BUZZ Exclusive: Family of Jamaica’s patient zero clears the record

As Jamaica confirmed its first imported case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on Tuesday (March 10), members of the family of ‘patient zero’ have opened up and are distancing themselves from rumours circulating on social media.

Shelly*, an aunt of patient zero, speaking exclusively with BUZZ said that her niece arrived in Jamaica with her son and husband on Wednesday, March 4. The Jamaican was visiting from the United Kingdom to attend a funeral for her deceased aunt.

“She came in Wednesday, because the funeral was on Saturday. Everything was quite okay, she was okay until Sunday,” the aunt began.

It wasn’t until Monday when the family brought the woman to a private doctor that tests were done, and she was immediately transferred to the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI).

The aunt explained that they received the news of Jamaica’s first case of the coronavirus as it was announced at the Ministry of Health’s New Kingston headquarters. The confirmation rippled through the family and the wider community.

“We started to get scared because the only person we knew that came from England was [Pam**],” Shelly told BUZZ.

‘Operation contain & quarantine’

A team from the ministry came to the community around 7:30 pm Tuesday, Shelly said. She added that tests were conducted on immediate family members and a contact number left in case persons began exhibiting symptoms.

“The health authority people went to the house, testing and swabbing. Most of the people who came in close contact [with her], those are the people they (the ministry) target,” she added.

No truth to viral ‘cousin’ post

Shelly refuted the viral posts being circulated, noting that the family has not made a public statement, prior to this exclusive interview with BUZZ. Several details from the posts on gossip blogs, however, do align with the family’s reality.

“The person that they say speak up, we don’t know anything about that. We can’t recognise that person. I saw it on Facebook, and we were outside discussing it. That is fake. Nobody from our family did that,” she posited.

Excluding three, most of the family, including children, have been placed under mandatory self-quarantine. For the time being, none have presented signs of COVID-19 infection.

“The kids, all of us are home, nobody leaves. We didn’t send any of them to school. Three of them who were in close contact with her were sent to a quarantine area, some are home,” Shelly said, adding, “The ministry people were talking and them leave a number and said if anyone show signs of coughing or high fever, we should call.”

Bull Bay, COVID-19’s first case…

Confirming a Bull Bay, St Andrew address, BUZZ was told that the woman, who is in her 30s, visited multiple locations in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) before falling ill.

Shelly explained that her niece visited the Rest Haven Funeral Home along Victoria Avenue. Patient zero also attended a wake for her aunt in Bull Bay on Friday.

Even at the funeral, when the woman was sweating profusely, persons assumed she wasn’t accustomed to the heat and humidity—and so, no alarm was made. BUZZ was informed that the funeral was held at the Grace Gospel Hall in Harbour View with interment following at the Meadowrest Memorial Garden in St Catherine on Saturday, March 7.

An aerial view of the Meadowrest Memorial Gardens in St Catherine. (Photo: Facebook @MeadowrestMemorialGardens)

“When she was at the funeral Saturday, she was sweating; that was the only thing, but we still never had that on our mind. To be honest, it was yesterday when she went to the doctor and get transfer to [UHWI],” Shelly said.

The aunt expressed concerns that there wasn’t much investigation done to the degree of her niece’s interaction with persons at the wake, funeral and other places over the last two days before she was hospitalised.

“What about all those people who were at the funeral? She went to the undertaker and she went to the doctor,” she said.

Shelly told BUZZ that the office where the doctor first saw her niece is currently under lockdown. Notwithstanding, Shelly said the family is coping as best it can, even as some members of the community have effectively distanced themselves after the news broke.

“People walk on the other side of the road that we live now, the shop [we had] affi lock because no one is coming. Everybody scared of us right now, but we are coping,” Shelly contended.

It was a similar situation when a police team visited the family on Monday, as Shelly noted that most of the officers spoke from across the street out of fear. “Four policemen came yesterday, one of the police come across and talk to us. Him ask fi wi name and where she was staying… the other three stayed across di road because dem seh dem doh wah dead,” the woman said.

Despite the confirmation, Shelly remains optimistic no one else from the family will get sick. “We’re okay so far. We are not worried,” she said.

What’s more, Shelly was disappointed that other members of the family, who had no interaction with her niece, are being shunned as one child was rejected from a nearby primary school on Wednesday. “They said she can’t come back until she brings a medical certificate, but she live miles away from us,” the aunt of Jamaica’s patient zero told BUZZ.

There was silence from the politicians, too, as Shelly said only Joan Gordon-Webley, the People’s National Party (PNP) caretaker for East Rural St Andrew—where the community falls—visited them since the confirmation.

“We were just talking about it… we hear nothing from the councillor, we hear nothing from the MP, we only hear from the caretaker,” Shelly said.

Gordon-Webley, in an interview with BUZZ, said while she wasn’t aware of the area where Jamaica’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed, she felt it was her duty to investigate and offer counsel to the family.

Caretaker for East Rural St Andrew, Joan Gordon Webley. (Photo: Facebook @DrPeterPhillipsJA)

“I was there from about 1 o’clock yesterday but having gone there, I made sure to tell them not to touch each other. I talked to them about wiping off counters and I asked them to self-quarantine,” the PNP caretaker explained.

She cautioned the Jamaican public against panic and noted that she is in the process of collecting supplies to deliver to the family later today. “I’m now on my way back to the area, but I’m taking precaution. I am stacking up with foodstuff to take to the area and give them to keep them in the house. I’ve asked them to pull their kids from school and [ensure] each of them are comfortable in their respective homes,” Gordon-Webley said.

When contacted, Member of Parliament Juliet Holness told BUZZ that contrary to the family’s claim, the sitting councillor is not Celia James, but rather Oliver Clue, a PNP representative.

“I have not gotten a contact for any member of the family, no name,” she said. Holness added that according to her knowledge, it is ‘not the duty’ of an MP to be going to any location where quarantine protocols are being observed.

Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton speaks with Member of Parliament for East Rural St Andrew Juliet Holness at the Starkey Hearing Foundation handover ceremony earlier in March. (Photo: Facebook @JulietHolnessJA)

“I have been in touch with the Ministry of Health and the police, who are also taking precautions to [minimise] the risk to the country,” she disclosed.

Efforts to get a statement from Minister Christopher Tufton had been unsuccessful as he was in a series of crises meetings.

*Names changed on request