At the Ministry of Health’s virtual media conference, the technical director of the epidemiology division, Dr Avery Hinds, seemed to link the rise in new cases to recent changes to the public health ordinances relating to group sports.
“The overall increase did begin approximately two weeks after one of the relaxation measures that had been announced on the 21st of February, and that was the relaxation around some of the larger gatherings for sporting activities, larger group sports activities,” he said.
While he said that those involved in sports may not be the cause of new cases, he said: “… the gatherings before, during and after may be driving some of this exchange along with the increased tendency to gathering we seem to be seeing within the general population.”
When asked whether sports gatherings came up during contact tracing of recent cases, Dr Hinds said no.
“The contact tracing that we have been doing and the information that we have received has shown gatherings in other places, including the bars, including the religious settings, including the workplace as the places that are listed when we ask, ‘where you’ve been?’, ‘who you’ve been in contact with?’ and ‘who’s been in contact with you?’. It is really a sort of environmental observation.”
He said that with a rise in cases, the ministry looked at whether something unusual happened in the two weeks before the spike. In this case, he said, the two-week period prior to the beginning of this latest increase coincided with the two weeks they observed after the change in the regulations.
“So while we’re not saying that it’s directly related to that, we do note that the changes in behaviour that are associated with gathering to watch sports, after you’ve played sports, etc, those things could drive the increasing spread.
“And because of that we’re encouraging people to be aware of that and to reduce the risk by altering the behaviours and adhering to the public health guidelines,” he said.
The seven-day rolling average of new Covid-19 confirmed cases has jumped from a low of three cases to about seven cases per day. The positivity rate, which shows the number of positive cases as a percentage of all samples tested, is also on the rise, going from about 3% at the end of February to around 6% today.
Principal medical officer Dr Maryam Richards said that hospital occupancy had also jumped from 2-3% to 7% in the past weeks.
Dr Hinds said: “We are seeing that there’s an increase in the overall prevalence of the virus circulating among the population and showing up in those individuals who come to the health centres, to the hospitals, to the emergency rooms to be swabbed.”
He did say, however, that more people who showed no symptoms were being tested, which would contribute to the rising infection numbers.
“We have been ensuring that all asymptomatic contacts of those who have been confirmed are also tested and in so doing we do note that that will increase our ability to pick up on the asymptomatic cases,” he said.
“So yes, that will increase the number of cases that we detect but we are also conducting the routine surveillance of individuals who turn up in the health system without a history of contact but who have respiratory symptoms.”
Dr Hinds encouraged the population not to be overcome by pandemic fatigue and to continue to wear masks, wash hands and avoid gathering in large groups.
Also speaking at the conference, Mrs Camille Campbell, counselling psychologist with the North West Regional Health Authority, said that not knowing exactly when the pandemic would end could take a toll on mental health.
“We would hope that vaccines will take away the problem, but we don’t know that; this is new for us … When we don’t have control over something, our anxieties can go through the roof. And what we have to do is to just take it one day at a time.”
She recommended that individuals practice self-care, spend time with family and find activities that could be done without crowds.
“There are so many limitations to the pandemic, but there are also positives,” she said. “So, it’s how we’re viewing it.”
The health ministry reported nine new cases of Covid-19 today, bring the total since March 2020 to 7,986 positive cases.
Fifteen patients are in hospital and four are in step-down facilities. There are 309 people in state quarantine facilities and 217 in-home self-isolation.