By Orville Williams
Nine new Covid-19 compliance officers are now officially on the job, lightening the burden on the Central Board of Health (CBH) which has been facing human resource challenges since the start of the pandemic.
The new officers – all women – completed an intense training programme at the start of February, impressing Chief Health Inspector Sharon Martin, but they were unable to take to the streets last week as planned, having to wait for their ID cards to be processed.
The group shadowed Martin while they waited, visiting some business places and learning the lay of the land, and Martin confirmed to Observer yesterday that they have since received their ID cards, giving them the green light to start working.
Over the past several months, there have constantly been reports of business places violating the public health protocols – handwashing, mask-wearing, social distancing [and vaccinated-only entry to certain establishments] – and the CBH has been stretched thin, working to keep them in line.
The reopening of several business sectors, the removal of the nightly curfew and the constant risk of violations, therefore, mean the new officers will now have their hands full ensuring both the businesses and their patrons are compliant with the rules.
“They have to make sure signage is [erected], like handwashing signs over the handwashing areas and signs to indicate that masks are strictly required for entry.
“If they see an establishment with people dining, they need to examine the records; if no record is kept, they can go to each table and ask each patron to show their vaccination card.
“If [the patrons] don’t have a vaccination card to show, [they have the authority] to charge them and also charge the establishment,” Martin explained, when asked what exactly the new officers are expected to be doing.
The Chief Health Inspector also disclosed that no fines have yet been handed out by the new officers to any individuals or businesses found to be in breach, though they are liable to be hit with fines of up to EC$500 for each violation.
She noted too that the officers will not be expected to operate with too heavy a hand in the early stages of their tenure, and they will instead start to build relationships with the business operators, in order to guide them along the right path to compliance.
“I’ve said to [the officers], try to establish yourself, work with [the business places], teach them so that the next time you go, there can be no excuses.
“It’s about notifying them, letting them know from the first visit what is expected going forward…[and if there are violations ] any time after that, it’s time to charge them, because it simply means they’re not following instructions,” Martin declared.
Word reaching Observer prior to the new officers being deployed is that they would be stationed at some ‘hotspots’ across the country, including English Harbour, Jolly Harbour and St John’s, where there have been multiple reports of protocol violations in the past.