Back to basics on COVID-19

Not unlike what is happening elsewhere around the world, public discourse on COVID-19 in The Bahamas is driven too heavily by politics, rather than by medicine and ongoing research.

As a result, important information is not being effectively disseminated to the general public, and policy responses are not keeping pace with real world observations.

Recent surveys out of the United Kingdom where the Delta variant is dominant, suggest a lower incidence of loss of taste and smell in those with COVID than observed with the original COVID strain, with symptoms of headache, sore throat, runny nose appearing to be more prevalent.

Physicians in Oklahoma, where Delta variant cases are surging, warn that cold-like symptoms without symptoms such as loss of taste and smell, might result in patients not seeking testing for COVID-19 until their symptoms intensify, according to Oklahoma’s News 4.

The Ministry of Health has provided no data on the trend of symptoms observed in the third wave, but information on trends in other countries could be useful for Bahamians who might be infected with COVID-19, but may choose not to take extra precautions, stay home from work or get tested, because they believe their symptoms are not indicative of the virus.

What would greatly facilitate those with mild symptoms in knowing their COVID status is free testing, which government has not seen fit to provide or expedite after almost 17 months of a COVID state of emergency.

Real time PCR testing at Princess Margaret Hospital is currently experiencing challenges, with the hospital’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine advising clinical staff in a circular dated yesterday (July 27), that GENEXPERT cartridges for SARS CoV-2 are not available at the hospital.

The department indicated that “international access to supplies are limited”, and that its Panther testing system would be utilized daily between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., contingent upon sample numbers.

We understand that the effect of this is a longer wait time for PCR results, which further complicates the process of determining the COVID status of patients under investigation, who are currently housed outdoors to prevent potential contamination of the facility.

The wearing of face masks has been mandated for over a year, and many residents are seen wearing ill-fitting masks, or face coverings that do not meet the guidance standard for masks to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

Most of the masks that are ill-fitting are cloth masks with a generic cut that does not suit all face types, and others who wear whatever form of face covering they can find, do so due to lack of funds.

Sweltering temperatures and high humidity also make wearing cloth masks in particular, a difficult undertaking, resulting in residents wearing masks below their nose to avoid feeling stifled.

Non-surgical face masks are cents on the dollar when purchased in bulk, and typically provide a better fit and easier breathability than many cloth masks, but the competent authority has restricted the bulk importation of face masks.

It is a policy that has outlived its usefulness, and is counterproductive to encouraging widespread access to suitable face masks in the pandemic.

Businesses are still required to provide sanitization stations for patrons, though it is not unusual to encounter an empty sanitization station in a government office.

Exposure levels to the chemical components of personal hand sanitizers have exceeded normal parameters due to the pandemic, and with this comes environmental health and safety considerations that are absent from public discourse in The Bahamas.

Businesses are sourcing hand sanitizers from various locations, but there have been a number of publicized product recalls for hand sanitizers due to the presence of methanol, an alcohol not approved for use in hand sanitizers, and that is toxic if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Side effects from sustained methanol exposure include nausea, vomiting, headache, permanent blindness, nervous system damage or even death, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

Some employees and patrons also attest to experiencing stinging sensations or extreme skin dryness upon use of hand sanitizers provided for public use.

Relevant state agencies should ensure that the public service, business owners and the general public are educated about such safety considerations, given the widespread and sustained use of hand sanitizer products. 

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