Confirmed coronavirus cases grow in Caribbean

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UPDATE: Dominican Republic health officials are now reporting five cases including a 56-year-old Dominican woman who lives in Italy and a 12-year-old who recently returned from a European vacation with his family. Both are in quarantine at home. There are now a total of 15 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Caribbean.

The number of people in the Caribbean who have contracted the novel coronavirus continues to grow with the Pan American Health Organization confirming Friday an additional positive case in the Dominican Republic and eight new ones in the French overseas territories, bringing the total to 12.

French Guiana is reporting five cases of COVID-19 while Martinique confirmed two cases. The cases are in addition to three previous cases — two in St. Martin and one in Saint Barthelemy — that had been previously reported along with a previously confirmed case in the Dominican Republic. No information was released on whether any of the 12 patients have died.

Two individuals who live in St Barths, or St. Barts, contacted the Miami Herald to say that the two cases in St. Martin in fact originated in their island and they are concerned about whether the authorities at the Regional Health Agency in Guadeloupe have the capability to determine who else may be positive for coronavirus after coming in contact with the couple and their son, who also tested positive.

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The couple quarantined in French St. Martin spent a week on vacation visiting their son in Saint Barthelemy during its annual Carnaval du Mardi Gras 2020 events, according to the residents. After they tested positive, the authorities went to find them to place them in quarantine but were told by their son that his parents had boarded a ferry to Dutch St. Maarten to return home to L’Oise France. This occurred on Feb. 28.

It was when the couple arrived at Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten, that they were met by authorities and transferred into quarantine into French St. Martin, both of the residents told the Herald.

“I can’t stress enough that it has been clarified that the parents presented ZERO symptoms when they were intercepted at Juliana Airport St Maarten — no flu-like symptoms whatsoever,” said one of the residents who did not want to be named for fear of backlash in the small community of St. Barths. “We are very concerned with our health and well-being and that of all of our residents and visitors.”

The island has several well-attended International events coming up this month, including a regatta. So far, officials have not said whether they will cancel. Stores on the island, one of the residents said, have been out of masks, anti-bacterial gel and hydro-alcohol since discovering the news. Where soap and water are not available to wash your hands, the gel and hydro-alcohol also help reduce bacteria contamination.

“We don’t have a modern hospital equipped to deal with any type of a crisis such as an epidemic. The island is completely incapable of taking care of a huge influx of tourists during a time of epidemic, while protecting their own resident population at the same time,” the resident said.

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Neither Dutch nor French authorities have released the names of the French couple. But in a statement released on Thursday in relation to the two positive COVID-19 confirmed cases, authorities in St. Maarten acknowledged that the French couple had been at the Juliana airport.

“The Princess Juliana International Airport implemented its infectious disease protocols with respect to the two French nationals who were isolated and examined at the airport prior to being transported to the French side,” the statement said.

Dutch authorities said they have been working closely with their French-side counterparts prior to the confirmed cases and will continue to work together. There is no need to panic. Since Sunday, Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs had activated the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in connection with the cases, the statement said.

“There are zero cases of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 on Dutch Sint Maarten at this time,” St. Maarten said in the release. “Our screening processes at our ports of entry have been stepped up in cooperation with the airlines who are also following their own screening protocols based on World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.”

Possible transmission of the flu-like illness continues to worry health officials and Caribbean governments, which have continued to expand travel restrictions in hopes of preventing transmission in their territories.

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In a press conference on Friday, Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, said stopping transmission remains an important objective in the region where her organization is particularly focused on working with those countries with the weakest health systems.

Etienne said there is a likelihood that “we will have a mosaic of COVID-19 situations occurring throughout the region at any one time.”

“This will include three possible scenarios,” she said. “One, where there is no transmission ... two, that there are outbreaks in closed environments, such as nursing homes, prisons, boarding schools, cruise ships, etc. And three, there is widespread community transmission.”

Regardless of which one arrives, Etienne said the region must be ready and the World Health Organization is helping countries to be able to respond.

“It is important to avoid overreacting to importations, and identified outbreaks,” she said. ”We must be prepared to save lives.”

Etienne said her organization has trained 29 of the 32 laboratories in the region to carry out testing and diagnosis of COVID-19. They have also developed a hospital readiness tool that allows hospitals in the regions to assess and evaluate preparedness “for a potential imported case.”

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