All 255 staff members of the National Assistance Board (NAB) are being tested for COVID-19 this weekend after five employees tested positive for the virus over the last 12 days.
Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs, Cynthia Forde, announced at a press briefing this morning that 40 employees had been tested so far, another 107 would be tested today and the rest tomorrow so that by Monday the authorities should have a clear picture of the “emerging cluster”.
She disclosed that the staff at the NAB Country Road headquarters had been ordered into quarantine and arrangements were being put in place for that quarantine to take place in a number of hotels, at Government’s expense.
She further revealed that Acting Prime Minister Santia Bradshaw was organising a series of meetings, beginning on Monday, to interact directly with the staff “to assure them of the Government’s full understanding and support and also its commitment to assisting them in any way possible in the days and weeks ahead.”
Meanwhile, Minister Forde said that aggressive contact tracing had commenced to locate everyone who may have encountered the five persons who had tested positive.
She stated that all five were members of the administrative staff, three working directly in the office at Country Road, St. Michael, and the other two, senior home help officers.
The Minister with responsibility for Elder Affairs made it clear that there was no evidence to date that any of the administrative staff who had tested positive had come into contact with the home helpers who cared for the elderly and other vulnerable persons on a daily basis.
She explained: “The administration of services is conducted from Country Road in St. Michael. Home helpers are deployed directly to communities and work in zones covering homes across the length and breadth of Barbados. Very rarely do they go into the office and when they do, very seldom would they come into contact with the administrative staff, among whom the emerging cluster of cases is now centred.”
She added: “We do not anticipate therefore to discover any significant degree of interface between administrative staff and home helpers in the weeks leading up to this latest development. However we are testing everybody just in case.”
Minister Forde stated that the first member of staff to contract the virus worked in a clerical position at the NAB headquarters. She was infected by a close relative who came in from overseas and was staying at her home.
The Minister explained that during the incubation period for the relative, the NAB employee was completely asymptomatic and continued to work as usual.
However, as soon as the relative showed symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19, officers at the Ministry of Health and Wellness placed the staff member into quarantine and tested her for the virus, at which time it was discovered that she was positive.
“Our focus now is on the health and wellness of our staff. They are frontline workers in their own right. They have done and continue to do a marvelous job for seniors and the less fortunate families and individuals in our country. I want us all to lift them up in our prayers,” the Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs urged.
She shared that none of the five staff members diagnosed was in serious condition and the prognosis for each at this time was “encouraging”.