I have been informed that the Ministry of Public Health’s Medical Team met with GECOM on Thursday and clarified their recommendations with regards to the recount of the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I had cause to pen a letter to the Editor which was published on Wednesday, April 29, 2020, with regards to one of the most ludicrous recommendations of the said team on behalf of the National Task Force on COVID-19. In that letter, l stated that “The report of the five-member team to the Minister recommended that “surgical/disposable masks should be changed/disposed of every 30 to 60 minutes” which it claimed follows WHO guidelines. As a result, with the vote recount expected to take at least 25 days, GECOM Secretariat calculated that at minimum 33,000 masks would be needed if they are changed every hour or 66,000 if changed every half hour.
The absurdity of this recommendation flies in the face of the WHO guidelines “Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19”, Interim Guidance, April 6, 2020, which advocates “Replace masks as soon as they become damp with a new clean, dry mask; Do not re-use single-use masks; Discard single-use masks after each use and dispose of them immediately upon removal.” Note the WHO guideline has no requirement to change the mask every 30-60 minutes.
This WHO guideline is what is in practice globally and in Guyana.
Surprisingly, the said team is now amending their original recommendation and saying that these masks must be changed every 2 hours!
How did these health wizards come up with its original and now this amended recommendation? What is the basis or standard they are using to come up with this new concoction of changing every 2 hours? Are they creating new standards not applied in any part of the world?
I ask, what do the Guyana Medical Council and Guyana Nursing Council, who are the guardians of the doctors and nurses of this country, have to say about this?
The WHO guidelines are very careful to point out that the use of masks by the public should in no way lead to a mask shortage for health workers which would place a nation’s health personnel at risk. That is why it recommends cloth masks for civilian gatherings, which are washable and re-usable, coupled with social distancing and hand and surface sanitising. Surgical/disposable masks are, therefore, not needed for this recount. There is no reason not to allow cloth masks to be worn by all participants in the recount other than a sinister one.
If this is the new Guyana standard for prevention of the COVID-19 then every nurse and every doctor and every health worker in the public health sector must demand 6 surgical/disposable masks for every 12-hour shift they work. The safety of the health workers cannot be diminished and compromised at this time or, in fact, any time. Certainly, health professionals are working in much more risky environments in health facilities with COVID-19 patients or persons suspected of having the virus than the environment at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre.
Yet another development in the incompetent manner in which the Minister of Public Health and the National Task Force are handling the pandemic in our midst is the new measure they have introduced to test the temperature of all persons crossing the Mahaica and Berbice Bridges. The rationale behind this is unclear even to health practitioners.
Temperature testing requires reliable thermometers that give accurate readings, I understand that the ones being used are sub-standard and giving incorrect readings. Anecdotally, some readings are so inaccurate that the person would be dead with those temperatures.
This is nothing but a mere PR gimmick to make it seem as if they are doing something.
The Government had the months of January and February to prepare for COVID-19, at that time known only as a novel coronavirus, but the Minister, as Chairperson of the PNC, was too busy on the campaign trail to prepare the country and protect the people. Guyana, as a result, has been woefully unprepared then and now.