This weekend marks 28 days since Belize has reported a case of COVID-19. It is a key milestone for Belize and will be a deciding factor for the National Oversight Committee on how they will move forward with the restrictions and the State of Emergency. Director of Health Services, Dr. Marvin Manzanero spoke on what this means for Belize and what health officials will continue doing to maintain our status in the COVID-19 statistics.
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “We are here seven weeks after we announced our first case and four weeks since we last documented a case of COVID-19 and four weeks ago we were actually reporting four new cases so if you go back to that timeline within three weeks we went from one to eighteen and over the last four weeks we haven’t had a case. We had said also that after twenty eight days which is two sets of fourteen days, the maximum incubation period of SARS-CoV-2, we would have been able to tell everybody that we would have at least seemed to have contained the first wave of COVID-19 so we are pleased to announce that today twenty eight days after we last documented a case. To date we have done 1,196 tests and as of this week we’re going to move towards testing three times per week only; that’s Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays unless something changes in terms of what we are actually finding. I’m just coming out of a meeting with fellow CMO colleagues in the region and I believe Suriname is the only other country that kind of mirrors the work that we have done in this regard and we’re having a little bit of a discussion in terms of whether we should be doing PCR testing as randomly as we are proposing because it doesn’t seem that that’s a routine recommendation in the region so we’re going to revisit that with the team tomorrow we’re meeting with the epidemiological team at headquarters and making a decision as to where we’re going to go with the testing that we are doing. We cannot lose sight however of what’s happening in Mexico that’s having escalating numbers, their curve continues to grow. Guatemala continues to report increasing numbers as does Honduras and El Salvador so we are right now in a bubble I would say because all countries in the region are having increasing numbers. I can tell you over the last three, four days we have had people from the different regions calling to find out what Belize has done in terms of our timeline and containment measures and I go back to saying the same thing I’ve been saying for the last couple of weeks which is we are where we are because of good contact tracing, good public health measures that were established routinely and also all the measures that we have taken as a community and as a government that took us to a lock down and some of that has started to be scaled down.”
Belize has had eighteen patients confirmed positive with COVID-19. One of the questions posed multiple times to health officials references the possibility of re-infection and immunity. Today, Dr. Manzanero explained what new research has been showing and how the introduction of rapid testing to Belize will prove beneficial in maintaining low numbers for Belize even in the inevitable second wave anticipated for later this year.
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “New literature is suggesting that doesn’t seem to happen. Reinfections seem that people do develop immunity but that’s something that is being tested. For our context in Belize once we have an antibody test we would want to test everybody that had been tested positive to see if they developed immunity and also the contacts of those persons who were positive and which we never picked to see if they were ever exposed and developed immunity. We had gotten a note from the oversight committee that we should be able to procure rapid tests or antibody tests that once those are available in the market we should raise our hands and put how much we would actually require. Just out of the meeting that I came from CARPHA CARICOM no rapid test has been available there. We are aware that FDA has fast tracked one I believe it’s antibody testing but that’s not available in the region there’s still no rapid test that has a good enough sensitivity and specificity in order for us to be able to use but as we move along we’re anticipating that that would become part of the routine in terms of people once they start arriving in country whether you’ll be able to do rapid tests upon arrival. Of course that will eventually mean that it’s an added cost that somebody has to bear if you do it upon arrival and the other situation is how long it’s going to take because if you have a flight load of people coming off from a plane how long is it going to take you to process all the rapid test in that flight so those are things that we have to think as we move along.”
Dr. Manzanero explained that while the current situation is good news for the country, it is easy for citizens to develop a false sense of security and let their guard down. He suggested that perhaps continued education would be the best thing to avoid the overconfidence of Belizeans.
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “Education is an ongoing process which is why there would be value in us coming here at least once a week because the information changes routinely. I mean you know that there’s a note that they found viral particles for example in semen but it doesn’t mean that it’s a sexually transmitted infection, not being able to be documented. Newer autopsies what they’re revealing in terms of patients dying of pulmonary thromboembolism we had considered that as a matter of fact treated three of the four patients hospitalized for pulmonary embolism so we were reading those preliminary data from weeks ago. Increased confidence I think that’s – we need to make sure that people are learning that they’re making changes in terms of their behavior, that we need to remind people that the hand washing needs to continue, not touching your face, and we need to think about how we’re going to go about doing our lives now with COVID-19 in the picture when children start going back to school, when all these elements you have to factor and weigh them in that regard.”