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Jamaica's surging COVID crisis just got help: US donates field hospital

By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

With concerns growing in Jamaica that more people will require hospitalizations amid a worrying surge in coronavirus cases, the Caribbean nation is getting help from the U.S. Southern Command.

Adm. Craig Faller, head of the U.S. Southern Command, headquartered in Doral, Florida, arrived in Kingston Thursday to officially hand over a large mobile field hospital for COVID-19 patients. The $753,000 hospital, which can care for 70 patients, will add to Jamaica's 350-COVID-19 bed capacity.

Purchased by Southcom with humanitarian funds, it was transported to the island last week, ahead of Faller's visit, on board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. Faller last visited Jamaica in November during a three-nation Caribbean tour that included Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic.

"I'm very proud that we were able to, from a question just a couple of months ago, respond, find the source of the resources to procure it, find a vendor in the United States, put it all together and package it," Faller told The Miami Herald.

The request for a temporary hospital, he said, came from Jamaican Defense Force leader Lt. Gen. Rocky Ricardo Meade, whom Faller holds in high regard. When Meade made the request back in July, Jamaica wasn't yet seeing the sharp increase in infections or deaths that it's currently experiencing. It also had not yet set a record in hospitalized patients.

That occurred last month when the Ministry of Health reported there were a record 35 individuals hospitalized for COVID-19 - the highest count to date - and before Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared that Jamaica had entered the community transmission phase of the virus. That happened earlier this month when the country began to see an ever bugger increase in the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, as well as those testing positive.

 

"By the very nature of community transmission it means the virus could affect anyone, anywhere at any particular point in time," Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton said. "It means that we must always assume that the person we're interacting with could potentially be a carrier of the virus."

On Wednesday, Jamaica reported 126 additional positive cases in a 24-hour period, bringing its total number of cases to 5,395. Of that number, 3,792 are active; 76 people have died.

Tufton said currently about a third, or 119, of the designated COVID-19 beds are in use by individuals with the disease, seven of whom are critically ill. The U.S. donation, which will be located at National Chest Hospital in Kingston, "will assist as we prepare to deal with any possibility of increased demand."

"It does come with some equipment. We will add some additional equipment and of course the personnel to man that facility," Tufton said.

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