Terrence Deyalsingh, Minister of Health

Anna-Lisa Paul

As the nation recorded yet another COVID-19 related death yesterday bringing the toll to 13 so far, the authorities have promised to ramp up T&T’s response to the pandemic in the coming days.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said this will include an increase in the quarantine and isolation facilities as record numbers of positive cases continue to be recorded daily.

Revealing that the UTT Teachers’ Training College, in Valsayn is being outfitted as the latest step-down facility, he said a further 110 beds are also being added at the Penal, Debe Campus as part of this effort.

During the ministry’s national update yesterday, Deyalsingh said the authorities were aiming to move the country from community spread back to cluster spread in the shortest possible time.

However, he indicated this would require a united effort by all.

The minister said for this to be successful – they had to increase testing but he also stressed, they needed the public’s cooperation to conduct themselves responsibly and not overwhelm the system.

He also apologised for the anxiety people were experiencing as they await results, which he acknowledged was an error on the ministry’s part.

Particularly concerned that homes for the aged would have to be managed under a different mandate as careful attention must be paid to the elderly, Deyalsingh said, “We will now reserve the Brooklyn Centre in Sangre Grande for any possible patient who is in a home for the aged who may be exposed to the virus, or who needs more advanced clinical care, to be taken into that setting where we will put in specialized medical care.”

Claiming that current facilities were not overwhelmed – he said in the hospital setting, there was a bed capacity of 420 beds, of which 143 are currently occupied; while there was a 50 to 60 per cent occupancy rate as it related to the step-down facilities.

Appealing to the public not to test the systems in place, he said the labour needed to operate all of these facilities were not finite as medical personnel were already complaining of being burnt out.

He urged the public to adhere to the health regulations to wear a mask; social distance; and sanitise when out as this would assist in stemming the spread of the virus.

Up to midday yesterday, there were 600 samples yet to be tested.

Revealing T&T was in possession of around 19,000 test kits; Deyalsingh said 20,000 more were expected from Canada shortly, with another 100,000 from a third source, and 20,000 more from an additional provider. He assured, “As far as test kits are concerned, we are in a very good place.”

He said 25 more GeneXpert machines had been ordered as supply chains were opening up and they would be installed at all major medical institutions and health centres.

On the issue of front-line medical personnel complaining of being burnt-out as they have been working consistently since March without leave, he said a decision was taken about three months ago to train additional Intensive Care Unit nurses.

He said training was completed about seven weeks ago. He said they were in a good place as far as ICU nurses are concerned.

He said, “We have brought on in the past two weeks, about 25 doctors and 50 nurses. But it is not only medical staff. We are also bringing out support staff.”

The minister said this included drivers to transport samples as well as administrative assistants responsible for database entry.

He said, “We are expanding and hiring people across the spectrum of services that we need…clinical, para- clinical and admin support so that is being done to strengthen every part of the system.”

He said the move was done to prevent major staff burn out.

Questioned as to how soon legislation could be introduced that would make the wearing of face masks mandatory, Deyalsingh said he had spoken with the Attorney General on the matter up to yesterday morning.

He said, “The legislation is being drafted but it will need Parliament to sit because it cannot be done via legislation. It has to be done via an amendment to the parent act which is the Public Ordinance Act.”

PM’s family tested

One day after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said he had been exposed to a COVID-19 positive patient and would be quarantining although he had tested negative – the Health Minister confirmed four other members of Rowley’s family had been tested and had all received a clean bill of health.

On Friday, Rowley revealed that he had been exposed to someone on August 10, who later tested positive for the virus.

In a statement on Friday, the Prime Minister said, “It came to my attention last night that on Monday 10th, I was exposed to someone who later tested positive for COVID-19. I have been tested and the results are negative.”

Rowley said out of an abundance of caution, he was advised to remain in quarantine at home until the 14-day period expires next Monday.

He too repeated calls for citizens to do their part to help fight the virus by following the COVID-19 guidelines.

He said: “Given the circumstances under which we all now live I once again take this opportunity to appeal to ALL citizens to each do your part to help fight this virus by strictly following the health instructions of regular attentive hand washing and sanitisation, physical distancing and no congregation in groups above five persons and additionally most importantly wear a mask once outside the home or in an enclosed space which is being shared at close quarters.”