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May 21, 2020

M.O.H. on COVID-19 Management

Today marks thirty-eight days straight since Belize last reported an active COVID-19 case. It seems like a big feat accomplished especially when cases continue to grow all around our borders. So, how did Belize manage the virus and kept the numbers low, with only two deaths? It is a combination of factors, including laws and measures taken locally. But at the forefront of the response and prevention, even before the first case was confirmed on March twenty-first, are the steps taken by the Ministry of Health. Planning, testing, surveillance strategies were key, according to epidemiologist Russell Manzanero. He says that there are trained persons in an epidemiology training programme who had been working with another plan, but it was quickly revised for COVID-19. These persons, according to the Ministry, were critical in the management and response. Manzanero explains the roles and work accomplished.


Russell Manzanero

Dr. Russell Manzanero, Epidemiologist, MOH

“We actually had our first case reported on the twenty-first of March. By then we had already had our teams set up in the different regions. A team is composed of physicians, nurses, public health inspectors and because of the need we also had vector control. So, with that each one has an identifiable role to play in the teams itself and so when they go out and do these kinds case of case investigation then each one knows what the roles should be. In this response, we knew the first cases were in San Pedro and of course the measures there were immediately put in place of a lockdown of the entire island, which of course could have done a lot of mitigation with that. Individuals who were out there actually knew their role of what they were supposed to do.  The work continued then that they had to touch on contact tracing. Just to touch on contact tracing, it is something that you need to inquire from the individual who has tested positive. There is a series of walkthroughs you have to do with that person. You need to find out daily what they did in the past. I know we talk about the incubation period of four to fourteen days, so we need to go back and find out the history of that person. You need to inquire travel history, where they work, who they came in contact with, what they did on a daily basis, their routine activities and what else they probably held in some social gathering. That is an exercise and map out that you have to do day by day that you need to look at those processes and individuals who they came in contact with. Just to mention, contact tracing goes by tiers and it is not actually everybody who are high risk individuals; individuals who are in your household or who you work with directly throughout the day, these are the individuals who we would consider the highest risk. Others are those you come in contact occasionally and they would be classified a medium to low. Then you have casual contacts that you hail across the street or somebody you run into at the store and these are individuals who are the lowest risk.”

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