PHILIPSBURG--Ten of the thirteen persons who passed away from the coronavirus COVID-19 in St. Maarten were from the immigrant community, some of them undocumented with pre-existing conditions, who reported their illness to authorities late.
Prime Minister and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Chairperson Silveria Jacobs provided the information during the live virtual Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday in response to a question.
“The persons who passed away had major underlying health issues and a vast majority of them – 10 of the 13 – were from the immigrant population which, let’s just be honest, some of them live in not-so-good circumstances and maybe not eating the healthiest foods,” Jacobs said. “Some were also undocumented and did not alert CPS [Collective Prevention Services – Ed.] or a doctor in time. I believe had this been done in the early stages of the disease, we might not have had the 13 deaths.”
She said also that two of the 13 persons who passed away had succumbed from conditions not related to COVID-19, but because they had been tested positive, they had to be listed.
Another death, was a local person, who sought treatment in French St. Martin “quite late,” had underlying morbidities and eventually passed away in Guadeloupe.
One of the victims had returned from the Dominican Republic with the virus and had been “recovering well,” but “went out doing work outside the home” and relapsed.
“Our actions and health situation are causing more deaths,” Jacobs noted.
She said many persons had been “making assumptions” as to how the virus came to the country. The first six cases were persons who had travelled back home or were related to persons who had returned home. “Those who were conscientious called CPS when they returned or had symptoms and CPS had them on their radar,” Jacobs said.
During the second or third week, “the assumption” is that the virus spread from persons who had returned home or tourists in hotels who may have had disease.
Another factor contributing to St. Maarten’s numbers is the fact that it is one of the most densely populated destinations in Caribbean with the more persons per square mile than anywhere else in the Caribbean. “Those who came in, whom we allowed, residents especially, are the ones who spread the virus.”
Jacobs does not believe, and has no proof based on contact tracing done on positive cases, that persons who had been working at or who visited the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta or SXM Festival were the source of the virus spreading in the country.
“I am not in the business of hiding information. I believe that in St. Maarten, we are giving more information than any other country.”
Asked whether, in hindsight, she believed that the borders should have been closed and flights restricted earlier, she said this had been the direction that she wanted to go, but she had received “a lot of pushback” internally and externally to allow St. Maarteners to return home and while it can be regretted, she had gone with what was democratically advised at the time.
“Yes, had we closed earlier that would not have been the case, but that would have also meant a longer economic downturn for everyone concerned, that would have meant earlier social unrest and earlier everything,” she said.
“It’s always easy to make judgements, but we took the best decisions we could at the moment and I had actually recommended that [we close earlier], but the biggest kickback was from the Netherlands and France. That’s where we saw the most cases. …
“France at the time refused to close off flights to St. Maarten or take any measures on that end to make sure that infected persons were not getting on the flight. I can regret it, but I can do nothing about it at this time but we do get a lot of assistance from the persons who had refused to close off flights when we had requested it.”
She said authorities are doing their utmost with information in various languages to flatten the curve, which she believes is being flattened. The incidence of positive cases over the past two weeks has been diminishing.
“While we still see the total number going up, if you look at how many are going up over the past two weeks, it is much less than before.”
She assured that St. Maarten uses all the resources at its disposal to identify cases early and even with its limited capacity, St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) is not overrun with more cases than it can handle.
She said also that a vast majority of persons who were COVID-19 positive, more than 70 per cent, have thus far recovered or are recovering at home. Usually only persons who report their illness at late stages end up succumbing to the virus.