People of St Maarten, though today is Good Friday, I wish each and every one of you a blessed Good Friday and I hope that your day has been somber, reflective and that you’ve taken the time to worship, as I did online, this morning with the Methodist Church. This is a time where we usually get together with family to eat, talk, and share. However, it’s a somber time as we are socially distancing and therefore, everything that has to happen, happens via the internet. With this said, it is with humble pleasure that I come to you this evening to address you as Prime Minister and Chair of the EOC on April 10, 2020, as part of the process to keep the community of St. Maarten informed about the latest developments and government’s COVID-19 containment, mitigation and response measures.
I’d like to take this opportunity to just briefly update you on the strategy that the St. Maarten Government used in combatting the COVID-19 virus during the month of March 2020. Firstly, we limited the number of visitors and transportation to St. Maarten via air and sea. Naturally, we allowed and continue to allow cargo to be imported, transited and exported in St. Maarten and to St. Maarten. Thereafter, we focused on controlling the virus within our borders. As mentioned previously, the first cases were all imported cases of residents returning to the island. Contact tracing was instituted to try to contain the virus. Of course, here we initially relied on persons to self-quarantine or self-isolate and to be disciplined in doing so. However, this proved to be very challenging with the limited staff and the number of persons/residents that returned from abroad and the contact they may have had with other persons abroad. Hence, this was one of the reasons, the government secured a location to “house” these individuals to prevent further spreading.
Simultaneously, we also executed our non-medical, non-financial required strategy of education & awareness promotion of informing our community to do the following:
• Stay at Home
• Wash Your Hands Often
• Practice Proper Hygiene
• Maintain Social Distancing
• Prepare a Disaster Kit
These seemingly simple but extremely effective practices hold the fundamental, critical and imperative solution to break and beat this “Invisible War” as my colleague Minister of Finance has deemed it to be.
These steps and practices are what we as a community can do, without any financial cost to the government, to control the spread of this virus. However, given the challenges of our community, related to language barriers, demographic and cultural differences, the government also started to target and strategize to ensure we reach the Spanish and Haitian speaking community mainly due to the language barriers.
In the interim, our numbers of cases have begun to rise, our resources continue to be limited, we are sourcing from different places to get as much as we can to ensure our health care providers, medical institutions and front-liners are protected and can execute their jobs to the best of their ability. But, as everywhere else in the world, these same resources such as N-95, Latex gloves, PPE equipment, etc. continue to be in high demand, which results in limited supply and extremely high prices. Not to mention, the delay in being shipped and received.
While we have been very happy to receive assistance from our Kingdom partners in the form of PPEs, medical equipment, as well as personnel, who arrived from the USA this past week, we continue to struggle on the ground as it relates to having enough persons to execute our plan. It had been our plan this week to go into all the communities where we are realizing that there is a lack of information as well as a possible spread of the COVID-19 virus, in order to get all of these persons tested. However, the testing materials were not available to be able to do so and I am very happy to say that we were able to secure a flight that will bring St. Maarten the much-needed testing equipment tomorrow, April 11, in order for us to resume our testing in a more aggressive manner.
As of today, April 10, 2020, I can update you on the COVID-19 cases.
* Self- Quarantine: 133
* Self-Isolation: 202
* Number Tested: 134
* Number Positive: 50 (1 hospitalized)
* Male: 34
* Female: 16
* Number Negative: 82
* Number Pending: 1
* Inconclusive: 1
* Deceased: 9
* Recovered: 5
Today, April 10, the EOC held a strategic meeting with Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) 5, 7 and 10 to discuss several issues that have arisen during the lockdown as well as to receive updates.
ESF 5 Law & Order
I am alarmed to hear that persons are taking advantage of this time to go out and steal. We understand that some persons may feel a dire need and that is why we are making it possible for you to also receive food from the government of St. Maarten. Every single person that is in need of food should ensure that they register via our ‘social impact assessment’ form which can be found at www.sintmaartengov.org/coronavirus. For those who are not able to do so, a free 711 number will soon be available whereby persons will be taking calls and filling in the information for you. This service is especially for the elderly, and those who are out of touch with technology that is now being used to be able to continue the work from the government.
The Police will continue to monitor the break-ins and anyone caught will be prosecuted to the highest level. I must commend all our officers as well as many other front-liners who are working daily with limited resources and I thank the majority of the St. Maarten people who are so compliant and assist the police by calling when they see crimes being committed. I ask parents to continue to control your children, keep them in the house as this is the only way that you can avoid that they bring death into your home.
I have also been updated by the St. Maarten Medical Centre’s (SMMC) Outbreak Management Team that of the total 12 COVID-19 related patients admitted at SMMC since the start of the pandemic, 1 is currently admitted, 5 have been discharged in good condition and are either isolated at home or in our isolation location and unfortunately, 6 have passed away. One of the patients was already in critical condition and admitted for a week. This patient passed away last night, April 9, 2020, unfortunately. From the admitted COVID-19 related patients to SMMC so far, the conclusion is that patients are predominantly in very poor condition and in most cases, suffer from pre-existing health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma and/or overweight. Currently, one patient admitted remains in critical condition. This information was submitted on behalf of Dr. Felix Holiday, Chairman SMMC Outbreak Management Team.
ESF 7 Food Distribution
Social Services has distributed 677 food packages and will be distributing 400 more food packages over the weekend. We kindly ask that these front-liners are given the respect in order to be able to carry out the assistance being rendered to the most vulnerable in our society. There are also several organizations, as well as Domino’s Pizza, who are donating food to those in need. Several restaurants have called and are also preparing food that will be delivered to those in need. I ask that you be patient, fill out the ‘social assessment impact’ form or call 711 once we’ve announced that it is ready to be in use.
To facilitate our Police conducting efficient controls, a ‘Disaster Relief’ sign will be stuck on the windows of vehicles delivering food packages to homes in the community. If you know that you have made an order for food or expect delivery of food from social services, you will be called. Please do not open your door to strangers. I also ask the community Police and community leaders to take the lead in ensuring that you know who within your neighborhood are in need, so that you may alert social services.
ESF 10 Supermarket Food Delivery
Yesterday, I mentioned that due to the Holidays no deliveries would be allowed on Sunday, however, seeing the grave need for some persons to receive food during this time, I will allow for deliveries not only to continue Saturday, but also this coming Easter Sunday and Monday. Therefore, over the entire weekend, you will be able to receive the food packages that you ordered from the grocery stores.
Collective Prevention Services
We have been seeing some video that is being shared via social media and I am really concerned as it is unethical for you to film or take pictures of CPS workers visiting persons who are in quarantine or in isolation in order to assess and ensure that they remain in isolation. Filming this is against St. Maarten privacy laws and if you are caught you will also be prosecuted.
ESF 8 Communications
I’d like to thank the Department of Communication DCOMM, who are doing an excellent job of promoting information within all sectors of our society. I believe information and education is power. Take the time while you’re at home to study, learn and empower yourself and to teach others about the right way to isolate and the right way to be hygienic in order to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It is up to each of us. The government is doing their part, we now ask that you do your part.
During the week, as we move forward, I will be announcing how we will be moving from the shutdown towards limited movement. I would also like everyone out there to know that when I talked about making do with what you had in your kitchens, some of you thought it was funny, some of you thought it was a joke. It is not! This shutdown is not to punish anyone. This shutdown is so that we can stop the spread, assess who has the COVID-19 virus, and hopefully isolate them from spreading it further. This is all it’s about.
If you do not have the food you need in your house, now is the opportunity for it to be delivered to you. If you do not have the funds, you are to receive from social services. We are doing our best to cover all the bases and we apologize to anyone who falls through the cracks. But do understand that we are also working with a limited crew of dedicated civil servants and volunteers and I want to give them all the thanks for what they’ve done so far.
There is a whole group of people working very hard behind your Prime Minister; The EOC, the Council of Ministers, and their teams. I also want to say thank you to all our front-liners every day and every night we pray for you. We pray for your safety, as you also go through the storms. You cannot stay at home and be safe, you have to go out into the community, you have to make sure that there is law and order, you have to ensure that patients get what they need, and that the pharmacist can share the medication as well.
I’m not going to open just yet. I want two weeks of this shut down to be effective and if necessary and we can ensure that everyone can eat, everyone is safe inside and over the next two weeks we cannot yet get enough persons, of course, the shutdown would have to be extended. I am asking you to be patient. In some countries, the shutdowns are 3 months long. We hope that it will not be that long. As long as we can continue to ensure that you have food, you can stay at home. Stay At Home! As I said previously, Just STOP Moving! It’s for your own good. It’s for the good of your country and the sooner we get this COVID-19 kicked in the butt, the sooner we can open back our wall, we can open back our towns, we can open back our ports and we can allow visitors, but of course, only visitors who are COVID-19 negative.
As we go into our Easter weekend, its not the kind of Easter weekend we’re used to, but let’s make the best of it. Let’s have as many prayer sessions as we can, let’s have as many family gatherings on zoom, WhatsApp, your iPhone, and on whatever medium you think works for you. You can also pick up the phone and call. I wish each and every one a Happy and safe Easter. I pray for the souls of all who have departed. I pray for the families who are suffering from their loss and I wish each and every one much safety and health as we sit out this quarantine together. Be safe St. Maarten!