Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) member countries that have contained the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and plan to open their borders or have already done so are being urged to exercise caution and remain vigilant against potential resurgences in outbreaks.
PAHO Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, notes that most countries across the region of the Americas have implemented effective public health measures that have slowed the spread of the virus and saved “countless” lives.
“Several Caribbean countries and territories were able to curb transmission completely and have reported no new cases for several weeks,” she pointed out while speaking during PAHO’s weekly COVID-19 digital media briefing on Tuesday (June 30).
Dr. Etienne said while these outcomes are welcome, countries “need to remain vigilant for the months to come”.
“The virus cannot be left unchecked, as we are seeing [where] countries, states and cities that do not embrace preventive measures, or relax restrictions too soon, can be flooded with new cases,” she argued.
Consequently, the Director emphasised the need for countries to “double down” on measures that “save lives early on and to deploy them with more precision than ever before. We must let data, not passion, guide our actions”.
She said that as states controlling the spread of COVID-19 move to reopen, timing will be “very critical” in this regard.
“At the national or local level, we must open gradually, taking a phased approach that relies on robust surveillance, data, and expanding testing and contact tracing capacity. We also must be prepared to adjust course quickly if the epidemiological situation changes. If you have the will to relax preventive measures, you must also have the courage to pull back if infections rise,” the Director added.
Dr. Etienne suggested that countries use transmission dynamics to establish timelines for reopening, adding that the overarching goal is to “flatten the curve and then bend it downwards significantly before relaxing any restrictions”.
“Reopening is not merely suspending travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders. It requires implementing a state of public health measures to track new cases and build sufficient capacity to detect and control new outbreaks,” she added.
Dr. Etienne said these steps include ample access to timely testing for every suspected COVID-19 case and their contacts, isolation of cases, contact tracing, tracking health systems’ capacity, ample access to information and personal protective equipment, and implementing travel measures to limit new infections.
As at June 29, some 5.1 million cases and more than 247,000 deaths, due to COVID-19, were reported in the Americas.
Dr. Etienne said PAHO works closely with countries and, in many cases, local governments to analyze trends with the virus, to help guide their decision-making.
Additionally, she said the Organization has supported states in every aspect of the response by providing guidance, training and supplies.
“Over the past two months, we have donated almost five million PCR tests to the region and procured more than 10 million tests on behalf of our countries. We [also] made some 54 shipments of [personal protective equipment] to 26 countries,” the Director informed.
While acknowledging that the fight against COVID-19 is “tough”, Dr. Etienne maintained that the battle is “far from lost”.
“There is still much to be done, and our region has the willpower, the solidarity, and the tools to bend the curve of COVID-19 and to keep it down. Let’s make the most of the data and public health interventions that we have at hand,” she said.