The preventative measures implemented three weeks ago to help avert the introduction of COVID-19 on Saba will be extended. Schools, daycare, after school care and after school activities, bars, hotels, and non-essential businesses and services will remain closed until April 19. Travel restrictions remain in place until May 8.
Island Governor Jonathan Johnson announced this on Wednesday, April 8 in a video address, in which, together with Head of the Public Health Department Dr. Koen Hulshof and Hospital Director Dr. Joka Blaauboer, an update was provided on the current developments and the need to keep the measures in place.
The Public Entity Saba has, based on an assessment of the Outbreak Management Team and the Disaster Management Team earlier this week, taken a number of decisions. The schools, daycare, after school care and all after school activities such as those at Child Focus and Saba Nature Education will remain closed or canceled until Sunday, April 19.
Bars, hotels, non-essential businesses, and services, including non-essential governmental services, will all also remain closed until April 19. Restaurants and bakeries may continue to provide take-out or delivery services only. Businesses are instructed not to allow persons to linger in their establishment for an extended period while waiting for take-out.
The A.M. Edwards Medical Center will remain open until April 19 solely for emergency care and for appointments via the tele-clinic. The residents in the Home for the elderly may only be visited by the one designated care person.
The restriction of incoming travel by visitors and non-residents remains in place until Friday, May 8. Registered residents who wish to return home, must first put in a request to Island Governor Johnson before travelling to Saba.
Events, social gatherings and family gatherings remain restricted. The Police Force will continue to conduct patrols through-out the island and the officers have the authority to make a case by case assessment of any activities occurring. All instructions given by the police concerning this assessment, must be followed, Johnson said.
Dr. Hulshof stated that so far, 18 persons have been tested. Some of these persons were at the end of their quarantine period after returning from a high-risk area, others because they had symptoms that could fit with COVID-19. All tests were negative. Some of the samples were positive for other germs, which can cause mostly mild flu-like symptoms. “Our regular syndromic surveillance is also not showing unexpected or unexplained respiratory illness. All of this data strengthens our understanding that Saba is still corona-free,” said Hulshof, who added that testing will continue.
The worldwide pandemic will last for months, and though a partial return to normalcy on Saba is important at some point, this can only be the case if it is medically justified, explained Hulshof.
Because there is still a lot that remains unknown about this virus, it is crucial to be extra cautious and wait at least two full incubation times. The incubation time is the period between when someone is infected, and when they become sick. For COVID-19 this is maximally 14 days.
“Only after the fourth week of the travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, with no cases, can we feel assured that a loosening of the restrictions on Saba is safe. To prevent the introduction of COVID-19, we will have to keep our border restrictions in place for a longer time,” said Hulshof.
Dr. Blaauboer described the measures that are in place at the hospital and at the Home for the elderly. With the Home remaining closed for visitors until April 19, iPads have been made available to the clients so they can maintain digital contact with their family and friends. While it is understandable that people want to greet their loved ones from the street side, it is important to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet or 2 meters, to stay on the road and to not enter the building or the porch area. “We understand these measures are unpleasant and might feel impersonal however it is the best way to protect our vulnerable clients,” said Blaauboer.
The measures at the hospital remain the same until further notice. The clinic is open, but people need to first make an appointment for a so-called tele-clinic, a doctor’s appointment via telephone. The doctor will then decide if a physical appointment is needed. The hospital remains open for emergencies, the laboratory is fully operational, and physical therapy continues.
Referring to medical evacuations, Dr. Blaauboer stated that the increasing number of infected COVID-19 patients in St. Maarten created a worrisome situation on how to assist Saba patients. She said that even though the St. Maarten Medical Center could still accept patients, Saba didn’t want to put additional strain on the limited capacity there. The Bonaire hospital Fundashon Mariadal has offered assistance by providing an air bridge for emergency patients. “This service is fully established and we had our first medevac to Bonaire earlier this week. We are grateful to Fundashon Mariadal.”
Johnson and Hulshof urged people to stick to the implemented measures. That means, stay home if one has flu-like symptoms, even if they are mild, continue extreme good hand and cough hygiene, and to limit physical interactions with others, keeping the 2-meter distance where possible. “These measures are steps that we are taking to ensure that COVID-19 continues to remain off our shores, we ask for your continued cooperation in maintaining them. This time is a difficult one for us all, but we must continue to do what is needed to ensure our health and safety,” said Johnson.
With Easter weekend coming up, Johnson urged people to assume their responsibilities and to refrain from congregating in large numbers at the beach, the bays and at Fort Bay harbor. Naturally, this also counts outside the Easter weekend. “When going there for swimming, please use your discretion. If there are a lot of people, and maintaining the social distancing proves impossible, take your own responsibility and leave.”