(JAMAICA GLEANER) – The fearful family of the 79-year-old man who was confirmed as Jamaica’s first COVID-19 death has been ordered to self-isolate to safeguard against contagion as the country grapples with imported cases and local transmissions of a pandemic that has killed around 9,000 people globally.
The man, whose name The Gleaner will not disclose because of the risk of stigma to his relatives, hails from Corn Piece, Clarendon, and travelled to the island on Thursday, March 12, along with his wife, son, and grandson, to conduct business. They arrived from New York, where he lives.
His death was announced during a press conference at Jamaica House in St Andrew yesterday, where he was one of two persons confirmed to have contracted the novel coronavirus out of a testing pool of 11. The total number of confirmed cases here has now reached 15.
The man ailed from diabetes and hypertension and presented to the Lionel Town Hospital on March 16 with fever, cough, and shortness of breath, said Chief Medical Officer Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie. He also suffered from weakness in the joints.
“At that time, he was noted to be critically ill and was transferred to the Mandeville Public General Hospital, where was isolated and treated,” she added.
The sister-in-law of the now-deceased man said that he had long suffered from a slew of complications, including a history of heart problems – conditions that made him as vulnerable as the majority of severely affected people worldwide who are elderly and ill.
“From Sunday when he was taken in, nobody was allowed to visit him. The family got a call this morning (Wednesday, March 18) to bring clothes for him, and by some time before 1 p.m., we heard that he died,” the relative said.
The sister-in-law said the relatives who travelled with the septuagenarian have not presented with any symptoms but have been told by health authorities to report to them if their condition changes.
“If he was ill from he was in New York, he wouldn’t have come down,” the relative told The Gleaner last night in an interview.
“We are all fearful of this thing, and everybody is warned to stay in, especially those persons who will pick it up quickly. This is not measles or chicken pox … . “
She continued: “It is sad that my sister’s husband had to go like this. The only good out of this is that he always said he wanted to be buried in Jamaica.”
Meanwhile, some nurses at Mandeville Hospital revealed that initial panic among healthcare workers who have had to interact with suspected COVID-19 patients has since subsided.
“When everything started, there were nurses that were afraid to work because the virus is highly contagious. … They were understandably fearful, but now I don’t find that they have that fear,” a nurse told The Gleaner last night.
The nurse, who requested anonymity because she was not authorised to speak officially on hospital protocols, said that nurses are now rostered to work in the area and that a strict access regimen is being maintained.
“The first time someone presented with symptoms, the person came through Accident & Emergency, and, of course, that drove everyone into panic mode … ,’” the nurse told The Gleaner.
“Now, the persons are taken straight to the areas designated for isolation and quarantine and do not come in contact, in any way, with anyone else.”
She said, however, that while nurses and other persons designated to work in the areas are not allowed on other wards, doctors are not restricted – a matter that is cause for concern for some staff at Mandeville Hospital.
“People will, understandably, have fear, but we just need to follow the guidelines and the protocols that have been set and we will be fine,” said the nurse, adding that there were sufficient supplies of gloves, sanitising products, and masks.
Earlier in the evening, Bisasor-McKenzie disclosed that the patient had shown some improvement on Tuesday, but his condition deteriorated yesterday. She did not give details on the scale of contacts he might have had during his visit.
“This case is just now being investigated. … In terms of all the symptoms and when the symptoms started, the public health team are on the ground and they are collecting that information,” the chief medical officer told journalists.
“As soon as we get that information, along with the contact history, start the contact tracing, we’ll be able to provide more updated information.”
There have been almost 220,000 novel coronavirus infections worldwide. Almost half that number have reportedly recovered. The disease has a mortality rate of less than five per cent.