6,000 in isolation as Omicron and Delta spread

| 25/01/2022 | 182 Comments
Cayman News Service
Molecular biologist at HSA Jonathan Smellie

(CNS): More than 6,000 people, almost 10% of the local population, are currently in isolation after testing positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus over the last week. Public Health officials have said the sheer number of people impacted by the virus is making it extremely difficult for them to meet all of the expectations relating to getting results out and speaking with people who are locked down.

In a virtual meeting with members of the media on Monday, officials reflected on the numerous challenges they have with the ongoing surge, not just with the very contagious Omicron variant, which is now the dominant strain, but a resurgence of Delta as well.

With so many people now confirmed positive plus anecdotal evidence that there are more people who are positive but not in the system, the surge of infections is causing numerous problems for the business community and the public sector. It is also having a detrimental impact on those tasked with managing the pandemic.

Chief Nursing Officer Dr Hazel Brown, a leading member of the Public Health team, explained that more than a hundred employees of the Health Services Authority alone are in quarantine after testing positive for the virus and several of them are Public Health staff.

Molecular biologist Jonathan Smellie, the HSA’s genome sequencing specialist, explained that while Omicron remains the dominant variant, Delta never went away and over the last two weeks the HSA lab is seeing a resurgence of this strain in the sequencing of samples.

At the end of last week, the average number of Delta cases was double the number recorded at the end of December. While it is too early to say with certainty what that means, it could have a more detrimental impact on hospitalisations, given that the Delta variant remains more virulent than its new more contagious rival, Omicron.

Officials were not able to say why Delta is picking up again but implied that within a small population it could just be the result of a small number of positive people behaving irresponsibly and spreading the strain that was always around at large gatherings.

The laboratory staff, like all of the teams within the Public Health Department that are part of the COVID management process, are pushed to the limit. Smellie said they can be running as many as 1,000 tests per day, and while they had originally attempted to sequence all positive cases, that is no longer feasible.

He said the lab was now focused on sequencing the samples with very high viral loads and people who are very sick as a result of being infected, as well as monitoring the return of the Delta variant.

Both Smellie and Dr Brown revealed that although they don’t have the figure yet, there have been a number of repeat infections, including people who have tested for multiple strains. While there have been no cases of people testing for Delta and Omicron or other strains simultaneously, people are being reinfected within a couple of months.

Interim Chief Medical Officer Dr Autalia Newton said that in time, Public Health will try to pull together the data relating to the vaccination status of the people who have had the virus more than once.

However, at present collating the data to establish patterns and learn about COVID’s behaviour here is limited by the day-to-day management of a very high infection rate, she said.

Explaining why it can take more than the hoped-for 24 hours to get results to people waiting to leave quarantine, Smellie said that there are more than 35 steps to be taken for each test sample. They also need to re-test samples randomly for safety reasons and sometimes re-test specific samples if there are unclear results.

Dr Brown said that the HSA is doing its best to recruit staff to fill the gaps but right now it is now begging for volunteers from the community who can help with notifying people of their exit results.

She said the department was well aware and fully appreciated the frustrations of people waiting on exit tests but pointed to a multitude of issues relating to the management of those in isolation that was pushing them to the limits.

Government officials insist its measure are working since hospital cases are not straining the capacity of the HSA to treat those patients while continuing to offer full services for all other patient needs. Nevertheless, the sheer volume of infected people is overwhelming Public Health, both with testing and managing their isolation.

The danger for government is that the impact of very tough isolation protocols, compounded by confirmation and exit testing delays, is impacting businesses, resulting in pressure being put on employers who test positive with a lateral flow test but are not ill to come to work anyway and not report those results.

This means that the spread of the virus will remain uncontrolled, creating a vicious circle of greater strains on health services and greater reluctance by the population to comply.

Dr Brown said that Public Health “is attempting to respond to all breach reports but she admitted that it was very difficult to deal with, given all of the other demands on the limited and understaffed teams.

During the media roundtable, officials confirmed that alongside the weekly more detailed data, which will be released every Wednesday, Public Health will return to regular releases of the daily count of new cases, hospitalisations and any related deaths, as well as an estimate of the number of people in isolation each day.

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Comments (182)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Most of them govt workers cause lord knows Covid has not hit the private sector as bad as it hit them govt workers….

  2. Anonymous says:

    Same experience in our house hold.
    Both adults 52 years old, healthy who rarely miss a day of work for illness, double vaccinated and boosted. Tested positive at home with LFT and confirmed with PCR test.
    Bed ridden with sever discomfort, fever, joint pain, prickly skin, headaches, vomiting, fatigue, cough, chest pain and on and on.
    No we are not needing to be hospitalised but would have preferred to not have experienced being so unwell. Luckily we have support around us and are able to manage some aspect of work from home.
    Stay safe !!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Exit PCR test is unnecessary and burdensome on both patient and testers. Same with requiring PCR confirmation of positive LFT.

    If a vaccinated person tests positive, isolate for 5 days and then wear mask for 5 days. Done!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I note the HSA is ‘begging’ for volunteers to notify persons in quarantine of their exit results. I thought this is something I could spare a few hours helping with, but having seen the requirement to become a volunteer as named on the HSA volunteer registration section, namely police clearance certificate/personal/professional references/copy of passport or birth certificate/copy of health insurance/copy of qualifications/medical certificate I couldn’t in all honesty be bothered to pursue. I understand there is a degree of confidentiality but surely the above is not needed to make a few phone calls?

    • Anonymous says:

      It is fairly clear that HSA and the Panton PACT-less Clown Car are using lack of contact personel as an excuse for their poor performance.It seems they are deliberately making it difficult for people to volunteer to assist. IF the Clown Car were serious about getting more contact people in the programme, they would do the sensible thing and offer to train and pay people to do the notification. They need not be employees, they could be independent contractors paid per contact completed. (Ohhh! Did I use the word “sensible” in reference to something that could be done by the Clown Car? Sorry! Silly me! Yeah. I should have known better.)

  5. Anonymous says:

    Dr Brown said that the HSA is now begging for volunteers from the community who can help with notifying people of their exit results. Why beg?
    This Panton Clown Car PACT-less government needs to think outside of the box. With over 6,000 persons in isolation with nothing to do, why not offer to train and pay some of them to do the notification? It would help alleviate their boredom, give them supplemental income, and perhaps make them less likely to go stir crazy and venture out illegally. Plus it would ensure rapid contact with test results. Even if only 5% would qualify and agree to do the job that would be 300 candidates. Supply them with a local-call-only phone and pay them per confirmed contact.

  6. Anonymous says:

    End the rules:
    1. Omicron is very mild
    2. The hospitals aren’t being overwhelmed
    3. Tourism industry is being decimated
    4. Its possibly illegal to hold people in their homes pending an exit PCR test.

    Anyone calling for the rules to stay on is either benefiting from them eg. stipend (or brainwashed) and need to be shamed (or educated).

    • Caymanian says:

      Do you actually read???

      1. Omicron is not always mild.
      2. Yes the hospitals are being overrun
      3. Wtf cares if tourism is being decimated. Peoples lives are being lost.
      4. No. Medical overrides that. Medical warranted quarantine is 1 million % legal.

      5. You are a damn idiot and you need a mental exam. You are not well between the ears. That whistling you are always hearing is as a result of the lack of substance between the two ears and air is passing Unobstructed. Serious condition called nobrainism

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m convinced you don’t read either. Omicron is the endemic version of the virus that cannot be controlled. Water will always find its way downhill and viruses will continue to find new bodies to infect. The absolute fear of being infected is unwarranted anymore.

        “Wtf cares if tourism is being decimated. Peoples lives are being lost.”

        The Caymanians that rely on working to survive care. The government paying these people out $1500 a month care. I guess you never raised a kid on minimum wage.

        “No. Medical overrides that. Medical warranted quarantine is 1 million % legal”

        People aren’t reporting their positive tests because of how stupid the system is right now. Exit PCR should not be necessary and government should also be compensating Caymanians asked to isolate.

        • Anonymous says:

          There will be more variants and more pandemics as global population places more strains on the food supply and lives closer and closer together in poverty as global capitalism takes the Earth’s remaining resources to keep the system going.

          I hate to be the one to break this bad news, but things are never going to return to “normal” and neither are you. Plan accordingly.

        • Anonymous says:

          You’re right. I’ve never been that irresponsible to have children while I couldn’t even support them myself.

      • Anonymous says:

        This has been a “practice” pandemic.
        In the event of a more severe pandemic, most of us would be dead, because—as we have learned—a substantial % of people just won’t follow public health protocols issued by our duly elected leaders.

        This has been a test, and we have failed it.

      • Anonymous says:

        Variant BA.2 has been found in more than 40 countries, but no worries. The Wakandan-Cayman force field will save us.

      • Anonymous says:

        a) “1 million %” legal is meaningless. One can debate whether gradations of legality is possible, but anything over 100 is quite clearly illogical.

        b) Detaining people when the clear scientific evidence shows they are not infectious and pose no risk to the wider population is irrational and likely to be unlawful. Detaining people simply because the authorities refuse to follow the clear scientific evidence and are incapable (due to incompetence) of providing timely test results is highly likely to be illegal.

        An enterprising lawyer might look at organising some type of class action, if such things are possible in the Cayman Islands. From the recent figures re isolation, it sounds as though there may be some 6,000 to 14,000 possible claimants.

        CIG, you are on notice.

    • Anonymous says:


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