Every night on the news we report on the latest COVID numbers. And, recently, there seems to be a downward trend in the number of new cases.

There were 30 new cases reported on Monday, 77 on Tuesday, and 57 last night - where in early December we were seeing multiples of those numbers.

Of course, this is also a reflection of how many tests are being done - but what the public wants to know is are the numbers trending down? And is the curve that raged up in mid-December starting to flatten?

Today in a Zoom interview, I asked the Director of Health Services about the positivity rate:

Cherisse Halsall
"The positivity rate was in the 30's and the high 20's for the better part of last month, now it's at about 12, what would you attribute these changes to, and do you think that the trend is going to continue moving downward?"

Melissa Diaz - Acting DHS
"I think that the positivity rate from, if we go back to September, October we saw that it was at 20 to 25% consistently, it's only recently starting to go down but when you look at the overall the cumulative positivity rate that remains at 21% so it's the daily rate that keeps dropping to 18 of 15% which we are optimistic about but we are very cautious about as well. Ok, because there are many factors that can affect the positivity rate. So it's very important that we stay cautious with regards to the rate we're hoping that and as you quite rightly said, we're hoping that the public health measures along with improvement in testing rolling out the rapid tests doing more health education allowing persons to actually adhere to the public health measures, etc. All these things together will help us to reduce the number of cases that we see, so yes some measures I believe has made a big difference but also individual measures that we take for ourselves for our workplace those things will help us to continue to reduce the number of positive cases that we see."

Testing Is The Key

And while those personal measures you take to stop the spread can have the biggest effect on driving down numbers - testing is another key component.

Dr Diaz says that be making rapid testing more available, and, thus, letting more infected people know they are positive has deterred risky social behaviour:

Melissa Diaz - Acting DHS
"Definitely more testing has helped us, I think around November 23rd, 24th the entire country had already embarked on the rapid test drives, so at that point that has really helped us because it has helped us to pick out positive cases early, right then and there or within 24 hours you are given your results and it makes a difference to that person as well, if you leave a health facility knowing that you're positive you will be extra careful going directly home to avoid your loved ones, avoid the vulnerable people in your population so it is an easier way for us to get results to persons to get more people tested and allow for earlier detection, so yes we have tested, I'll just say the ballpark figures about 20 to 22,000 persons with rapid tests already and we have that in the pipeline for January as well I was just discussing with the surveillance officer that next week, the first week of January all the regions have dedicated test days for this rapid test drive to continue."

Explaining COVID Clearance Rate

And while the positivity rate seems to be trending down - what is also sharply down is the number of active cases.

As we told you yesterday, Belize is now down to only 794 active cases a major decrease from just last month where active cases surpassed 2000.

And there are fewer active cases, because the policy for declaring a person COVID free no longer depends on a negative test - it simply requires the passage of time.

Dr. Diaz explained the standard for a clinical discharge:

Melissa Diaz - Acting DHS
"Back in March when we had our first outbreak, the Ministry of Health had continued to ask for two consecutive negative tests, now and I had gone through a lot of this morning, when we look at how we're determining whether somebody has recovered we have gone to the route of saying clinical recovery is acceptable for us. So it's important for me to explain that the memo that went out, went out to the regional management teams so it's for the doctors and nurses to look at, it wasn't for the general public, so the memo basically gave guidance as to how a doctor would determine who would be discharged. So, the clinical discharge comes with certain categories, so a person who is COVID positive and in isolation but A-symptomatic at day 14 go to the flu clinic, see a flu doctor and that doctor then gives a clearance letter if they remain well. So it's not that day 14 comes and no I've recovered, no, you've got to get a clinical assessment, you have to ensure that you've had at least 72 hours so three consecutive days with no fever, no shortness of breath, no chest pains, no loss of smell and taste. So other things come with the decision to determine whether someone is clinically recovered."

Channel 7