BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – Health officials are putting contingency plans in place for additional isolation facilities as they brace for a surge in COVID-19 infections, with the potential for thousands of new cases daily.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anton Best stated that modelling conducted by the University of the West Indies (UWI) and a team including the public health group, predicted that the presence of the variant could result in increasing infections, an overburdened health care system, and increased hospitalizations.
Speaking during a virtual COVID-19 update on Wednesday evening, Dr. Best said the modelling indicated that in a worst-case scenario with a wave lasting between six to seven weeks, Barbados could see as many as 3,500 cases per day, with a total of 91,000 infections for the period.
However, in the event of a shorter wave lasting just over one month, the island could expect to see a maximum of 1,200 cases per day at the peak, resulting in 23,000 cases at the end of the one-month period.
This, he said, was likely to result in an increased burden on the healthcare system, particularly with hospitalizations.
“So, in the best-case scenario, we are looking at 1.2 percent of persons infected with the Omicron variant being hospitalized. And in the worst-case scenario, we are looking at three percent of persons being hospitalized,” he said, noting that these referred to those who were flagged as red under the isolation program.
The Deputy Chief Medical Officer explained that in a three percent scenario, hospitalizations could peak at 700 cases, with the average stay being seven days.
He noted that the Ministry was seeking to secure additional isolation facilities to complement those at the Harrison’s Point Isolation Facility and Sunbay Hotel.
Despite this, Dr. Best said the Ministry would also be continuing its home isolation program with self-monitoring and self-isolation, which would be critical in preparing for the next wave.
However, Dr. Best told the public that getting vaccinated and booster shots was one of the key ways of combating the effects of the Omicron variant.
He noted that with just over 53 percent of Barbadians vaccinated, and 10 percent with natural immunity, due to infection with the previous strains of COVID, there was a need for more persons to get vaccinated.
“One of the key recommendations in responding to Omicron is to strengthen your vaccine program, because the first time vaccinations, as well as boosters, will significantly reduce the likelihood of death and severe disease due to the Omicron variant,” Dr. Best stated.
He added that the health officials were also paying close attention to the impact the Omicron variant had on children, and were already in discussions with the Pediatric Department at the hospital to pave a way forward.
Meantime, Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Kenneth George indicated that the Ministry of Health and Wellness would be using self-isolation as a means of containment to tackle the surge in Omicron cases.
“We believe that it is critical that based on these models we use self-isolation as a means of containment. And what is self-isolation? Self-isolation is the process in which individuals will remain and stay put in a particular place for up to 10 days at a time. This makes sure that that individual does not mix or mingle with individuals who are close or within their immediate presence,” he stated.
Dr. George added that the concept of self-isolation is built on personal responsibility and commitment.
The Chief Medical Officer went on to explain the categories being used to assess persons and the care that would be administered.
“We have three categories – green, yellow, and red. The reds are easy. Those are the individuals who will require almost immediate attention and that will be provided by Harrison’s Point or any such isolation facilities. The greens are individuals who are asymptomatic or very mildly symptomatic and do not have risk factors for an adverse outcome for COVID. Those individuals will be the individuals under the self-isolation program.
“And then the final category is the category in the middle, the yellow category. And what we have decided based on good public health advice is that those persons who are yellow and are not vaccinated are the individuals who will require an assessment in a facility. The individuals who are yellow and who are vaccinated, we will keep a special eye on you, but you will be quarantined at home. So, that is our plan with respect to handling the large surge,” Dr. George explained.
The CMO assured the public that during the projected modelling of the Omicron surge six to seven weeks, that the Ministry of Health and Wellness “will be there to hold your hands during the process of self-isolation”.
However, he advised that because of the high numbers projected, persons would be isolating with minimal medical intervention, but would receive assistance if issues occurred.
Dr. George noted that another aspect of the plan is to encourage the public to receive a COVID-19 booster, which, he said, was “the best chance … for you and for us to be able to protect ourselves”.
“We are under 50 percent of the population who could be boosted and we would like to see that rise to 70 or 75 percent very shortly, but boosters give us the best opportunity for protection,” he stressed.
Dr. George added that the Ministry would continue to work with members of the public, guiding them through the process, and would continue to provide information with respect to the COVID -19 situation in the country.
He also shared that 40 samples had been sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency for testing for the Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant, and upon receipt of the results, the public would be informed.