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Oct 1, 2020

Healthy Living: Belize COVID Trends

The Ministry of Health has been consistent in releasing the number of persons who have tested positive each day. Within the past two months, that number has fluctuated dramatically.  In a day alone, there were as much as ninety-four new cases – our highest number to date – and on other days, less than ten new cases were reported.  It can make it difficult to know how we are doing overall at battling the pandemic. So tonight in Healthy Living, we go beyond the daily case reports to look at the country’s COVID-19 trend with one of the Ministry of Health’s epidemiologist. 


Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

The daily report released by the Ministry of Health on the positive cases of COVID 19, is only a snapshot of the data being collected and monitored by our health officials. The numbers released show how many people tested positive for the given day and the total number of tests conducted. Both these numbers change daily and only give us a momentary glimpse as to how we are doing battling this pandemic. An epidemiologist with the Ministry of Health, Antonio Hegar, helps us to put all this data into perspective and plots these numbers to show us the current Covid-19 trend in Belize for August and September.


Antonio Hegar

Antonio Hegar, Epidemiologist, Ministry of Health

“Where we stand as of yesterday, which was the end of the September, just a brief recap, the current wave or phase that we entered into began on the first of august. That is when we actually detected the cluster that was in San Pedro. Of course we believe it was circulating before then, but the first of august was when actually made the formal confirmation of that. Since then, this graph basically shows the number the raw numbers of positives that we have detected on a daily basis broken down by weekly segments. As you can see at the bottom. You can see we started off slowly. We did our case investigations, found quite a number of new cases that correspondents into actual waves. And I’m going to get into that in a while, that us brings us to where we were here up to yesterday when there was a total of forty-nine confirmed positives as of the 30th or September which was yesterday.”


You can see in this current outbreak, that just in that past sixty-one days there have been fluctuations – peaks and valleys – in the total cases recorded. Another way of monitoring the trend is to look at the rolling average of cases.


Antonio Hegar

“This isn’t something unique to Belize or Belize’s data. If you check the other countries around the world, it’s a similar trend. There are many reasons for that. It could mean that they send out more contact takers that particular day. They found a brand new cluster with a lot of people who were positive, maybe working at a factory may be working at a business where people are in close contact with another. There could be a whole community that they found that was not investigated before. So there are many reasons why you could have spikes one day and a relatively low number of cases the next. One of the way we make sense of this as epidemiologist or people who are working in public health. Find the average of the cluster of days. So that you can find how many people are being found positive on an average of a given day as oppose on single days where it varies so widely.”


And just as Hegar noted, the picture becomes clearer as we look at the three days rolling average.


Antonio Hegar

“The numbers are still peaking on certain days and going down on others but it’s a much less pronounced peak and valley as compared before to when you are looking at the raw numbers and gains that’s because of the action of actually finding the average. The orange line shows you the actual trend so as you see. You’ll see it more clearly when I show you the seven-day average we have had two mini outbreaks or two waves since the beginning of this news phase that we entered into at the beginning of August.  For a two-week period, starting from around the sixth of September all the way to about the twenty-first, which was just around the corner, the other day, we actually saw a downward trend. So you know things were slowly decreasing in the number of positives we were finding but since then as happens in many countries around the world/. There tends to be complacency when the data looking good for a consistent amount of time people start to feel like things are under control, and people start going about their lives like normal when they really shouldn’t, and basically, we have what we have now which is basically a third mini-wave that we are now experiencing here in the country.”


The two previous waves and the current wave that we are entering are more apparent when Hegar shows us the seven days or the weekly rolling average. Another number that epidemiologists closely monitor to help to understand the COVID-19 trends is the reproductions rate: or what is called the “R naught.” Simply put, this is the average number of people that one positive person will infect.


Antonio Hegar

“You can see that our current “R naught” is about two. It is roughly two point five. That is basically telling us that as of yesterday the thirtieth of September, on average whenever a person becomes positive with COVID 19 here in Belize. They then go ahead to spread to two point five other people. And obviously, this will vary greatly on an individual level. You’ll have people who will stay home and comply and not infect anyone, and you’ll have people who go out – maybe unknowingly in some cases – and like I said and didn’t follow the social distancing protocols or don’t wear their mask properly or in the proper way and they could spread to an unknown number of people.”


Marleni Cuellar

“An “R naught” of two point five or imagining myself infecting two to three more people. It doesn’t sound like that much.” Is that a concerning number for the country?”


Antonio Hegar

“It is because when you are looking at a number like that, you are looking at it exponential growth for a certain amount of time. So basically it was a case that this was a disease that was contained then infecting two or three more people may not sound like a lot, but when you multiply that and consider that those people will infect two or three more people then go on to infect two or three more persons, then you can see how it basically multiplies on an exponential scale.”


Now, the picture Hegar helped to paint is the country’s overall average. The reproduction rate is higher in some of the hotspot communities and lower in areas with no community spread. Even so, the goal is for the country for an overall average reproductive rate of less than one, where all new positives only infect one or more preferably none. This is why Hegar joins his colleagues in pleading for continued vigilance in prevention practices.
Antonio Hegar

“The numbers, while helpful, are only capturing a fraction of the true positives. Basically, it makes it even more important from people to adhere to the social distancing measures the mass wearing and all the other hygiene practices that are recommended.”

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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