Fri | Jun 5, 2020

New Kingston BPO shut down - Worker tests positive for COVID-19

Published:Wednesday | April 29, 2020 | 12:26 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
More than 200 coronavirus cases have been linked to the Portmore site of the Alorica call centre.
More than 200 coronavirus cases have been linked to the Portmore site of the Alorica call centre.

LESS THAN 24 hours after the Government hinted at its hope for a whole-scale reopening of call-centre sites after an outbreak of COVID-19, it has emerged that a business process outsourcing (BPO) firm has been ordered shut by public health authorities in the wake of a positive case.

An employee at the New Kingston-based Centerfield Media tested positive for the new coronavirus on Sunday, triggering a ­contact-tracing probe by the Ministry of Health & Wellness among scores of employees and family members.

It is not immediately clear if the site received state exemption from a nationwide 14-day lockdown due to expire in May.

The Holness administration telegraphed its eagerness to unshackle BPOs whose sites were shuttered under the Disaster Risk Management Act after nearly 200 cases linked to the Alorica call centre in Portmore caused the outbreak to surge. Alorica sparked a lockdown of the parish of St Catherine, causing a restriction on mass movement, except for shopping days and ­specially exempted personnel.

The Centerfield staffer is a resident of St Catherine, a parish that accounts for the largest number of COVID-19 cases – 208 up to Monday night. Jamaica has recorded 364 cases all told. Seven persons have died.

ALORICA WOES

Dr Karen Webster Kerr, national epidemiologist, reported yesterday that 182 workers from Alorica have tested positive for COVID-19, with about 80 per cent of them not displaying any symptoms.

She said that another 45 persons who came in contact with Alorica workers have tested positive for the disease, bringing the total linked to the Portmore call centre to 227.

The senior medical officer told the Special Select Committee on Public Health yesterday that 50 of the Alorica workers are yet to be found and tested.

At least 685 workers from the workplace cluster in St Catherine have been tested for COVID-19.

Overall, 3,621 samples have been tested with 364 persons testing positive while 3,231 have tested negative.

Approximately 110 employees are sited at Centerfield’s New Kingston offices, while nearly 400 work from home. Others are reportedly under quarantine in St Catherine.

THOROUGH CLEANING

Deep cleaning of the building is to be conducted under the oversight of the health department, The Gleaner has learnt. Correction of other environmental breaches related to COVID-19 risk factor has also been mandated.

Centerfield had reportedly implemented a number of protocols to limit the risk of the spread of COVID-19, including temperature checks, social distancing, and the provision of hand sanitiser. However, breaches observed at Centerfield involved the wearing of masks, failure to properly sanitise the facility after the positive case emerged, and questionable cleaning schedules.

The air-conditioning and ventilation systems also came under scrutiny.

Speaking to The Gleaner yesterday evening, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton defended the shutdown, saying that the citing of breaches and the subsequent closure of the facility proved that the ministry’s protocols were working.

“We’re acting out of an abundance of caution in keeping with our new protocols,” Tufton said, while making it clear that there was no evidence that the worker contracted the disease while ­working at Centerfield.

“Contact tracing will allow the risk assessment as to who to track down, who to test, who to isolate,” he added.

An investigation has been launched and the employees of Centerfield are expected to undergo tests shortly.

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com