By Visham Bhimull
BASED on this graph of new Covid-19 cases in Trinidad and Tobago from March 10, we can see two clear “waves” of new cases which are sometimes referred to as “phases” by authorities.
The truth be told, there is no strict definition for what is or is not an epidemic wave or phase.
A wave implies a rising number of sick individuals, a defined peak, and then a decline. The word “wave” implies a natural pattern of peaks and valleys; it hints that even during a lull, future outbreaks of disease are possible. It does however closely resemble the pattern of the graph of T&T above.
But we must remember that this data is limited to issues of possible limited testing earlier on, change of frequency in testing over time and introduction of new methods of testing.
That being said, at the end of July, we began to see a clear rise once more in the new cases which has grown exponentially since then.
There is still speculation as to the initial cases that may have given rise to second rise.
It has not been confirmed by official reports, but there was also a clear rise in new cases in the neighboring country of Venezuela and the government did admit that the borders are not secure against refugees who are illegal immigrants to this country.
Even if a Venezuelan could have been responsible for the second rise, other circumstances would have contributed for the wildfire spread that is taking place now.
The Ministry of Health had reported that super spreading was identified by gatherings in local bars. This in addition to the fact of rolling back lockdown and people not strictly adhering to social distancing measures.
But we must not forget that the tendency to congregate increased during the election period.
Also, the toing and froing caused in the minds of citizens as to what is the right thing to do during the pandemic during the political campaigning created mixed messages from both camps.
All these factors would be quite significant in contributing to where we are at present with Covid-19.
The rise in deaths due to Covid-19 has got many scared. However, as statistics predict, once our case count continues to go up, so will our death toll. Our seasonal flu in no way compare to Covid-19 as this novel virus has a very scary mortality rate. It would seem that our healthcare capacity is still being able to cope. But for long?
Since the beginning of the pandemic, however, significant social and economic costs have resulted from a prolonged lockdown.
Blanket policies were enacted that did not take into consideration the social and economic costs or the ability of businesses to adapt their operations to mitigate the risks.
However, at this point, trying to play the blame for political mileage makes no sense and will waste time in us securing the public’s health in T&T.
As per economic forecasting, the future looks gloomy as it limits our actions against the spread of the virus. It is also ironic that our actions against the virus is a major factor that has caused the decline in the economy. Many are actually dreading budget day in October.
Without a vaccine, large-scale testing capacity and sufficient critical-care beds, it is imperative that we listen to our local authorities.
The commonsense actions everyone can currently take to limit the spread of infection remain the same:
- staying home when possible,
- wearing a mask and socially distancing when out, and
- frequently washing hands
All these will help speed up our way beyond this pandemic, regardless of what wave we’re in. Despite where we are now, the actions that were taken as guided by healthcare experts internationally may have saved us from an even higher death toll.
Our only hope moving forward is to become wiser from the lessons learned thus far:
We’ve seen how simple action like; hand washing, regular disinfecting of surfaces, wearing face masks and social distancing can drop the rate of spread and limit community spread of the virus.
Testing and contact tracing are crucial as it gives us data that will inform our evolving plan of action. In addition, data from contact tracing enables analytical modelling to understand current and projected transmission paths.
Regions that effectively managed virus transmission had consistent messaging from different levels of government, promoting the simple behaviors needed to reduce transmission. Messages that also provide a rationale for the necessary behavioral changes are most effective.
Businesses can adapt, but more time is needed to effect policies taking into account smaller and medium business. This is key in stabilizing the economy as long as this pandemic exists. If it persists, we must bear in mind that no business is immune.
We must factor in the social cost, especially with regard to mental health. Internationally domestic violence rates have increased and suicide rates are also anticipated to increase. We should be vigilant here in T&T.
Source of illustration: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_pandemic_in_Trinidad_and_Tobago
Dr Visham Bhimull is a Primary care Physician MBBS (UWI) Diploma in Family Medicine (UWI)