Tracking COVID-19 from day one

−How it started, how it spread and where we are today

DPI, Guyana, Monday, June 22, 2020

How could a small infection that was transmitted in a province in China move to infect more than seven million people around the world in just six months? You might have heard the saying that viruses don’t travel by themselves but people carry them and it is quite true. The constant movement of people in our busy world is the main cause of the current global crisis we are experiencing.

 In December of 2019, Chinese health authorities were investigating reports of pneumonia cases in the Wuhan province. These investigations later proved that there was an outbreak of a new virus and the source was being sought after.

Eventually, it was determined that the virus, now called the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) had been transmitted in a wet market from animal-to-person contact. The first death to this virus was recorded in Wuhan, was that of a 61-year old male who had recently traversed the wet market.

Within weeks, the virus had spread through person-to-person contact in Asia and European countries due to open/free travel that was taking place.

By the time the alarm was raised, in most cases, it was too late since thousands of cases were being reported daily. Wuhan, a province of approximately 11 million people went into immediate lockdown and this aided in the containment and mitigation of transmission of the virus in China.

Cognisant of what was occurring around the world, Guyana immediately began preparatory measures. By the time the World Health Organisation had declared COVID-19 a pandemic, Guyana had recorded its first COVID-19 case on March 11.

Upon deeming the worldwide flu-like outbreak a pandemic, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained how quickly the virus was spreading.

“It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000 cases and just four days for the third 100,000 cases. You can see how the virus is accelerating,” he underscored.

Additionally, Dr. Ghebreyesus noted that this is the first pandemic of its kind to be controlled.

He noted that there were several precautionary guidelines for persons to comply with to stop transmission of the virus and that included handwashing and sanitising and other hygienic practices.

Also, countries had the responsibility of keeping out imported cases by implementing strict screening measures at borders and airports, quarantining suspects cases and ramping up testing for the virus.

Guyana’s first case was imported and diagnosed posthumously after the 52-year old female patient died of severe respiratory complications. Since then, a total of 12 deaths have been recorded up to June 19, 2020, the youngest of these being a 38-year-old Medical Technician.

The Public Health Minister, Volda Lawrence often underscored the importance of citizens adhering to the health measures implemented by her office.

I don’t think we understand the seriousness of Mr. COVID-19, he is a respecter of no one so it is our responsibility to ensure that we keep Guyanese safe,” she emphasised in one of the ministry’s daily COVID-19 updaters.

The Ministry of Public Health also began targetting men in their messaging as the statistics showed they were the most affected by the virus.  It was recognised that this was because men usually have poor health-seeking behaviours which exposed them to the virus and in turn exposed their families as well.

Meanwhile, the virus was spreading to other regions in the country with cases being recorded in seven of the ten administrative regions at this time.

By June 21, Region One recorded 24 positive cases, Region Three has 15 positive cases, Region Four recorded 104 cases, Region Six registered one case, Region Seven has 29 positive cases, Region Nine with 2 and Region Ten with 9 cases.

It was evident that Region Four was the epicentre of the virus. Many areas, especially in the capital city, have recorded cases of the coronavirus.

Positive cases that have been identified in Georgetown came from Kitty, Sophia, Turkeyen, Liliendaal, Cummings Lodge, Alberttown and Cummingsburg., Bourda, Lamaha Park, South Ruimveldt Gardens and Thirst Park, Campbellville, East Ruimveldt, Guyhoc Park, Lodge, Albouystown and Laing Avenue.

Region Three and Seven together have a significant number with Region One particularly in the Moruca sub-region seeing a growing infection rate followed by Region 10.

Most of the persons testing positive for coronavirus in regions outside of the epicentre detailed that they would have travelled to Georgetown to transact business.

Up until this time, Regions Two, Five and Nine had not yet recorded any positive cases. The regional health officers were conducting stringent screening and monitoring measures to keep the virus out of their regions.

However, they all noted that for their regions to remain COVID-free residents must play their part in complying to safety and precautionary measures to prevent a possible infection.

Then on 8 April, 37 new cases recorded then on 14 April the number of confirmed cases increased to 48. These two periods indicate a time when the country recorded its most cases within a time.

It was noted that at this time the Ministry had not yet ramped up its testing.

By May 26, there were 139 positive cases but just two days later, 11 new cases were recorded bringing the total to 150.

Meanwhile, May 31 to June 6 was the longest period the country has gone without a positive case being recorded while testing was being done continuously. During this period 153 cases were recorded on May 31.

Following this, 169 tests were done after which only one new case was recorded on 6 June.

The Ministry beefed-up testing with the introduction of mobile units which have been travelling to different areas allowing persons to get tested.

Additionally, COVID-19 facilities were established at Paradise on the East Coast of Demerara and at Herstelling on the East Bank of Demerara allowing more persons to come forward and learn their status.

Emergency orders were put in effect from April 3, 2020. Even as the first round of emergency orders was in effect from April 3 to May 3, 59 new positive cases were recorded. For the second round, May 3 to June 3, there were a total of 71 positive cases recorded.

While Guyana recorded a spike in positive cases under curfew, the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation office in Guyana had noted that the situation could have been much worse had the government bot been proactive.

The PAHO/WHO Guyana had utilised a model that initially projected that approximately 1,400 persons would have been infected in Guyana from the day the first case was reported March 11 up to May 5.

However, efforts to stop the spread of the virus cushioned this.

PAHO/WHO’s Representative, Dr. William Adu-Krow had explained that “by 5 April, the number of cases projected was 32 and we had 23, so it means 9 persons were prevented from getting COVID-19 because of measures were implemented. We had also projected that 7 April, we should have had 50 cases; we had 35 that means 15 persons were prevented from the virus. April 9, was predicted to have 81 but we had 37, that means 44 persons were prevented, and 11 April, 144 were projected, we had 45 that means 79 were prevented….”

The Ministry moved to have more tests done as a measure to stop transmission of the coronavirus.

Once a person test positive he/she is immediately isolated until full recovery and is medically cleared by a physician. But what does it take for a positive case to eventually be recovered?

Minister Volda Lawrence explains…

For those persons in isolation (testing positive) they will be held for 14 days after which if no new symptoms develop within in 3 days prior to the 15th day, they will be tested twice in 24 hours. If negative they will be cleared but those with positive results will remain in further isolation.”

A recent update on the COVID-19 number shows that eight of the ten administrative regions have now recorded COIVD-19 cases.

After a lull, the number of confirmed cases move from 159-184 between June 12 to June 21 respectively. The country has also recorded 12 deaths and 103 recoveries.

Among those recoveries is a 105-year-old resident of the Palms Geriatric Home in Brickdam, Georgetown. The woman was among three others who also recuperated after contracting the virus.

Director of Social Services in the Ministry of Social Protection, Whentworth Tanner noted that close collaboration with the Public Health Ministry that lead to the recovery of the affected residents and stabilization of the virus in the institution.

Tanner said the seven remaining residents who also contracted the virus remain in quarantine. And until the Ministry of Health determines it safe to lift the visitation ban on their facilities it will remain in place.

As of 21 June, 2,108 persons have been tested for COVID-19 with 1,924 of those yielding negative results, 69 active cases in isolation at various facilities across Guyana and 24 persons in institutional quarantine.

Taking into consideration the worsening situation in Suriname and Venezuela the lifting of emergency measures which took effect from June 18, will be done in a carefully phased approach (six stages).

For example, the two international airports will be opened to flights but there will be several measures in place to ensure there is not another imported case of the coronavirus.

The nation has seen some of these enacted already as flights with repatriated Guyanese who have been stranded overseas begin to return home. To date over 600 Guyanese nationals have been repatriated.

Upon landing the passengers go through sanitisation, temperature screening and personal information-sharing sections at CJIA, before departing to their homes where they will be subjected to a mandatory seven-day quarantine.

Recently schools were re-opened to accommodate students preparing for the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) examinations.

A raft of safety measures was gazetted to ensure the protection of the students, teachers and auxiliary staff returning.

Among these measures are the establishment to sanitation stations, specially designated sickbays, training of sweeper/cleaners in infection prevention and control practices, use of physical distancing stickers and other signage, masks must be worn by students and teachers and only 15 students are permitted per class.

The first stage of the phased reopening of the country will run from 18 June – 2 July 2020. During this period the 6am to 6pm curfew remains in effect in all ten administrative regions.

Guyanese are called on to not become complacent and to continue practising good hygiene, Hand washing/sanitising, wearing a mask, social distancing is still important as lives may depend on it.