The hustle and bustle of Jamaican streets and roadways is usually invigorating (if you’ve ever visited or lived in this exquisite island-nation, you surely know exactly what I mean), but like most countries globally, the mood and modus operandi are eerily different now in the face COVID-19.
Jamaica recorded its first COVID-19 case on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Another case quickly followed less than 24 hours later. A month later (as of Monday, April 13), there are 73 people island-wide ranging in ages from 12 to 87 who have tested positive for the virus. Of the 73 cases, there have so far been 17 recoveries on the one hand but on the other sadly 4 people have died of COVID-19 related complications.
An island nation in the Caribbean, it comes as no surprise that the first cases of COVID-19 in Jamaica were imported. In fact, the scales have only recently tipped so that just under half of the confirmed cases are imported; in a domino-effect, the remaining majority of cases are almost entirely comprised of individuals in close contact with confirmed positive cases (e.g. spouses of individuals who have tested positive following return from international travel).
The relatively small number of people with COVID-19 in Jamaica is a testimony to the government’s responsiveness. One critical factor in combating the spread of the virus was containment: the government’s decision to close all airports and seaports on March 21st was certainly not an easy one, particularly considering the suffocating economic impacts of closed boarders when tourism is Jamaica’s #1 GDP source. While the bold move to focus – at all costs - all attention on supporting local public health efforts has proven wise, the impact with the halt to tourism was immediate. Almost overnight, thousands of Jamaicans were laid off in the hotel sector. Layoffs and closures have continued throughout tourism-related small and large businesses, e.g. vendors, restaurants, tourist attraction sites and venues, in transportation, etc. Although COVID-19 free, these individuals and their families are not unscathed. From the relative safety of their homes, they’ve been forced into facing the unprecedented impacts of a global pandemic in unparalleled ways. The island has been able to keep case numbers low compared to other nations, but the economic impacts which have ravaged the island already are of grave concern to all.
Notwithstanding public debate, the government has been responsive still. Grants, loans, cash transfers and other relief programs have been put into place; various ministries (from health to finance and public service to education) within Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ team have stepped forward to collaboratively devise plans to address the impacts head-on. And since the announcement of COVID-19 hit the airwaves internationally, press conferences have been held at least weekly in Jamaica. Safety protocols have been widely publicized, and some even legislated. Curfews are in effect. Public gatherings are restricted. Seniors are on a stay-at-home order as part of an effort to promote the protection of the most vulnerable. Community quarantine orders are also in effect. A mobile testing clinic hits the road today to support communities most at risk. Schools have been closed since March 13, and work-from-home directives are being widely observed.
One of Global Ministries’ partners, the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Island (UCJCI), with its head office in the capital of Kingston, Jamaica, has been physically closed for nearly a month with staff keeping the work-from-home directives of the government. Daily, community-members connected with the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Island receive updates from the UCJCI Communications staff person and/or COVID19 Response Team on the latest COVID-19 news and updates, as well as health and safety advisories and legislation. We also receive daily voice notes, sound and video clips of words of encouragement, devotionals and sermons from ministers across the islands too. Praise be to God: even in these difficult times, spirits have been lifted and the Spirit is moving. Guided by 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind,” the churches’ response at the congregational level in the face of adversity has been tremendous, too. Like so many of your churches, congregations here have rapidly adapted to take their message of hope from the bi-ways of the streets to station-ways of radio, WhatsApp, Zoom calls, Facebook, live stream websites, and YouTube. Furthermore, whereas pews are needfully empty on Sunday mornings (public gatherings were restricted two days after COVID-19 hit the island), congregations organized care packages for individuals most in need in their respective communities, planned strategies to safely check in on and provide for the elderly on legislative lock-down, and continued to support those who have been home or hospital-bound for some time. A testimony to the Spirit moving, God’s people have been dedicated to finding safe ways to compassionately meet practical and spiritual needs amid this new storm.
This Holy season, UCJCI Synod not only orchestrated a virtual denomination-wide Resurrection Sunday Service to bring 1000s of parishioners together online for Easter, but since COVID-19 arrived to the island’s boarders, UCJCI has made it their mission to help shift weary eyes from the TV screen to God instead. From a constant bombardment of gloomy national and international new updates, UCJCI responded since the very beginning of the COVID scare with a call to assembly for weekly corporate prayer to lift our eyes to God. So, every Wednesday between 12 noon and 1pm, individuals across the island join together in prayer from the safe quarters of their respective homes. We pray for Jamaica and other nations – including your nation. We pray for healthcare and all other "frontline" workers. We pray for those infected with COVID-19 and those affected, especially those grieving the loss of a loved one. We pray for the most vulnerable (the elderly and those with pre-existing health concerns). We pray for leaders in the difficult seats of decision-making, and those at home paralyzed by fear or a sense of helplessness. We pray for people struggling with their mental health, trying to support children at home, elderly in their care, as well as neighbors and friends while keeping with “social/physical distancing.” We pray for people impacted by COVID economically, and their families. We pray for our beloved siblings at home and worldwide.
As our partner, you too are invited to join the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (a longstanding Global Ministries’ partner) as we pray faithfully together/apart every Wednesday.
Rachel Pellett serves with the United Church in Jamaica and Cayman Islands (UCJCI) and the UCJCI ministry, Pringle Home for Children. Pringle Home for Children remains open during the COVID-19 pandemic as an essential service. Her appointment is made possible by gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.