People of St. Maarten here and abroad, I hereby address you as Prime Minister and Chair of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), in an update for today, Monday, May 11, 2020, as part of the process to keep the community of St. Maarten informed about the latest developments and the Government’s COVID-19 containment, mitigation and response measures.
I would like to take this time, one day post Mother’s Day, to wish each and every mother, mother figure and a person who makes an impact on our youth. Know that you are appreciated every day and that I’m very happy we had the opportunity yesterday, to relax and be put in the sunshine and receive our due as mothers. I wish that each and every person would remember to enjoy their mothers while you have them, because the time goes by ever so quickly.
I would like to take this time to thank each and every one who have tuned in over the past weeks to our broadcast. It is of course our pleasure to be able to inform you and our duty during a disaster. I am very happy that we are doing all that we can to mitigate the spread and the measures are working according to plan. We are seeing the numbers going down and I can say that today marks 13 days since we had a positive case.
Collective Prevention Services (CPS) will continue to do its outreach within neighborhoods. However, as per the cases that we know about, we remain at 15 active cases, of which 4 are at the Mobile Medical Pavilion (MMP). According to SMMC, 2 of the 4 patients are already recovered however, are still undergoing treatments for other issues regarding their health. Eleven persons are in self-isolation at home and I asked that they continue to isolate properly until they have been given the green light by CPS.
I have noticed that even though today was the first day of the openings for this week, I did not see a rush. Therefore, the behavior of our population is now completely in line with our new normal. We are getting accustomed to the way things have been. We will continue to put our health first, and stay at home as much as possible, only going out, if we are working at places rendering essential services or to purchase essential needs.
This morning, in our weekly meeting held with our French counterparts, I sat together with Madam Prefet Sylvie Feucher, President Daniel Gibbs, 1st Vice-President Valerie Damaseau as well as the Minister of Justice Anna Richardson and the Minister of Health Richard Panneflek, together with our support staff. We had discussions pertaining to our weekly updates on the COVID-19 realities including the health situation, border controls, and de-escalation measures which we are both carrying out. As a result of our meeting today, and not having enough time to go in depth, we have organized a second meeting for this week specifically to go into the discussions on our border controls and the re-opening of our schools.
CPS has now been executing the community outreach program for the past three weeks. CPS has visited a total of 14 neighborhoods. In these neighborhoods, 1915 homes consisting of a total of 5132 persons were visited. Of the 5132 persons, 36 of them reported having flu-like symptoms, 21 of those persons agreed to be tested and of the 21 cases, 1 person has been confirmed COVID-19 positive. Of the 21 cases, 10 persons did not have flu-like symptoms related to COVID-19, 3 of these persons had chronic illnesses and 5 persons refused to be tested. This past weekend CPS reached a total of 5 districts including Belvedere, Bishop Hill and Middle Region and will be visiting 6 more neighborhoods. It is great to note that from the beginning of the community outreach testing program only 1 persons has been confirmed COVID-19 positive. As we continue to carryout the outreach, we will inform the general public if more confirmed COVID-19 cases are found. that case was several weeks ago.
A multi-disciplinary task force was established whereby, criteria were looked at based on the health, social, and economic needs and demands, and a rating was given whereby, we came up with 4 phases. We are expected to move directly into phase 2. However, seeing that several new businesses came online that qualify to be open in phase 1, we felt that it was imperative to give them at least a week to get things up and running.
When we state in a particular phase, a business is allowed to be opened, that does not mean that it is mandatory for them to be open. Businesses that are allowed to be open during this week, May 11th, may only do so once all the guidelines are in place and the business or entity agrees to open to serve the public. As such, entities or businesses can decide to defer their opening to a later date as well. Therefore, any persons requiring a particular service, or are questioning whether a service that they need is open, should check if the business is open before leaving their homes.
The guidelines have been printed and shared and stakeholders continue to meet to finalize preparations and plans to be able to open as per the dates listed. I must re-iterate that many businesses have decided and especially as it pertains to the daycare centers, to defer their opening until they can properly put all guidelines in place.
I can update from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports, that they are having meetings together with the schoolboards to determine when and how schools would re-open. The Ministry is mainly focused on the exam students as several exams have come back online. On Tuesday, May 12, the Ministry of Education will follow up with meetings together with their relative stakeholders. Additionally, the department of Youth Affairs is currently in discussions with SECDA, known as the organization which regulates day care centers in order to ensure that the guidelines are completely understood before they open.
Persons requiring the services of day cares or schools should remain vigilant for when these schools make their opening announcements and under what conditions. Some of the guidelines include a maximum number of students per class and adhering to social distancing rules. Many schools will decide not to open, however, as parents, it is totally up to us to decide when our children will return to school. Students who have not been able to follow classes is also a concern for government and the Ministry of Education. Once more information is forthcoming, either myself or the Minister of Education will give an update as we move forward in this regard.
General guidelines that must be upheld at all times businesses includes:
1. Wearing of masks
2. Distance of 2 meters (6 feet) between all persons (incl. Employees & Customers)
3. Implementation of sanitation stations in the entrance and throughout the business in strategic locations
4. Frequent Sanitization of Common Touch Areas & Equipment
5. Wearing of protective shield in the event the 2 meters distance for service rendering is not possible
6. One-way aisles indications and keeping social distancing in aisles
7. Limiting persons in the establishment to ensure social distancing at all times
8. Markings or barricades on the floor to ensure social distancing
9. Plexiglas to protect workers and shoppers
10. Clear and Visible Signage of regarding COVID-19 directives
The government is also assessing our own situation to determine which members would be needed to come in. As such, the Public Service Center Department will be putting out a schedule as to when and how the public will be able to visit the government offices.
The government has also been approached by persons in the public transportation sector in regard to them being able to resume their services this week. The EOC expected to implement phase 2 this week, however, adding the other businesses in phase 1, there was an oversight and bus drivers did not get the opportunity to be in that phase. We’d hope that bus drivers would have more time to plan and prepare in order to ensure that they follow the guidelines for public transportation. In the next two days bus inspection will take place and once all goes well by Wednesday, May 13, 2020, bus drivers will be given the opportunity to operate as well. All busses must be properly marked with the locations they are going and must follow all the directives of the Ministry of TEATT. More information in this regard and concerning inspection will be forthcoming from the Ministry of TEATT.
In closing, I would like to thank the people of St. Maarten. Your great behavior, over the past few weeks during the current ‘State of Emergency’ or ‘safe at home,’ you’ve had a lot of practice in keeping yourself safe. Those on the frontlines, however, not so much. As we move into our new reality, as more persons get the opportunity to be out and about, I ask that you remember to be conscious of the persons around you. Going out in public, where there are people moving, may always lead to a resurgence if there are persons out there with COVID-19 and have not come forward.
Do not be afraid, CPS will look out for you. Your general practitioner or family doctor will assist you if you are having any type of flu-like symptoms. I ask that you get in contact with your doctor or CPS by calling 914 so that you can be properly monitored and others around you can be safe. Contact tracing for all confirmed COVID-19 patients has continued and will continue as any new cases pop up. We hope and pray that that isn’t the case, however, it is better to be prepared than to be sorry.
The experience with COVID-19 will forever alter the way we interact as well as our hygiene practices. I know for a fact that it has taught me to be more conscious of everything that I am touching, and all that you may be tracking back into your homes. In the short term, we know that social distancing, mask usage, and practicing good hygiene, will be the norm for St. Maarten and the rest of the world for some time. So far, we have not seen a widespread of the COVID-19 virus on the island. It has been properly contained up until now and that means our measures are working. It also means conforming to our new normal.
For our continued safety, the safety of you, your family and all those persons whom you love, these measures must be a part of your everyday life. Remember our resilience is not just a word, it is who we are. We always fight back, we always come together, and we always help the weakest among us. So, I am asking you to stay blessed St. Maarten. Never lose hope! We are moving forward and we will conquer this new adversity as no one has ever had to in the past. We will show them in the Caribbean how St. Maarten recovers. Just like always; faster than expected, because of you the people of St. Maarten. Stay Blessed!