God bring us all out of this plague and much closer together than we’ve ever been; as family, as friends, one nation under God. Be safe, be blessed!!
    Elnette
    Toronto, Canada

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