KINGSTON, April 1, 2021 - Despite repeated concern from Opposition Spokesman on Health and Wellness, Dr. Morais Guy over the lack of adequate COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has doubled down in defending the government’s lack of widespread testing, claiming that more testing does very little to suppress spread of the virus.
“The fact is that, beyond a certain point you really are testing with the same results, because that's the way the statistical modelling works… I do agree that there is a level at which you should not go below, but there are optimal levels and there are levels at which diminishing return sets in, unless your objective is to test to determine infection as opposed to prevention of the infection,” Tufton said on Wednesday at a parliamentary committee meeting on the pandemic and related matters.
“Testing will give you an indication of the challenge and, up to a certain point, it will be obvious what the challenge is. It is in prevention, where we are going to address the real issue,” Tufton argued, claiming that with the virus now in all communities, contact tracing would at some point become impractical.
“I think our efforts are better placed on pushing for the protocols to be observed and, of course, in the vaccine plan that we are now rolling out,” Dr Tufton said.
However, Dr. Guy, the veteran medical doctor and opposition spokesman on health strongly disagreed and told Tufton “What you're saying is totally against public health, and the reality is that there are implications for what is being said and what is being done.
“To say that those long-shared, long-standing public health measures are counterproductive and have diminishing returns, is an unfortunate statement,” Dr. Guy told Tufton who maintained that “testing everyone is not going to tell us a lot more about what is happening.”
The Health Minister’s fatuous retort was that “We have to be careful that we do not send a signal to the population that the solution to the COVID-19 virus spread is in testing, because it is not, and I maintain that position.”
Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie reported that to date, 282,399 samples have been tested in the public and private health sectors. As at March 30, the island had recorded 39,237 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, including 596 related deaths and 17,598 recoveries since the first case was reported on March 11, 2020. There are now 20,779 active cases.
Most of the 39,237 cases are from local transmission (38,450) and deaths represent a 1.5 per cent fatality rate, data from the health ministry said. The daily positivity rate is now at 25.8 per cent, and the cumulative rate, 13.9 per cent.
Dr Bisasor McKenzie pointed out that it is the positivity rate which drives public health intervention, which is not expected to change based on higher numbers of tests.
“We would have the same kind of guidance whether we are testing 500 or a thousand, because the positivity rate would remain the same, and that's our main driver of the precautions that we put in place,” she said, and noted that hospitalisations also inform positivity rates and protocols.
The Centre for Disease Control, CDC in Atlanta, says of continuous testing: A robust and responsive testing infrastructure is essential to our success in stopping the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
This overview describes current information on the categories of tests used to detect SARS-CoV-2 infection and the intended strategies for use of those tests, including to diagnose infection, to screen in an effort to reduce asymptomatic or presymptomatic transmission, and to monitor trends in infection.
This guidance also includes considerations for health equity in testing; choosing a test; interpretation of SARS-CoV-2 test results in vaccinated persons; links to guidance for specific settings (e.g., K-12 schools, businesses, non-healthcare workplaces, correctional and detention facilities); and other considerations when deciding to test.
This information is intended for use by healthcare providers and public health professionals and those organizing and implementing testing in non-health care settings such as schools, workplaces, and congregate housing.