Deyalsingh: No plan to remove mask mandate just yet

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh. –

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh says the ministry will not be recommending the removal of the mask mandate at this time, regardless of public pressure.

At the ministry’s covid19 media conference on Wednesday, he said he understood the public wanted to put the virus in the rear-view mirror.

“At this point in time, and this stage in the pandemic, the last thing you want is a minister of health to make a decision because of public pressure and then have to reverse it. You find that people lose faith in the government.

“We have done away with the TTPass, let us see what happens in the next two months when the public health ordinance expires. If we are comfortable, then we will make recommendations to the Prime Minister and he will make his decision.”

Chief medical officer Dr Roshan Parasram said the ministry recommended that the mask mandate remain in place, in light of the omicron variant being the most transmissible variant.

“It is spread through both respiratory droplets and through aerosolisation, which mean droplets hang in the air for a period of time, so the risk is greater at close contact. It is important that masking be maintained to control spread. We’ve seen some countries remove mask mandates and then reintroduce them to deal with surges. We had a surge in numbers when we removed the majority of the restrictions, and now we’re experiencing a plateau and slight decline.”

Deyalsingh said digital vaccine cards are becoming less and less important globally as many countries are trying to get back to normalcy, especially after the removal of the TTPass, but the ministry will continue to work on them in the background.

Asked how he felt that the initiative had not gotten off the ground a year after it was proposed, Deyalsingh said, “There was a serious data breach in December 2021 which taught us some lessons, and this is the main reason we couldn’t do it. We are still looking at the digital vaccination card as we don’t know where the virus is going to go. The card may be declining in importance, but we have to be aware that covid19 is not done with us, and we will continue to look at the need for it as we move forward.”

Parasram addressed concerns that with the removal of the TTPass system, people entering the country would be able to evade the authorities and avoid quarantining.

“I’ve been in contact with the TT Airports Authority, and the information I have is that the onus is on the airline to ensure that anyone who does not have a negative PCR/antigen test is not allowed to board a flight. If that fails, and they arrive in Trinidad without a negative test, port authorities should place them in state-supervised quarantine at their expense and they will take a test there. We hope the airlines comply but, if not, we will utilise the Quarantine Act to place people in quarantine.”

He addressed concerns that parents were not testing their children when they were exhibiting flu-like symptoms, but instead pulling them from school for a few days and then sending them back to the classroom.

“Our positivity rate hovers around 40 per cent, so if you have flu-like symptoms, you have a one in two chance of actually having covid19.

“The current isolation guidelines are ten days if you’re asymptomatic, and 13 days with symptoms, based on evidence for the omicron variant. So even if you don’t want to be tested, assume you have covid19 and stay home for more than five days.”

Deyalsingh said 172 covid19 cases had been detected at 105 schools out of 124 schools tested between May 23-29.

Paediatrician Dr Joanne Paul said there had been some cases of hand, foot and mouth disease, as well as chickenpox, when children returned to school but these had been reduced. She said she was not aware of any outbreak in schools currently.

The CMO said the ministry was attempting to track reinfections by identifying repeat positives in the lab. He said information on deaths following reinfection could be provided.

Deyalsingh said UWI was still tracking down the genomic sequence for monkeypox. He said the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has teamed up with the US Centres for Disease Control to send samples from Caricom for testing if necessary, while simultaneously trying to build out the local capacity for testing.