After enjoying more than a year of safety, COVID has hit the island of Grenada. As of late July, Grenada had suffered one COVID death and there were only four active cases, all imported which likely meant that the COVID had been brought by tourists. That all changed in August. As of this blog post – just over a month later, 1760 people have COVID and 22 people have died from it. The numbers are climbing every day.
Grenadian Health Minister Nicholas Steele wept as he spoke of the first death that began this recent wave of the pandemic. One of his colleagues praised him for his show of strength. In an address last week, Prime Minister Mitchell said that more deaths will follow. The Ministry of Health is working relentlessly to get Grenada vaccinated.
The stats for Grenada on July 30, 2021 are shown in the table below, taken from the local news site, www.NowGrenada.com.
|New positive case(s)||0|
|In quarantine facilities||715*|
Contrast that with data from yesterday, September 10, 2021.
|New positive case(s)||216|
|In quarantine facilities||554|
The total population of Grenada is 112,523. Grenada now, unfortunately, leads the world for COVID per capita. It is hard to see how this stops.
We are staying as safe as we can, becoming virtual hermits as we socially distance. A few weeks ago, we moved our boat to Prickly Bay. We are anchored at the mouth of the harbour, all by ourselves, like our own island. In Calvigny Cut, we were in the thick of things. We were within easy distance of lots of other families afloat. While we really enjoyed their company, the continuous social activities and playdates were starting to impact our homeschooling. In contrast, Prickly Bay has a large number of boats but very few children. Our decision to move our boat happened to coincide with the spread of COVID on the island.
Fearing a lockdown, and to stay off the island itself, I bought about a months’ worth of groceries and began freezing vegetables. In the grocery store, my intentions were laid out like a badge of shame. Purchasing toilet paper felt like the the mark of selfish hoarderism. Six gleaming white, medical-grade, KN-95 masks felt like trophies. In Grenada, a KN-95 mask costs three times the price of a fabric mask.
As I listened to the Right Honorable Dr. Keith Mitchell Prime Minster of Grenada speaking last week, I wondered about the old lady in St. George’s who sells fresh bay leaves at $2 a bag. I thought about the shop employees who serve hundreds of customers a day. They are exposed to anti-vax attitudes, noses and stray viruses.
Meanwhile, I’m near cowering on-shore in my white medical-grade mask during the shortest of visits away from my floating oasis that is our catamaran, SV Aphrodite. I wonder about the two homeless men who lounge shirtless on the sidewalk near the central market.
I took Joel’s grocery bus last Saturday. Joel is a private taxi driver with a mini-van (most of the taxis here are mini-vans). He picks up cruisers at the Budget Marine boat dock on Saturday mornings to go grocery shopping and charges $15EC/person ($5.56 US) for the round trip. Joel is vaccinated and he allows vaccinated passengers only.
At the time, the local bus company was still in operation. But, hand and bus sanitizing stopped long ago. Some bus drivers continued to decorate their buses with little bottles of sanitizer dangling from all the head rests that seem to swing in time to the local music. Mask wearing had become much more lax than when we arrived on the island in July 2020.
A few days ago, the bus service officially disbanded due to health and safety concerns. However, I’m told that some bus drivers continue to operate on most routes. I should mention that, to avoid the bus, our family walked 2.5 hours to get to town and be vaccinated. I recognize that some people are not so fortunate as to have the time or abilities to walk the route. Grenada is a very hot, humid and hilly country with narrow windy roads. In large part, Grenadians must stay at home or find alternative ways to travel. This weekend, (September 9 at 5 PM to September 12 at 5 AM) the Grenadian government has issued a stay-at-home order. Everyone is confined to their immediate residences, which, for us, means our boat. The only allowable reasons to leave your residence is for medical emergencies, or if you are being tested or vaccinated for COVID. This weekend we won’t snorkel at a nearby reef, kayak, visit land. The Internet gives us daily updates as to the horror that is unfolding on shore. Specifically, on Facebook, I follow the GIS – Government Information Service of Grenada, which issues frequent updates.
During the week, essential workers like grocery store staff and construction workers are allowed to go to work. Likewise, we can go to shore to buy food, water and take-out food. Restaurants are closed to dine-in service.
Grenada began vaccinating the public with Astra Zeneca in February 2021. The Pfizer vaccine was introduced in late August 2021. But, as you can see from this image, the uptake for vaccinations has been slow.
Many people in Grenada (and beyond) are skeptical of the vaccine. From my observations the reasons, in Grenada, include faith over science, rejection of modern medicine, and peer pressure.
Faith in God is a current that runs through Grenada, and is invoked even in government addresses. That is not to say that all Grenadians put faith over science. However, I observed one determined elder refuse to use hand sanitizer. Raising her eyes to the sky and putting a sturdy leg in the bus, she declared with confident vibrato, “Gawwd will protect me.”
Grenada has a strong and diverse medical community. There is a large medical university on the island. However, some local people put faith in good food and bush medicine. (Some cruisers do too for that matter.)
Strong herbal brews are popular remedies for everything from dengue to menstrual cramps. The Grenadian government doesn’t discount these attitudes and encourages people to eat well. However, the government wants people to get vaccinated. A few months ago, a man asked me “Are you enjoying your science experiment?” as we rattled down a road in his truck. (I was hitching a ride for convenience. It’s friendly like that in Grenada.) He told me that he preferred to eat his vegetables, enjoy fresh air, and stay away from the vaccine.
Further, there is a sentiment among some people that Grenadians will not be used as a medical testing ground. Amongst a population that is largely black, I have heard mutterings on buses, and in the street, about a historical distrust in the newly developed vaccines. Indeed, on a Duke University Research website, Cydney Livingston describes a litany of instances where black people have been used without consent or knowledge for medical research. It makes for a sobering read.
Finally, despite many efforts and ad campaigns throughout the island, there will always be pockets of people susceptible to peer pressure. On a recent bus ride I I was shocked to hear the lyrics to the Jamaican artist, Sizzla Kalonji’s, ”No Vaccine” protest song. Kolonji likens the vaccine to a form of slavery. When watching young men rock to the beat of this song, the message seems unforgivable.
The number of people getting vaccinated in Grenada is growing by the day, albeit slowly. Recently, when I visited to the St. George’s Medical Office, there were several young people waiting their turn to get vaccinated.
The Grenadian health team has been quick to set up COVID wards with beds for those who need them. These are pictures from the GIS Facebook page.
Our experience at the hospital shows that the people are committed but the conditions are different to what we would expect in Canada. I know this because, a few months ago, Paul spent two nights at the hospital. He had emergency appendix surgery. His surgeon was amazing. The nurses at the hospital work very hard, and made efforts to make Paul feel comfortable. Two pigeons walked the ward.
I’m buoyed up to see that the vaccination numbers are rising – but it’s slow. Right now, people are working hard to control the hell that has gripped this tropical paradise.
As for our plans, we intend to stay at least to stay in Grenada at least to the end of hurricane season in November. We might head to Panama for Christmas, then cross the canal in January and hopefully sail to French Polynesia or Fiji in the late winter.