The Jamaican health ministry is expressing concern about the rise in COVID-19 cases which began at the start of the new year, 2021.
Although the government had predicted an increase in cases stemming from the Christmas holiday activities, the Health and Wellness Minister, Dr. Christopher Tufton said the hospitalizations are particularly alarming.
On January 4th, the island reported 154 new cases of COVID-19, up from 118 new cases reported the day before. On Sunday, Dr. Tufton had noted that the 118 new cases represented a positivity rate of 23% — the highest over the last eight weeks.
The hospitals in Falmouth, Spanish Town (St. Catherine) and Linstead (St. Catherine) hospitals are all above 85 percent general capacity, which is called the ‘red zone’. While the Noel Holmes (Hanover) and Falmouth (Trelawny) Hospitals on the western side of the island are over their COVID-19 isolation capacity.
The island’s largest health facility, Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), is hovering just below the red zone at 84 percent general capacity, the same as Black River Hospital (St. Elizabeth).
The ministry has taken a special interest in the parish of Westmoreland where cases have been on the rise for the last month. A special curfew was recently imposed in the parish to stem the increase in cases.
“This is something that we continuously monitor so that we can find, as soon as the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital in Westmoreland enters that red zone, which is above 85 percent capacity, we can start to look at interventions to try to manage that situation to prevent an overwhelming of the system,” said Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie. The hospital is currently at 82% general capacity.
The majority of hospitalizations and moderately to critically-ill COVID-19 patients currently reside in the western parishes.
Other parishes on the northwest of the island including Trelawny and St. Ann have also seen an increase in cases.
“I say to the people of Westmoreland and western Jamaica generally that we need to appreciate the consequences of the numbers and the impact on the public health system because everything is being geared towards our ability to cope. We know COVID is here but we want to be able to treat those who need to be treated,” said Minister Tufton.
In the meantime, the health officials have also announced an increase in the number of Jamaicans that will get the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021.
The CMO said that five percent of the population will now get the drug in the second quarter of this year.
“Initially, it was one percent that we would receive in the second quarter, but this has now increased to five percent and what you will find is that as more vaccines are approved, more manufacturing occurs, and the numbers may change,” she said.
The CMO said the vaccine is being made available through the COVID-19 Global Access Facility (COVAX Facility). Jamaica is among the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states on whose behalf a downpayment has been made by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for equitable access to a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.
Some 16 percent of the population will be vaccinated by the end of the year.
Health officials say that the island’s health workers, who are at a very high risk of acquiring and transmitting the virus, as well as the older adults, are being prioritized to get the shot.