Bahamians more susceptible to contract COVID-19 says health official

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By Ashley Penn-Nixon

Compass Correspondent

With the number of COVID-19 positive cases still at 92 in The Bahamas, health officials are concerned with the number of persons who refuse to practice physical distancing, especially since certain restrictions were relaxed by Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis on Monday.

This revelation made by Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and World Health Organization (WHO) representative Dr. Esther de Gourville Thursday during the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 weekly press conference.

Dr. de Gourville said this proves troubling for the Bahamian population, as poor execution of the implemented preventative measures has led to a more susceptible people during this deadly pandemic.

“At this stage in The Bahamas, for the 92 confirmed cases and possibly a few of their contacts who may have been exposed, the vast majority of Bahamians remain susceptible to COVID-19.  Those of you who have embraced the opening of the alcohol shops – people having a little alcohol party in a car park yesterday, you remain susceptible to COVID-19 and the risk that you’re taking to your own health, the health of your family and the wider community is a huge one and one that you should avoid,” she said.

Dr. de Gourville also spoke on the race against the clock to develop a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, noting that part of the work that needs to be done in the introduction of a vaccine is to determine the prevalence of susceptible persons in the population. 

“Once a vaccine is developed at a large enough scale, decisions have to be made about equity in the distribution of vaccine to all countries in the world and as you would realize, this outbreak has affected all countries of the world so that we all have susceptible populations that are in need of vaccination to prevent infection,” she said.

There is an 18-month wait before a possible vaccine is successfully developed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Health consultant in the Office of the Prime Minister, Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis when questioned on the state of affairs in the country as it relates to mass testing for the deadly virus, noted that The Bahamas is simply not equipped to administer mass testing at this time.

“We do not have the capacity to do mass testing.  We’re doing more testing than any other regional member at this time.  We have certainly taken an approach that we would sample the entire population and all the contacts of the cases,” she said.

Dr. Dahl-Regis was also questioned whether the Ministry of Health was concerned over the growing cases in Bimini, seven weeks after the first case was recorded and the possibility of there being A-symptomatic carriers infecting vulnerable residents on that quaint, close-knit island.

“We are concerned and we continue to test and we’re seriously considering a recommendation that has come forth to quarantine the island for 14 days – we’re close to a decision on that but we continue to test,” Dahl-Regis continued.

Despite this fact, the health official said she is confident healthcare providers will be able to address a number of cases on a daily basis as the need arises.

“The 1,539 tests to-date certainly gives us comfort.  We’ve also interacted with the lab and they are able to conduct 100 tests on a daily basis if they run for 24 hours.  I think we are in a good place in terms of our capacity to respond and should there be more cases, we are in a good position at this time.  We continue to monitor the situation,” she said.

Also on hand for the press conference was Director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme at The Bahamas Ministry of Health Dr. Nikkiah Forbes who, when questioned, shared her thoughts on blood thinners, an emerging remedy to fight against COVID-19.

“We are following the scientific literature on a daily basis and we are aware that there have been reports of patients with COVID-19 that have thrombotic manifestations – that means they are having clots and we’re seeing small clots in the lungs after the post mortem samples of those patients from a number of places including Italy,” she said.

“Certainly, it is something we are following in our own cohort. We have had at least one patient who’s had a clot in a large vessel.   We are watching that and the other scientific information as it unfolds.”

While some 5,000 swabs are said to be in the country to ensure ample testing continues, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearl McMillan raised concerns regarding the influx of cases and the possibility of an exhausted healthcare system.

“Our concerns relate to the potential for an increase in the amount of cases to the point where our health care system is challenged.  We would need to relax the restrictions in such a way to ensure we ideally don’t have to move in a position where we need to now say we need to make a recommendation back.  We have to use a measured approach to moving forward with the relaxations, monitor the cases and monitor what is happening,” she said.

“We want when we move forward to continue to move forward.  We want to be able to restart our economic engine to have it move forward, not to restart and have to stop again.  So, we will be monitoring the indicators to determine how we are progressing in that direction.”

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