Updated: May 21, 2021
The COVID-19 infection rate for the Turks and Caicos Islands has tumbled exponentially, triggering the government to announce the full reopening of Salt Cay, the island with the smallest population within the archipelago.
Hon. E. Jay Saunders, Deputy Premier & Minister of Health
Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, May 20, held at the Premier’s Office on Providenciales, to update the country on the latest COVID-19 status, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Hon. E. Jay Saunders revealed that persons who live on Salt Cay, as of Monday, May 24, could ditch all protocols, including the wearing of masks in public.
The minister was not committed to an assurance as to when the island of Providenciales could see such protocols relaxed, hinting that government was not satisfied with the level at which the rate is at this moment.
Minister Saunders revealed that South Caicos, at this moment, would likely be the next island within the chain to see a full opening, based on its infection rate.
The minister pointed out that when his administration came to office January 20, 2021, the COVID-19 infection rate was spiraling at 28 percent.
However, he said his administration, in conjunction with the Health Department, pulled out all the stops to rein-in the rate, and as of May 20, the infection frequency fell to a mere 1.8 percent, which is below the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) requirement.
Minister Saunders revealed that as of Tuesday, May 18, the total number of confirmed cases in the Turks and Caicos Islands since the first one was discovered last year was 2,407.
He said over the last 28 days, 1,963 PCR tests were conducted, from which 36 COVID-19 positive cases were discovered, which gives an overall positivity rate of 1.8 percent.
Over the same period, according to the minister, 266 Antigen tests were conducted, which resulted in no positive cases, noting that the 2,229 combined Antigen and PCR tests conducted over the last 28 days yielded an overall positivity rate of 1.6 percent.
According to Saunders, of the 2,407 persons who contracted COVID-19, 2,379 fully recovered. Of the 22 who died, 17 succumbed in the country, while the other five died overseas, resulting in a death rate of 0.9 percent.
Minister Saunders pointed out that there have been what is described as ‘breakthrough’ cases within the country.
“What do breakthrough cases mean? It means that persons who got the vaccine, one or two jabs, contracted the disease again,” he explained.
He said of the persons fully vaccinated, five contracted COVID-19, but stated that none were hospitalized, as they showed no symptoms. He said there were 10 breakthrough cases of those who received only one dose. Of that number, seven were symptomatic, while two were hospitalized.
Saunders surmised that the 10 persons who contracted COVID-19 did so between doses.
“It is very important that you get vaccinated and you get the second shot, because it is after you get the second shot you would be able to drive down your chances of getting affected,” he urged.
Saunders said there were four positive cases reported on Thursday, three of which were discovered in Providenciales and one in South Caicos.
He said as of May 16, 15,332 adults in the Turks and Caicos Islands have been fully vaccinated, which accounts for 44 percent of that demographic. On the other hand, he said 20,733 have persons received at least one dose, which represents 59 percent of the adult population.
He said the breakthrough rate, when compared with the persons who have been vaccinated is negligible, reiterating that of the five infected came from a vaccinated population of 15,332, while the infected 10, came from a vaccination population of which 20,733.
He said government will do everything in its power to keep the affection rate as low as possible, noting that even if there is an uptick, they would endeavor to keep it under 3 percent.
Meanwhile, Saunders stated that the main vaccine skeptics are persons of religious persuasions and young locals, who fear that taking shots could hurt their ability to procreate.
“There are different groups, and every group has its own reason. One group (does not want to take the vaccine) for religious reasons. There is another group, who believes for fertility reasons (they should not take it). They want to have children, and (taking the vaccine) would hurt their chance of having kids in the future.
“Some people are taking a wait and see (approach). They think the timeframe (it takes to develop the vaccine) is just too short. They want to wait and see what happens to those persons who came before them.
“And so, we are changing our communication strategy in order to address all of those questions…those are valid questions. And so, we are looking at how we are going to address the message. But you have to pick the group (on a case basis), because each group has specific reasons.
“The largest group seems to be religious reasons, and then we have a sort of a smaller group, particularly the young indigenous group (who believes) it would affect their ability to have kids in the future.