COVID contingency: Testing key to keeping frontline workers in action

The content originally appeared on: Cayman Compass
Police have options, including using Special Constables, to boost troops if COVID cases escalate further. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

Regular testing, enhanced staffing and overtime are among the measures being introduced to keep emergency services fully operational, as COVID-19 cases continue to escalate.

Fire, police and health chiefs insist they have plans in place to prevent virus and quarantine-related absenteeism from impacting critical services.

Cayman currently has more than 1,600 active COVID cases – all of whom are in isolation along with scores of others classified as “primary contacts” of those cases.

The surge has taken its toll on the workforce and key public services have not been immune.

A policy of allowing vaccinated personnel to avoid quarantine and continue working – if they produce daily negative lateral flow tests – is expected to reduce the amount of key staff put out of action at any one time.

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Hospitals implement testing

Lizzette Yearwood, CEO of the Health Services Authority, said it had seen an increase in staff out sick since the wave of community cases began. But she said the absences have not critically impacted operations and all facilities were open as normal.

Lizzette Yearwood

Yearwood said a high staff vaccination rate of 80%, combined with regular lateral flow testing, are among the measures expected to keep hospital wards and doctors offices fully staffed. Vaccinated staff who produce negative lateral flow tests can continue to work – even if someone in their household has COVID.

“The policy allows for majority of our workforce to be exempted from isolation and return to work as long as they remain COVID-19 negative,” she said.

From Nov. 15, lateral flow tests will be required twice-a-week for all vaccinated clinical staff and once-a-week for non-clinical staff. Unvaccinated staff will be required to do weekly PCR tests. There is currently no requirement for health service workers to be vaccinated, except for new hires and contract renewals.

Yearwood said additional recruitment had been ongoing since the onset of COVID and the cadre of healthcare workers in Cayman has increased over the past 20 months. Retired nurses have come back to work and additional staff and volunteers have been hired to work in swabbing and testing, man the flu hotline, assist with contact tracing, data input and administration.

‘Operational bubbles’

Fire chief Paul Walker said the surge in COVID cases had led to increased absences. Currently, he said, any impact on staffing could be mitigated by overtime, but the fire service will adapt its staffing plans as cases grow, to ensue 24/7 emergency cover is in place at all times.

“We have well practiced business continuity plans with trigger points in terms of percentage absent to adapt our crewing for longer shifts with fewer people,” said Walker.

Fire services expect to be able to maintain 24/7 coverage throughout any surge in COVID cases.

In the most extreme scenario, he said the fire service could create “operational bubbles” where crews and officers would effectively live at the fire station to maintain operational cover. Partnerships with the regiment and other rescue services could also help buffer numbers.

Daily lateral flow testing prior to shifts is expected to reduce transmission and keep frontline staff in operation.

Walker said he was confident these measures and others would “enable us to maintain operational aviation and domestic fire and rescue cover across all three Cayman Islands”.

Police have backup staffing plan

Police are also using regular lateral flow testing to help keep officers on the streets.

“The tests have been extremely useful to ensure our frontline shifts are able to return to work promptly,” said a spokesperson.

She said there had been some staff out of work due to COVID restrictions but insisted the police have a continuity-of-operations plan to ensure services are not impacted as cases rise.

Police officers who are not normally on front line duty and the Special Constabulary of volunteer officers can also be called on to supplement numbers in an extreme scenario.

Prison cases a concern

One area where COVID-19 related absences have already had an impact is Northward Prison. Nine security officers were isolating and 20 inmates were infected as of last week according to Prison Director Steven Barrett.

Prison Director Steven Barrett.

“We are taking our current situation extremely seriously, just as we have from the time that the pandemic was first declared,” Barrett told Cayman News Service.

“All staff entering our prisons at Northward and Fairbanks are required to complete a lateral flow test before being admitted to the facilities.”

He said losing staff was a concern but added, “We are not yet at the point where we cannot manage or safely dispense our core business.”

Port hiring short term staff

At the port, acting director Beth McField, said early detection through lateral flow testing, enhanced remote working options and social distancing polices were helping to keep COVID cases and related absenteeism to a minimum. She is hoping to bring in experienced staff on temporary contracts to supplement the port workforce.

McField added that it was of paramount importance that the port remained fully staffed and operational throughout any surge in COVID cases.

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