The government should explain in detail the circumstances that led to funeral-goers being exposed to Covid-19 last month in a potential super-spreader event even as the territory apparently jumped from zero known Covid-19 cases to nine virtually overnight.
The funeral situation suggests the possibility of serious problems with the territory’s testing and quarantine procedures, and leaders’ reticence on the matter is extremely troubling at a time when unconfirmed news reports continue to feed the rumour mill.
Around noon on Sunday, March 28, government announced that a person with Covid-19 had attended a March 27 funeral in Sea Cows Bay, and other attendees were asked to self-isolate. Later that day, another update stated that the territory had nine active cases — up from zero on March 25.
But officials didn’t provide details on how or where the funeral-goer may have contracted the disease even though such information is of pressing concern to the community.
Instead, the public was left to speculate. To our thinking, there are at least three possible scenarios.
In one, the mourner could have arrived in the territory recently and managed to get through quarantine only to have their Covid-19 detected late. This scenario would mean the quarantine and testing procedures failed.
In another scenario, the person could have entered the territory infected and then deliberately breached quarantine. But officials have said nothing about possible charges.
In a third possible scenario, the mourner could have been a resident who caught Covid-19 here in the territory. This scenario would suggest some level of spread within the community.
If any of these scenarios is accurate, the public needs to know. The community also needs to know more about the origin of the other eight cases that were announced Sunday.
Health officials were asked questions about the mourner’s situation during a Facebook session on March 29, but they dodged them, explaining that answering would violate patient privacy.
But this excuse seems disingenuous. Officials need not reveal private details in order to provide the public with general information about what could prove to be a super-spreader event.
With previous outbreaks, after all, they have been much more forthcoming. In August, they explained that Covid-19 had spread through specific bars and nightclubs, and in December they blamed recent arrivals (who were never charged) for breaking quarantine.
So why are they mum now?
Whatever the reason, their reticence is a disservice to the public. The origin of the cases has clear implications for the community’s health. Meanwhile, the information vacuum has fed rumours and speculation, creating a growing sense of fear that the territory can ill afford at this uncertain time.
We were glad to see reported that Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone, who did not return our calls, has promised an internal investigation.
But no investigation should be needed to explain the basics of a case’s origins. And if Mr. Malone truly does not know the truth of what happened, the situation is even worse than we thought.
We hope he provides a full update straightaway.
If an infected person indeed made it through the quarantine and testing process, the system needs a thorough review. If the person breached quarantine, they should be charged. And if any of the cases came from within the community, other precautions are merited, including widespread testing and an information campaign.
Until a full explanation is provided, the public will wonder if a serious mistake is being swept under the rug at the expense of the territory’s health. We will too.
Meanwhile, we urge everyone to get vaccinated so that the territory can leave behind such concerns.