Health Officials said Friday that they aim to be able to provide increased COVID-19 testing by early January 2021.
The announcement was made during a press briefing led by Premier Joseph Farrell to explain the latest Public Health COVID-19 Suppression Order.
The new order designates Gingerbread Hill in Virgin Island and Grand View Bed & Breakfast in Baker Hill as authorised quarantine facilities. Anyone coming on island can book to stay at the facility and will be eligible to be tested after five days. Those who choose to come on island and stay in a private home will have to remain in quarantine for 14 days.
Officials said the need for quarantine facilities has arisen because there have been cases of people coming to island without a place to stay and being unaware that staying with family requires the entire household to be in quarantine.
Director of Primary Health Care Dr. Dorothea Hazel-Blake said the decision not to allow people quarantining at home to take the PCR test after five days was a matter of logistics. They did not have the human resource required to have technicians visiting private homes to test the residents as they are not permitted to be in public spaces during the 14-day period. She added, that PCR testing required a closed environment which means that normal laboratory testing for public and private clients cannot be done at the same time. While Montserrat does send random samples to CARPHA their machines have now been validated and no secondary testing off island is needed.
The health official noted that plans are in play to shift from a closed testing system which allows only for four tests at a time to an open platform which provides for upwards of 90+ samples to be done at a time. Containers are to be retrofitted on the Glendon Hospital compound (in the parking lot) to handle the expanded testing capabilities which they hope will be ready by the end of December or early January 2021 at the latest.
Dr. Hazel-Blake said access to early release by people in home quarantine was on a case by case basis. She also confirmed that anyone travelling to Antigua for a day or two does not have to take the test upon return as it does fall within the 72-hour window that there exit test is valid for. However, they must go directly into quarantine when they arrive on Montserrat. Antigua & Barbuda now requires a negative PCR test for entry.
Permanent Secretary for Health Camille Thomas-Gerald sought to explain why they have added a $300 administrative fee for the testing. She said one test costs conservatively $700 to administer. This she said, included testing material and staff time. The government, she added, needed to prepare for the long term existence of the virus and would need to replenish supplies. Expanded services would also mean the need for additional staffing at some stage.