By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
A LOCAL infectious disease expert is urging residents not to become relaxed about the apparent downward trend of COVID-19 cases, explaining other factors might be contributing to those lower numbers.
Dr Nikkiah Forbes, director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme at the Ministry of Health, said scientific data must be taken into account when making a determination on lower numbers and controlling an outbreak of COVID-19.
“So yes, cases are starting to trend down, however, there are things that influence the number of persons testing positive,” she said yesterday.
“It’s called biases in testing reporting. There are other factors that contribute to that. For example if you have a two-day lockdown, maybe persons aren’t going in to get tested on those days, or the lab may be compiling samples and running them every two days. So you do have to consider other things.”
“There is a reason why we have to use other indicators because there are biases when looking at just persons who are testing positive. We want to know that the outbreak is under control and we want to have more scientific information that can support that. We also want to know things like the percentage of persons testing positive out of all the tests done. Those are indicators that will make us know what is happening with the outbreak as we manage the outbreak.”
She said while the country is starting to see a decrease in the number of people testing positive and also being hospitalized, there is a lot more work to be done.
“We want to continue on that trend and now is the time to keep our focus and continue prevention and, of course, other outbreak control strategies. In an effort to see those cases come down, we have more to do,” Dr Forbes continued. “We don’t want to relax and become complacent and the cases go back up”.
Health officials reported 39 additional cases of COVID on Wednesday. The death toll from the disease stood at 150 up to press time.
Over the last week or so, cases have been falling along with testing numbers. Health Minister Renward Wells has said this is because less symptomatic people are coming to health facilities to be tested. He also said the spread of COVID-19 is down.
“If you compare the first and second wave, yes, 53 cases per day is lower than it had been a few weeks ago,” Dr Forbes said yesterday. “I am happy about that. However, remember that is way more cases than we had in our highest numbers in the first wave. We must keep our focus and continue to have these numbers come down to get the outbreak controlled in our country.”
Dr Forbes also touched on the science involved in dealing with COVID-19.
“There are several indicators that scientists look at as we analyse the COVID outbreak and what’s happening in countries,” she said. “One of those indicators is the number of persons being recorded as lab confirmed positive on a daily basis. We also look at the number of hospitalisations. There are other indicators and some of them are trends in the number of deaths per day.
“We also want to look at persons presenting with compatible symptoms with other influenza-like illnesses and where possible, people who are presenting for other reasons could be tested to see if they are COVID possible or had COVID. It gives you an idea of what’s happening with COVID in your country. It tells you about the outbreak and how many cases you might have.”
Realizing that the pandemic will be a problem for some time, Dr Forbes said a balance has to be created in terms of living with it as it is “not going anywhere”.
“Having had the opportunity to hear the experience of multiple other countries in the world, there is something that all these countries have in common, including us, which is when the first wave of COVID happened there were very tough restrictions and the curve was flattened,” Dr Forbes said.
“With the reopening and things going back to more normalcy, the economy reopening, global travel, commerce, people moving about, the second wave happened. We are no different. We have to balance health, the economy and socialisation because COVID is not going away. It’s going to be here for quite a while.”
Regarding the anticipated COVID-19 vaccine, Dr Forbes noted that when available it is not going to be “a sudden magic bullet” to COVID-19.
There is no cure for COVID-19 right now, so the only thing the country has in its arsenal is prevention, she said.