A prolonged mask mandate 

Nearly two and a half years after a mask mandate was introduced in The Bahamas after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed, a mask mandate remains in place for the general population, though it is clear that many people barely adhere to it, if at all.

This is for several reasons, the primary one being that COVID fatigue has long set in for so many.

Another likely reason is that unlike last year this time, COVID-19 is thankfully not wreaking havoc on our healthcare system, our families and our communities.

On Monday, three COVID-19 cases were recorded in the country, all on New Providence. Twenty-two people were in hospital with COVID-19, all moderately ill. There were no deaths.

This is a much different picture than last August when the Delta variant was raging.

Another reason why many people have stopped wearing masks, or seldom wear them, is many keep witnessing double standards from officials.

Bahamians and residents of The Bahamas are free to visit local resorts where thousands of people openly walk about in proximity without masks.

When these same Bahamians and residents visit grocery stores and other establishments, the mandate kicks in.

There is also the double standard of our leaders lecturing us about mask-wearing, while openly violating the mandate.

At church services in Fox Hill on Tuesday, politicians sat with community leaders. Some wore masks. Others did not.

At a popular basketball game at Kendal G. L. Isaacs Gymnasium on Sunday night, when politicians played against pastors and lost, the prime minister, who was the coach, and players, huddled without masks.

No one seemed concerned about COVID-19. The mask mandate did not apply.

At multiple government indoor events that draw crowds, many participants walk around freely without masks on.

This is why it is confusing to hear Minister of Health Dr. Michael Darville and Prime Minister Philip Davis try to explain why the mask mandate remains in place.

Davis said yesterday he does not want “an avalanche of sick people that will burst our hospital at the seams again” and that is why the government needs more people vaccinated before lifting the mask mandate.

Darville told reporters last week that the government will consider lifting the mask mandate once 70 percent of the eligible Bahamian population is fully vaccinated.

“If we reach 70 percent, begin to see the downward trend, and we begin to see what we are seeing now in our hospital system where we have more people in hospital with COVID than in hospital suffering from COVID, then our EOC (emergency operations committee) will work very closely with our advisors and, hopefully, with the grace of God, we will be able to reduce or even remove the mask mandate,” he said.

We cannot say what “downward trend” the minister is referring to as new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are way down.

According to Darville, around 56 percent of the population is vaccinated.

Health officials should articulate more specifically the reasoning behind the 70 percent goal given that multiple studies have shown that the efficacy of the vaccine wanes after several months.

Seventy percent does not tell us much if a large percent of fully vaccinated individuals never received boosters.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, fully vaccinated is not the same as having the best protection. People are best protected when they stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations, which includes getting boosters when eligible.

A study reported in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal found that vaccine effectiveness has been reported to drop to 44.1 percent with AstraZeneca or to 62.5 percent with Pfizer by week 20 after the second dose.

This is not to suggest that some level of protection is not better than none at all. A CDC study reported on in January found that unvaccinated people were still five times more likely to be infected than fully vaccinated and boosted people during the Omicron surge.

If the government is trying to reach a 70 percent vaccination goal, it would seem that could be a long way off given that the relative period of calm we have fortunately been experiencing, as it regards COVID cases, does not provide any incentive for people who have, up to this point, decided not to get the vaccine to suddenly run out and get it.

Many Bahamians, meanwhile, are over the mixed signals and messages officials continue to send on the mask mandate.

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