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A chart showing the spike in deaths in Tobago due to COVID-19.

Tobago is expected to end July 2021 with its deadliest and most infectious month for COVID-19, besting records set only last month. Based on data from July 30, active cases and hospitalisations are at a pandemic high, with the ICU at 100%.

Preliminary data shows the island reported 582 COVID-19 cases as of July 30, compared to the previous high of 338 cases recorded during June 2021. Tobago also recorded 18 COVID-19-related deaths as of July 30, surpassing May and June 2021’s record of 11 deaths within a month.

Tobago has gone through several “waves” of COVID-19 compared to Trinidad. In phase one, cases were mainly imported before July 2020 and in phase two, community spread began in August through October, closely matching Trinidad’s ebb and flow of cases.

However, the island recorded a surge during December 2020 and January 2021 attributed to inter-island travel, with community transmission ongoing. Still, active cases never crossed 100 through March 2021.

From April 2021, like Trinidad, cases began to surge across Tobago as the country entered phase three of the pandemic. Active cases rapidly surpassed 100 in May, reaching an initial peak of 201 on June 3, 2021. In Trinidad, cases followed a similar increase, peaking on May 26.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the causes of the rise in cases are multi-faceted, primarily attributed to increased and sustained mixing of the population and the circulation of the Gamma (P.1) variant. The first confirmed sample of the P.1 variant was detected in Trinidad on April 19 and in Tobago on July 27.

However, unique to Tobago, cases declined through the remainder of June, reaching a minimum of 87 active cases on June 28. Unlike Trinidad, where cases plateaued and are now gradually increasing, cases in Tobago rapidly increased at a pace not seen before. As of July 30, active cases were at a record high of 407, adding nearly 600 new cases to Tobago’s COVID-19 case count in one month. The island’s weekly positivity rate also reached a pandemic high of 31 per cent in the last epidemiological week, which ended on July 24, meaning for every 100 samples submitted for testing, 31 came back COVID-19-positive.

Hospital Cluster

This newest surge was kicked off by a substantial cluster of cases within a non-COVID-19 setting at the Scarborough General Hospital.

According to Tobago Regional Health Authority’s COVID-19 Response Team member Dr Anthony Thompson, the cluster was identified when “a patient was admitted for symptoms unrelated to COVID, had been discharged and then while at home developed a fever and came back to the facility. They re-presented at the hospital, at which point they were then identified as being COVID positive.”

In mid-July, Dr Thompson indicated that this cluster had grown to 49 cases, inclusive of employees at the hospital and patients in medical wards, four of whom succumbed to COVID-19.

Record High Deaths

Statistically, more infections result in more deaths. While experts say the Gamma variant has not been deadlier, it is more infectious. Tobago recorded a sustained rise in cases in the last three months, so the increase of deaths in a mostly unvaccinated population should not be surprising from a statistical perspective. Tobago posted a preliminary total, from April 1 to July 30 of 1,264 COVID-19 cases and 40 deaths.

The national average case-fatality ratio from April 19, when the Gamma variant was detected in Trinidad, to present, is near 3.05 per cent compared to a pandemic average for T&T at 2.77 per cent. These averages mean that in this latest phase of cases, with the P.1 variant present, the country loses one person to COVID-19 for every 32 to 33 new cases. Looking solely at Tobago’s COVID-19 numbers rather than the country as a whole, these averages are no different.

Unfortunately, in Tobago, the pace of vaccinations is slow, with 300-350 doses administered a day and no vaccinations on the weekends. To date, 13,089 people have received one dose of a WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine, with 9,635 people considered fully vaccinated.

However, there are tried, tested and proven ways to avoid becoming a part of the harrowing statistics; wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance and get vaccinated.