By Gemma Handy
Hodges Bay resort bosses have confirmed that the four staff who recently tested positive for Covid-19 using rapid antigen tests have now had the results officially verified by CARPHA.
Hotel owner Jeff Wellemeyer told Observer he believed “transparency” was key to curtailing the spread of the potentially fatal virus.
All four remain in isolation in self-contained villas, separate from the luxury hotel, Wellemeyer said.
The news came as government announced two new laboratory-confirmed cases of Covid-19 last night. The two are among eight positive results just returned from the regional health body based in Trinidad; the other six are repeat tests from previously confirmed cases.
This brings the official number of coronavirus cases for Antigua and Barbuda since the pandemic broke out to 70.
No details were given by the Ministry of Health of where the new cases originated from, and attempts to get clarification on whether they relate to the Hodges Bay workers were unsuccessful up to press time.
Wellemeyer explained that two of the four staff had been initially tested by government on June 26 when they began to show minor symptoms.
But when he was told the results would not be received for several days, Wellemeyer said he contacted private physician Dr Joseph John to test his entire workforce using the rapid antigen method.
The four who subsequently tested positive for the illness included the two showing symptoms. The other two were then retested by government, which could explain the lapse between the two new official cases announced last night and the two declared last week.
It’s something of a vindication for Dr John who had the validity of his rapid tests called into question. He also came under considerable fire for speaking to media about the results.
Wellemeyer said he believes being frank and open with the public is crucial to keeping the nation safe.
“I don’t believe we can solve these problems without being transparent. We will continue to test our staff – and our guests – and we will continue to make the results public when we get positive results,” he told Observer.
Wellemeyer – an American entrepreneur and software developer – said he is confident in the accuracy of the rapid antigen tests.
“They have a very high sensitivity level, fairly close to PCR testing,” he said, referring to the government’s polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method.
“The rapid tests may not be quite as accurate, but it’s a lot better to get the results in 10 minutes,” Wellemeyer continued. “I would rather have instant results – and they may not be 100% accurate – but it’s still better than not knowing anything for four or five days.”
Rapid tests detect the presence of viral proteins – or antigens – in samples taken from a person’s respiratory tract. Dr John previously said the type he used had an accuracy rate of around 85 percent.
The government has repeatedly referred to the PCR machine as the “gold standard” and, despite continuous improvements to rapid tests, many health experts believe the PCR still has a higher accuracy rate. The downside is that it is costly and time-consuming.
Wellemeyer said the rapid tests cost around US$20 each. In addition to its staff, the resort is also footing the bill for tests carried out on its guests. There are currently 60 vacationers staying at the property.
“We sent all our guests a letter strongly encouraging them to get tested. A lot of them did. We were already telling our guests they had to be tested before coming to Antigua, even before the government put that in place,” Wellemeyer explained.
To date, no guests have tested positive, he said.
The four staff are all said to be doing well and are either asymptomatic or showing minor symptoms.
More than half of Hodges Bay’s current 30 staff are staying at the resort, Wellemeyer said.
“We have given all our staff the option to stay on property. We have gone through their entire health history with them so we know if any are high risk or live with someone who is.
“We have done everything we can to keep people safe,” he added.
Dr John previously commended the resort for its proactive approach in requesting tests for its workforce and urged other hotels to follow suit.
Health Minister Molwyn Joseph could not be reached for further comment last night. But he told Observer on Sunday that he would not discuss the results of individuals tested for the illness by institutions unauthorised by the government. To do so “would be a flagrant violation of confidentiality”, he said.
The latest Covid-19 dashboard released by government shows a total of 854 people have now been tested. Of the 70 official cases recorded for Antigua and Barbuda, 26 are active. A further 57 results are currently pending.