An uninformative press conference

The Ministry of Health COVID-19 Team held a most uninformative press conference on Friday afternoon. 

Journalists, seeking to pry information from the health team, were often told that the prime minister would address the subject in a national address on Sunday.

It is hard to believe that the almost two-hour long session was the best use of time by those leading the country’s fight to stem the spread of the disease. 

We are now one month into a second surge of COVID-19 infections against which the first surge pales.

The country has recorded 830 COVID cases, some 726 since the July 1 reopening of international borders.  The official death count is 14.

Tests have increased but only of those with symptoms and their contacts.  Contact tracing collapsed so only 50 percent have been reached since the beginning of the second surge.

A defensive minister of health and his team were more interested in defending the government’s performance than in providing information.

We were told that information on new infections whether on hospital wards, in the uniformed services or among private citizens, is the subject of patient privacy which is inviolable. 

Indeed, the minister indicated that cases could not be reported before full investigations were completed and affected persons informed. 

Better, it seems, that the public rely on social media speculation than have those in authority provide accurate information on possible exposures and of ameliorative action being taken.

And so, COVID-19 infections at the Sandilands Rehabilitation Hospital had to be revealed by the nurses union president.

Reports on exposures and possible infections at Princess Margaret Hospitals remain lost in bureaucratic speak.

Infections of staff members in a spa, a tile company and in a fast food eatery remained the stuff of speculation until the companies revealed the information. 

Certainly, the public health authorities have an obligation that outweighs the fear of identifying the source of such a dangerous infection.

Customs and immigration officers infected, whether on the job or in their personal lives, remains the subject of speculation particularly as not a single COVID-19 infection in The Bahamas has been linked to a visitor or a part-time resident.

The lack of transparency has eroded the trust of the public in government statements. 

While the government and the Public Hospitals Authority maintain that ample supplies of personal protection equipment (PPE) are available to ensure that all medical and health workers are protected on the job, few believe them. 

The nurses and doctors and medical technicians who walked off their jobs this week, in protest of inadequate PPE and non-isolation of suspected COVID-19 cases in the accident and emergency department of Princess Margaret Hospital all have family and friends and acquaintances who believe them. 

Their anguish and fear of exposure to the disease is palpable and will not be dispelled by angry and dismissive statements from politicians and bureaucrats.  

On Friday, we learned that hospitalizations had risen to 30. 

Queries on capacity revealed that Doctors Hospital West might be expanding and that the South Beach Clinic, under renovation into a COVID-19 unit since March, has six completed rooms but with a capacity to be expanded to the north and the south.

 Whether the six rooms have beds and necessary equipment for treating COVID-19 patients was not clarified.

Social media speculation about additional COVID-19 related deaths, including that of a Defence Force officer on Thursday, remained in the realm of speculation on Friday afternoon. 

Authorities appear incapable of stating that deaths have occurred in patients suspected of being COVID-19 positive or who were COVID-19 positive but who may have succumbed to unrelated ailments and that autopsies will confirm one way or the other.

Amazingly, countries both large and small, some rich and others poor and including CARICOM states, daily provide information on new infections and new deaths as is reflected on their dashboards and on the COVID-19 trackers operated by universities and international health organizations.  

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