With continued high numbers of COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations in The Bahamas, Dr. Nikkiah Forbes, director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme, warned yesterday that more must be done to bring the spread of the virus under control.
“I’m concerned,” Forbes said, “and the appropriate thing to do in an infectious disease outbreak is you put your energy into what you can do to get it under control.
“We have studied COVID. We know how it spreads. We know how to stop it. We know how we can prevent it, and so now we have to put those steps in place to mitigate it and to get it under control.
“We all have to do what is needed. And that’s what you need to do. And that’s how you need to look at it.
“Worry is not going to get us anywhere. We need to do what is needed to get the outbreak under control.”
Forbes said there has to be a plan and strategy in place for reopening and dealing with new surges.
“There has to be keys and strategies to reopening and protocols in place and there has to be adherence to the public health precautions, enforcement of that, high vaccination coverage, and continuing to educate persons, so that we can get this under control,” she said.
“And then, of course, there is the public health strategy of isolating cases, identifying them early and then isolating them, doing the contact tracing, quarantine and so on, and other protocols for workspaces. That’s how you have to look at this.
“You have to look at a plan for reopening and how we will keep it under control, because you can expect, and you’re seeing worldwide, that this is going to be an issue.
“COVID-19 is here; it’s going to flare up and calm down from time to time.
“But when you see that things are at capacity, that numbers are high, that the percentage positivity rate is more than five percent and that deaths are happening, you know that you don’t have the situation under control, and you’ve got to make those changes to bring it back under control.
“And that is how you have to look at it.”
The Bahamas has recorded 1,046 new COVID-19 cases since July 1, with the month on track to far surpass others so far this year in terms of new case numbers.
As of Tuesday, 92 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in The Bahamas, up drastically from 73 a week before.
According to the latest dashboard, 13 of those in hospitals with COVID are in intensive care.
Forbes said the healthcare system is being stretched thin.
“That’s particularly challenging,” she said.
“So, the numbers of hospitalizations is increasing, and the hospitals and the COVID care centers are running at full capacity based on their staffing.
“And this is also a reflection of what else is happening in the outbreak because the numbers of cases are going up. The average daily number of cases is trending up again week upon week, and so, too, is the weekly number of cases, and deaths are also continuing to happen.
“And this is really a reflection of where we are in this third wave; we are having a surge in the third wave. And it’s caused by [a number of] factors. And some of those factors include the very big possibility that there are emerging variants, like the Delta variant.
“… Then there is fatigue and people not following the public health protocols and also the reopening of business as usual, and vaccine coverage and the unequal rollout of vaccines, globally. That is concerning and that is why we are continuing to see this uptick in cases.
“And we do need to address this because we are having fallout from that.”
While a number of health professionals have warned in recent days of a system being pushed to its limits, Minister of Health Renward Wells and Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis have not expressed any alarm over the recent state of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.
Wells and Minnis have so far maintained there is no need for increased restrictions on New Providence and insisted that vaccination is the solution, despite a critical shortage of COVID vaccine doses, which has led officials to discontinue administering of first doses, for the time being.
Less than 10 percent of the population of The Bahamas is fully vaccinated.
Forbes said yesterday that even when more vaccine doses arrive, more must be done to combat vaccine hesitancy.
“We have to say, ‘OK, what is the reason why people are hesitant?’” she said.
“And there is a myriad of reasons. Some people want more information. Some people are making up their minds. Some people want to hear more about the safety data. Some people want questions answered about how safety was paramount although the vaccine development was accelerated.
“And so, it is important and it’s the responsibility of the health team and the health educators and policymakers to ensure that there is an educational plan and that we point people in the right direction in terms of where they can get accurate and credible information.”
Forbes added, “As I have shared with you, the persons at the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) who have been admitted to hospital or died, none were fully vaccinated – zero were fully vaccinated.
“So, we know that vaccinations work and do what they’re supposed to do, which is prevent hospitalization and prevent death. But we have to continue to get that information out there.
“And we have to have a robust vaccination campaign and educational platform to support having the facts out there and, of course, multiple opportunities for people to uptake that vaccination.”