At least eight people on Grand Bahama were infected with COVID-19 by a 39-year-old woman and her 16-year-old daughter, who contracted COVID-19 during a trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, before returning to The Bahamas on a repatriation flight on June 30, according to health officials.
The asymptomatic pair returned with expired COVID-19 tests.
“We have a story in The Bahamas whereby we had two individuals — a mother and daughter pair — that traveled outside of the country into a country where there is known to be a high level of transmission,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Delon Brennen said during a Ministry of Health press conference on Friday.
“That pair traveled outside of the country and returned to the country. And as Bahamian residents are able to do, they returned into country without necessarily having the appropriate testing that we would want to have done.
“But, because they’re Bahamian we allowed them to come back into the country. They were asked and required to quarantine. Unfortunately, through contact tracing, we were able to find out from them that they had visitors to the house. They then went out into the community as well.
“And then, when we were able to do swabbing with their contacts, we found at least eight other people who had been in contact with them that ended up being positive cases as well. Those eight other people had no travel history.”
Brennen said this was the result of people being able to leave The Bahamas and return “and when we do return we don’t have the requisite testing or testing is old but we can’t be denied entry into country”.
“Unfortunately, what that does is it sets us up in situation whereby we may be the vector for the infection and, as was being said earlier, the virus does not respect whether you were gone from The Bahamas for 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours, four months,” he said.
“If you get infected during that time period, you have the ability to bring it back home. You then spread it to those within your household. You spread it to those within your community and they then spread it to others.”
After the borders reopened, Bahamians and residents were permitted to return to the country without testing if they traveled for less than 72 hours.
Dr. Frank Bartlett, who heads Grand Bahama’s COVID-19 task force, said the island confirmed its first case on July 6 after being COVID-free for 63 days.
He said the case was a 27-year-old man who was a known contact of the mother-daughter duo.
Bartlett said “some 12 persons” can be directly related to that pair.
He said testing is being conducted for contacts of the mother and daughter.
The emergence of COVID-19 cases on at least two Family Islands can be traced to Grand Bahama, which has reported 161 cases since July 1, officials said.
In the last week, Cat Island, the Berry Islands, Exuma, Abaco and two of its cays have all confirmed their first cases of the virus.
On Friday, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearl McMillan said 26 individuals from The Berry Islands traveled to Moore’s Island, Abaco, for the independence weekend.
Four of those individuals have since tested positive for COVID-19.
“I’m sure they enjoyed themselves,” McMillan said.
“…In our contact tracing, we learned that there was a socializing event where there was contact persons from other islands that we know have multiple cases, i.e. Grand Bahama.
“So, they went back home to Berry Islands and began having symptoms and we have six active cases. So, movement across islands, it has risks at this time particularly out of our islands that we know have active transmission.”
She said Moore’s Island, which has three active cases, is experiencing a “similar situation”.
McMillan said that contact tracing has indicated that the island also has “possible links to Grand Bahama”.
Cat Island reported its only two cases on July 21.
McMillan said both cases are possibly linked to a Bahamian who traveled to the United States and came back to The Bahamas.
“From that, we have 17 contacts in quarantine and certainly we have to monitor them and should they become symptomatic we have to manage those cases,” she said, adding, “We have to test and mange.”
The Bahamas fully reopened its borders to visitors on July 1 after being closed for more than three months.
Health officials have confirmed 238 cases of the virus in The Bahamas since that reopening.
So far, nine islands and cays have reported cases.
Grand Bahama has the highest number of cases with 169.
On Friday, when asked whether any of the recent cases came into contact with tourists, McMillan replied, “Certainly, to my recollection that has not been found out in our contact tracing. That does not mean that there was not contact.
“Once we have a case, we try our best to get every contact of that case. But, somebody may not even know how or when they were exposed.”
Twenty-two of the recent cases traveled outside The Bahamas. That figure is based on only 115 cases.
Bartlett said the youngest case on Grand Bahama is six years old and the oldest is 84.
“Most of our cases, they are between the ages of 40 and 49 and right behind that grouping is the grouping of 30 to 39,” he said.
Bartlett said the majority of the cases presented with cough, cold and flu-like symptoms.
He said some presented with fever and respiratory symptoms.
“They also have complained of muscle aches and headaches,” he said.
“A small minority of persons complain of loss of taste and smell. The most common comorbidity that we’ve seen in our grouping so far is hypertension followed by diabetes.”
Bartlett said some of the cases were obese.
He said one of the cases had sleep apnea.
Bartlett said 518 COVID swab tests were completed on the island as of July 23.
“Once a person has presented with symptoms or they are identified as a contact, they are swabbed,” he said.
“At this point in time, we are doing what is considered to be expanded swabbing. So, we have targeted groups. We’re tracing contacts of contacts and in some instances now we are tracing contacts of contacts of contacts.
“We are not at this time doing mass screening. The group and the swabbing that we’re doing are targeted in order to get an idea of what our burden of disease is in our community.”
Bartlett said there were 422 people in quarantine as of July 23.
Of that number, 111 individuals were isolated at home. Nine individuals were isolated at a government quarantine facility and 20 were quarantined at the facility.
“Also, as it relates to contact tracing, we have 230 persons we have in our listing and [that] group is growing on a daily basis based on the number of positive tests we have,” Bartlett said.
The chief medical officer said projections indicate that the cumulative number of cases on Grand Bahama will exceed 140 per day if the situation remains “unrestrained”.
“While these are only projections, we must take it serious in that we utilize data from our past cases in order to project what could potentially happen if we do not put measures in place,” McMillan said.
“The growth of the outbreak in Grand Bahama is concerning and requires a concerted and coordinated action to contain what is happening.”
McMillan also noted a 119 percent increase in cases on the island since July 8, which marked the start of The Bahamas’ second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The island is currently on lockdown until August 7 as a result of the resurgence of cases.