On Sunday 06 September two low-level positive COVID-19 test results were returned following routine testing of individuals currently subject to compulsory isolation measures. As a consequence of these two positive test results occurring for people within Ascension, the Ascension COVID-19 Response Level was escalated on Sunday afternoon to Level 2 RED. This escalation was in line with the Response Level Protocol and is a precautionary measure which alerts authorities and the public to an increase in the potential level of COVID-19 risk.
As per the Georgetown Hospital protocols, subsequent tests were conducted on the two individuals on Tuesday 08 September. These results indicated significantly reduced levels of virus, to the point of non-infectious amounts, and were therefore deemed to be negative.
As a result, the two individuals will continue their 14 day quarantine period whilst they remain under observation, and will be tested along with the rest of their arrival cohort prior to their release at the end of their isolation period.
Due to these subsequent negative test results, the Ascension COVID-19 Response Level has been reduced to Level 1 AMBER as of this morning.
As ever, anyone who develops a new persistent dry cough, a fever or experiences unexpected shortness of breath should go home, self-isolate and telephone Georgetown Hospital on 66252 for further advice.
The two individuals in question had arrived at Ascension on Friday 04 September. They had both previously returned negative COVID-19 test results on Tuesday 01 September prior to their departure for the island. Following the low-level COVID-19 positive test results on Sunday 04 September, the individuals were isolated from their quarantine group and further tests were scheduled.
The results of tests conducted on Tuesday 08 September indicated a significant reduction in the levels of the virus in both persons, to the point of non-infectious amounts. This suggests that the earlier positive results occurred due to a previously acquired infection, or prior exposure to the virus, which has now decreased to the point where the individuals can no longer be infectious to others.
Although the levels of virus detected in the first tests were low, these met the threshold of a positive result for COVID-19. Therefore the response level was escalated to Level 2 RED to reflect the increased level of COVID-19 risk to the community.
This is a scenario that AIG had planned and prepared for. Robust measures for effectively managing arrivals to Ascension have been in place throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. These protocols have been developed in liaison with experts from Public Health England and are designed to ensure that any person arriving at the island is kept separate from the general public until the Senior Medical Officer is assured that they do not pose a risk of introducing COVID-19 into the community.
Even though the individuals who tested positive had not had any contact with the wider public, and therefore any potential COVID-19 was contained, the level of risk to Ascension from COVID-19 had increased and as a result the response level was raised. Following the two negative test results and confirmation that the threat from COVID-19 had reduced, the response level was returned to Level 1 AMBER.
Why did tests only three days apart give different results?
The COVID-19 test performed by Georgetown Hospital looks for the presence of COVID-19 virus within a swab of cells taken from a person. The original results showed low-levels of virus in both individuals. As neither was displaying symptoms of COVID-19 this could have indicated the remnants of virus from an infection acquired sometime in the past, or the beginning of a new infection.
The response level was raised to Level 2 RED following confirmation of COVID-19 virus in those individuals, with further testing scheduled several days later to confirm whether the level of virus in the individuals was getting worse or improving. As the levels of virus had decreased to non-significant levels, both individuals were confirmed as testing negative for continued presence of COVID-19.
Is it safe for these individuals to be released at the end of their quarantine?
The test results have been analysed by the Senior Medical Officer and experts within Public Health England. Both are satisfied that the decreased levels of virus mean that the persons in question have non-infectious weakening virus. As a result, neither pose a risk to the public.
The protocols in place in Ascension have been designed in liaison with experts in Public Health England to ensure that any person arriving at the island is kept separate from the general public until the Senior Medical Officer can be assured that they do not pose a risk of introducing COVID-19 into the community. Along with other members of their arrival cohort, the individuals will be tested again prior to the end of their quarantine.
Why is the response level changing after only a few days?
The Ascension Island COVID-19 Response Levels indicate to the public what level of risk the island is at from COVID-19. As two test results indicated positive presence of COVID-19 within persons on the island, even at a low-level, the response level was raised to Level 2 RED.
If the subsequent test results had showed that the individuals were still being affected by the virus, or that the virus was getting worse, the response level would have remained at Level 2 RED. However, as the subsequent test results demonstrated significant reduction in the levels of the virus, to the point of non-infectious amounts, the response level was reduced to Level 1 AMBER in recognition of the reduced level of risk to the island.