Health Minister Dr. Rosario Turner gave a presentation during the May 11 press conference on COVID-19 that detailed the four parameters the government will use to determine the circumstances of the national quarantine measures being reduced. She gave no specific dates and explained that it may be applied asymmetrically according to region depending on the following factors:
1. Case incidences and rate of transmission – The Ministry of Health and team of consultants made up of medical professionals are looking to see the number of daily cases and effective reproduction rate decrease during 7 to 14 consecutive days before reducing any quarantine measures. The effective reproduction rate estimates the amount of people a patient is infecting on average. A Rt of less than one is desirable in slowing the spread of a virus. Panama is almost there. The most recent study suggests a rate of 1.05 and it has been on the decline. The daily case rates have generally fluctuated between 100 – 300 in the last month, with one outlier of 370 new cases on May 4. These variables are the ones most likely to be examined as a regional case by case basis.
2. Infrastructure of national health services – The main objective of the lock down was to save lives by slowing the spread of the virus, especially to those of whom it might be lethal, and also to not over-saturate health facilities, equipment and personnel so that all patients who will require critical care can receive it. Dr. Turner reports that as of May 11, 49% of hospital beds, 42% of the intensive and semi-intensive care units and 67% of all respirators in the country of Panama, in public or private health facilities, are still available. The Ministry of Health considers this to be a success. Also, these figures do not include the 100 ICU and semi-ICU beds in the recently constructed modular hospital.
3. Diagnostic capacity – “Molecular or antibody and serological tests” – Panama is working to increase its serological testing. More knowledge on the level of antibodies in the population will help MINSA make decisions.
4. Traceability – The Ministry of Health would like to see continued testing of 90% of the COVID-19 patients and their contacts.
“Lifting the quarantine is not a decision of the Ministry of Health, it is a group of entities that allow this evaluation to be carried out,” says Dr. Turner. Time will tell exactly when quarantine restrictions will be lifted. Based on the mention of the regional consideration, Bocas del Toro looks like it is currently in a good place to be one of the first regions with quarantine measures rolled back.
Editor’s Note: To those who are against the current quarantine measures and are calling for local government to do act, please remember that these decisions are made at the national level. To the best of our knowledge, there is really not much a mayor or governor can do in regards to executive decrees, much less in time of a state of national emergency.