Deadly Second Wave of COVID-19 Hits Jamaica

Sheri-Kae McLeod

Jamaica's permanent secretary Dunstan Bryan and Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton

In South Florida, the tri-county area has quickly made it over the hump of the second wave of COVID-19, after weeks of declining numbers. But in Jamaica, locals have not been so lucky. 

The island is currently in the midst of a second wave of COVID-19, which, in just one month, has already proven to be more deadly than the first. 

Over the last two weeks especially, the relaxation of COVID-19 measures, coupled with general non-compliance of residents, has pushed to number of cases above 5,000 and has also led to a doubling of COVID-19 deaths. 

Fatalities on the island stood at 75 as of September 22, up from 33 on September 7. Among the deaths are well-known public figures including veteran politician D.K. Duncan and music engineer Barry O’Hare, a senior staff member at the Office of the Prime Minister, and the vice-principal of Kingston College.

The dramatic spike in cases and deaths have been largely attributed to campaign events surrounding the recent September 3 general election. While Prime Minister Andrew Holness had suspended campaign activities after concerns had been raised, the Jamaican political culture is not one that is always in agreement with social distancing protocols. And thus, despite the suspension, hundreds of Jamaicans still gathered in large groups, rallying behind their favorite politicians before, on and after election day. 

Also some popular Jamaicans, despite warnings about large gatherings, proceeded in holding social events with fairly large and large numbers of guests. 

Over the past weekend, it was reported that some 600 people attended a ‘set up’ or wake to remember the mother of popular Jamaican entertainer Beenie Man. The report said the police intervened and broke up the large gathering. One report claimed the entertainer was placed in police custody, but it was later refuted.  

“Live with it”

Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton has predicted that the island will not see the peak of the second wave until November, which means that there is a strong possibility that several more Jamaicans could die before the island begins to flatten the curve for the second time. 

Despite the staggering rise in numbers, there seems to be no plan to impose harsher restrictions. Prime Minister Holness has reiterated several times that the island’s economy cannot afford another lockdown, and Jamaicans will have to follow the mitigation rules if they want to beat the virus. 

Since the beginning of the second wave, the overall message from the government has been for Jamaicans to “learn to live with COVID.”  

On Tuesday evening, the newly appointed Minister of Education Fayval Williams announced the in-class opening schools scheduled for October 5 has been shelved indefinitely. Instead of in-class learning, schools will use a combination of virtual approaches to reopen.

Help from the North

In the meantime, the United States has once again committed to helping the island in its COVID-19 response. Over the weekend, the U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) gifted Jamaica a 70-bed, fully medically equipped mobile field hospital.

The facility, which is worth US$753,000, was transported to Kingston on September 19 by the U.S. Air Force. It is being assembled in the parish of St. Andrew parish and should be completed by September 24. SOUTHCOM said the field hospital was donated “on behalf of the American people” to Jamaica.

Three additional field hospitals are also to be set up, another in Kingston, one in Falmouth and one in Mandeville. One of the three is being funded by the Canadian government.

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