TRINIDAD and Tobago has recorded its first and second cases of community spread of Covid-19.
It caused worry in parts of Port of Spain yesterday as two branches of retail chain Pennywise had to be temporarily closed after it was determined that they were visited by a primary contact of “Patient 139”.
State bank First Citizens also closed the ATM of its San Juan branch after investigations showed the primary contact of the Covid patient visited the bank.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram advised the public that the positive patient, a 63-year-old woman, was ill and exhibited symptoms for about a week before seeking medical attention, while moving about freely in public places. The case was confirmed at a public health centre and eight people, either resident with or closely associated with the patient’s household, are now regarded as primary contacts and are under quarantine restrictions.
How did they get it?
There are unanswered questions as to how Patient 139 contracted Covid-19.
The patient has no recent travel history and Parasram said the epidemiological investigation would include whether the patient had contact with a person who had recently travelled or was in contact with a health worker.
Calling the development “very concerning”, Parasram acknowledged that the case presents the possibility of community spread but gave the assurance that the Ministry and other stakeholders were working to “ring fence” the situation.
As a result of the patient’s unrestricted movements, including within the household, second and tertiary contact tracing of the movements of the patient’s contacts must be carried out.
The investigation began on Tuesday, Parasram said.
“There is no overt or open link to recent air travel so it is being investigated, and of course as soon as that investigation culminates we’ll have a better idea of what the source of that infection is,” Parasram said during the Ministry of Health’s media conference yesterday.
In separate statements, the Ministry of Health recorded one more “imported” case (Patient 140, a Trinidadian repatriated from Saudi Arabia) and another case from community spread.
“One additional person has tested positive for Covid-19. The case is pending epidemiological investigation,” the Ministry stated.
A Ministry of Health official last evening confirmed to the Express that this was the second case of community spread. The country has recorded 141 Covid-19 cases as of last night.
There have been eight deaths.
Pennywise, First Citizens precautions
A visit by one of Patient 139’s primary contacts led to beauty and personal care product retailer Pennywise Cosmetics on Charlotte Street, Port of Spain at Long Circular Mall, being closed for sanitation exercises.
“In this instance the person would have been ill for more than a week and would not have restricted themselves to movement within their home,” Parasram said. “One of the primary contacts would have interacted in some way with Pennywise. The closure is for sanitisation. We will do a line listing of the staff as well. We will do testing, as necessary, of primary, secondary and tertiary cases.”
Parasram and Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh reinforced the relevance of Covid-19 protocol within the national community, emphasising that the latest positive case demonstrates the need for businesses to ensure sanitation stations and for people to wear masks and wash their hands frequently.
Case 139 was the first of its kind in 80 days where health authorities were not able to immediately identify the source of infection and had to engage in rigorous contract tracing, while awaiting the results of an epidemiological investigation into how and where the woman became infected.
The patient was one of four to be confirmed since Monday, with the others having been repatriated from Saudi Arabia and Canada, and the second community spread case, which brought the Covid-19 positive count in T&T to 141.
Three people have since been discharged from the Caura Hospital and one person was being transferred to that hospital, Parasram said.
Asked if the possibility of community spread could cause the Government to roll back its phased reopening of the economy, and reinstate restrictions on non-essential movement, Deyalsingh said this discussion was not actively on the table at this time.
Radial effect of infection
While “not blaming anyone”, Deyalsingh noted that had the patient sought medical advice and self-quarantined, as health authorities have urged the public to do where Covid-19 symptoms may be possible, two businesses would not have had to shut their doors temporarily.
The Express understands that more than 25 members of staff from the Charlotte Street branch of Pennywise were required to stay inside the building for several hours following closure and would have been tested.
In a statement following the Ministry’s press conference, Pennywise chief executive officer Dave Paladee assured customers that all measures would be taken for their safety and noted that the store had, since the partial reopening of the economy last month, observed Covid-19 protocols including hand sanitising at store entrances. In a later release, Pennywise said it had been informed by the Ministry of Health that the primary contact of the 63-year-old woman had tested negative.
Pennywise initially stated: “We have been informed by the Ministry of Health that in their contact tracing of a person with Covid-19, a contact of theirs, who is still unconfirmed for the virus, had interactions with someone at our Charlotte Street and Long Circular Mall branches. Dr Avery Hinds, Technical Director in the Epidemiology Division at the Ministry of Health, has indicated that there is a ‘relatively low risk’ that anyone at our stores has been infected but the Ministry is taking all precautions to ensure that thorough contact tracing and testing is done. As a result, all of our staff members are being tested and the store will be thoroughly sanitised before reopening.”
In its later release, Pennywise said: “Please note the Ministry of Health has informed us that the contact that visited the stores has tested negative for Covid-19. All stores have been given clearance to open as usual but out of an abundance of caution they will still be thoroughly sanitised (yesterday).”
There was also a concern that the positive patient had visited the San Juan branch of First Citizens.
During the press conference, however, Deyalsingh gave notice that he had been informed the person used the automated teller machine (ATM) and had not entered the branch.
In a statement, First Citizens said: “Operations and customer services have not been interrupted by the Public Health Authorities’ confirmation that a customer tested positive for Covid-19”.
“First Citizens confirms that said customer made use of the ATM only, at the San Juan Branch location. The ATM room and ATMs were and continue to be thoroughly and regularly sanitised in keeping with established cleaning protocols. As such, staff at the San Juan Branch would not have been exposed to the risk of contracting the virus from the said customer at the branch, and the branch and ATM services remain open for business.”
Deyalsingh said the patient’s name had been given to the bank’s group CEO Karen Darbasie only because it was necessary for the tracing of the customer’s movements in relation to the San Juan Branch.