End in sight for coronavirus? Former Chief Medical Officer talks getting ‘back to normal’

Former Chief Medical Officer Winston De la Haye.

Former Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Winston De la Haye, said it could take at least three to four months before life starts to return to normal.

De la Haye, who is currently the People’s National Party (PNP) caretaker for St Catherine East Central, made the revelation while speaking exclusively with BUZZ late Wednesday evening.

De la Haye pointed to China as the example, noting that the original case of the novel coronavirus emerged on November 17, 2019 and four months later the country was slowly creeping its way back to normal- but it isn’t quite there yet.

“We are now in mid-March, and China is still struggling, and so if we use that pattern- we have no reason to think it would present otherwise here in Jamaica,” said De la Haye, who estimated that based on the first confirmed case in the island, it could be July before things level out.

Things to get worse before better

On the heels of the island recording its first death related to COVID-19 on Wednesday, De La Haye went on to state that he expected to see an uptick in the number of positive test results for the virus.

“The figures we are seeing now in terms of number of positives, they are going to escalate- we had our first death today and that’s going to escalate as well,” said De la Haye.

“So easily, we are looking at a period of four, five and even longer that we’ll be all be going through this process and so the decisions we make today could positively impact the future,” added De la Haye.

A ray of hope in testing, testing and more testing

De la Haye noted that at this time the focus should be on testing.

According to De la Haye, what is going to be required, is similar to what the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends, which is “testing, testing and more testing”.

 “We’ll need to identify tests which are cheaper and quicker – those are available already- what we need to do is compare them to the WHO tests- meaning that they work as well as the gold standard,” he said.

Once individuals are tested and those who are confirmed as positive identified, the idea is to quarantine and or isolate them, De La Haye explained, so as to have less numbers of people being exposed and presenting with the illness; the illness is impacted by numbers.

“It is no simple task, it is going to be a relatively slow process, where we can get our hospitals to functioning at the level they use to,” De la Haye added.

According to De La Haye the objective is to flatten the curve.

Flattening the curve refers to community isolation measures that keep the daily number of disease cases at a manageable level for health care providers.

“I operate out of the University Hospital of the West Indies, currently we’ve had to scale down clinics, because we need to reserve spaces as we anticipate an influx – which we will have – of patients needing to be managed by a medical team,” De La haye said.

“80 per cent of persons becoming infected will go through the course without anything very untoward but there is a 20 per cent who will need hospitalization,” added De la Haye.

De la Haye noted that what needs to happen, so that we are in the best position to move forward, is ensuring that all those who will be getting sick don’t become sick in a close proximity.

As an example, De la Haye said that if 70,000  people are going to get ill from the virus- a number he said that was not far from the truth- and in need of hospitalization it was important to not have all of them sick in the same month, but to spread that number over two or  three months.

Given that there is currently no vaccine or specific medication to treat COVID-19, flattening the curve appears to be the strategy most countries are taking.

To comply with the strategy, Jamaica among many other Caricom states have temporarily closed public schools, and many businesses have advised employees to work from home if possible.

On March 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised that all events of 50 people or more should be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks.