An unrelenting wave 

Not unlike many countries around the world, The Bahamas, a beleaguered nation weighed down by a prolonged pandemic, has entered a new year with the only thing certain at this point is more uncertainty ahead.

While there is always unpredictability in each day, and thus each year, the evolving crisis that is COVID-19 has tested the fortitude of governments and strained the resolve of people everywhere.

After a seemingly unrelenting third wave of the coronavirus that saw hundreds of deaths and ripped apart many Bahamian families, we were finally able to enjoy an easing of COVID’s grip this past October and November when the curve was flattened.

Case numbers and test positivity rates were down over the course of weeks, although we were constantly reminded that while many of us were through with COVID, COVID was not yet through with us.

As tourism industry players looked forward to a busy holiday season, thousands of industry workers headed back to work, the straw market in downtown Nassau reopened after more than a year and a half, and Minister of Education Glenys Hanna- Martin announced in November the reopening of classrooms nationwide was set for the second week of January 2022.

But the reprieve from COVID-19 was short-lived.

Omicron, first identified in late November by South African scientists, has reversed many gains made; it threatens to derail economic recovery we have been enjoying in recent times. Health officials say the Delta variant also continues to be of concern.

With the return of in-person learning on hold, thousands of weary parents now have to figure out what to do with their young children when they are at work. Many have to resume virtual learning, which has proven challenging for so many.

In some communities, significant numbers of children are being left behind. Some have no supervision. Some have no devices, and worse still, some have no electricity or internet services to facilitate virtual schooling.

And while an update on school reopening is expected within the next couple weeks, there is no clear end in sight to the circumstances that continue to unfold.

COVID cases have risen exponentially in the last two weeks with nearly 2,000 between Thursday and Monday.

Given that the more widely used and cheaper rapid antigen tests are not factored into daily case reporting, it is likely that the RT-PCR test results do not accurately capture the extent of the deepening crisis.

What paints a worrying picture are test positivity rates and hospitalizations – both of which are up considerably. Hospitalizations jumped from 22 on December 28 to 58 on January 3 – more than doubling in under a week. This indicator is certainly something to keep a close eye on in coming days.

Alarmingly, the test positivity rate for January 3 – the latest available report – was 44.5 percent, indicating that COVID numbers are much more significant than what is being shown through testing.

It seems as if half of New Providence has COVID right now. Former Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands, who along with his immediate family has tested positive for COVID-19, told The Tribune in an article published yesterday, “There’s rampant community spread.”

In a Facebook post yesterday, noted pediatrician Dr. Tamarra Moss wrote: “I hate to break it to you, but EVERYBODY has COVID-19 and who doesn’t, likely will very soon.”

While studies show that Omicron though highly transmissible is generally resulting in mild cases, especially among the vaccinated, COVID’s impact on the health system and on businesses in general due to staff shortages has significant implications for the delivery of healthcare and for the national economy.

More than 130 healthcare workers in New Providence and Grand Bahama are out of the public healthcare system, Minister of Health Dr. Michael Darville said yesterday, 

The question then becomes “what should be done?”

It is not a question countries around the world are finding easy answers to as Omicron proves resistant to vaccines and to antibodies from people who have recovered from COVID-19 infection. Some experts predict the new variant will peak by month’s end.

As with previous waves of COVID, in addition to efforts by government to curtail the spread of the virus, responsible actions on the part of individuals and a compassionate approach by employers are crucial in moving us beyond our current COVID quagmire.

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