The 61-year-old woman who tested positive for the novel coronavirus at Princess Margaret Hospital has not traveled outside The Bahamas within the last 20 days, Acting Minister of Health Jeffrey Lloyd said yesterday.
“The Bahamas today confirmed its first case of COVID-19 here in New Providence,” said Lloyd at a press conference at the Ministry of Health.
“The patient is a 61-year-old female resident of New Providence who does not have a relevant travel history.
“She presented with symptoms of fever and cough, she is not known to have traveled outside of the country in the past 20 days and at this time the patient’s exposure is unknown.
“The patient and family members have been informed of this diagnosis. She is receiving care in the designated isolation area of the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH).
“We are currently investigating her family and social contacts to determine whether they could have been the source of her infection.”
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearl McMillan revealed during the press conference that the patient went to PMH on Friday with symptoms, and at midnight on Saturday the results of COVID-19 testing confirmed the positive case.
McMillan noted that test results can typically take between four and six hours to be completed, and said the test was repeated several times to ensure accuracy.
McMillan also did not confirm whether the patient’s family, or anyone she may have come into contact with while infected, has been quarantined as the investigations are in “early” stages.
Up until this point, a primary focus for the government was on monitoring individuals with travel history to areas with known cases of the disease.
It has maintained a travel ban on all non-residents who have visited China, Italy, Iran and South Korea.
But Lloyd said that surveillance activities will be ramped up in light of the confirmed case.
“We made the decision to expand our testing and have a heightened sensitivity for persons presenting with influenza-like symptoms due to lessons learned from countries that have diagnosed cases, in keeping with this enhanced surveillance approach,” he said.
“The investigation is ongoing and we will update the public within the next 24 hours.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic last week.
The virus originated in Wuhan, China, late last year.
It has since spread to all continents except Antarctica, with major outbreaks in China, South Korea, Iran and Italy.
Up to press time, there were over 153,000 cases worldwide with over 5,700 deaths.
Although the majority of deaths were in mainland China, WHO reported that the epicenter of the disease has moved from China to Europe as “more cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic”.
“Stay at home”
Officials stressed that preventative measures are the best way to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
They encouraged residents to follow the recommended hygiene protocols, to avoid any large public gatherings as much as possible and to isolate themselves at home if they feel ill.
Director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme Dr. Nikkiah Forbes, who was also present at the press conference, urged residents who suspect they may have been infected to not “flood” hospitals or clinics, as in doing so they would be “highly likely” to infect others in the hospital waiting area or otherwise nearby.
“If you are having flu-like symptoms, they’re very common and we are in flu and cold season,” she noted.
“If you are having runny nose, joint pain, cough and fever, please do not flood the hospitals and community settings, clinics or doctors’ offices, because cold and flu is common…
“If you have flu-like symptoms, stay at home. Do not go to work. Self-isolate yourself. Find a room in your home away from your family that you can rest and take symptomatic relief – fluids, fever reducers, cough reducers.
“If you are worsening and think that you need medical attention, please call ahead to your doctor’s office and speak to them via the telephone or call the COVID hotline…so that you can get further advice. That’s very important.”
Forbes noted that the only way for someone to determine whether they have COVID-19 is by taking a test, but stressed that if preventative measures are not taken then The Bahamas could end up in a position where there are not sufficient tests for everyone, which she said has occurred in other countries.
McMillan said that so far eight people have been tested for the new coronavirus.
She also noted that field hospitals for isolated patients as proposed in the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan are not yet completed, but that the ministry is considering the use of a community clinic as an overflow if needed.
“What I do know, from this level, we are actually looking at putting in place I would say for surge capacity, should we have additional, above and beyond what we can handle in the Princess Margaret Hospital or the Doctors Hospital, a field hospital kind of situation,” she said.
“That is well on its way, and we also have an interim plan for possibly utilizing one of our community clinics if we need to do that.”
But she again highlighted the focus on prevention in order to avoid having to take those steps.
“Crossing our fingers will not do it, we have to adopt the measures – social distancing, not having the mass gatherings,” she said.
“If not, like Dr. Forbes said, we would be in a less than favorable situation in our country.”