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Brace for likely increase in cases if COVID-positive individuals vote, official warns

The decision to allow quarantined individuals to vote regularly on Election Day will likely increase COVID transmission, Dr. Nikkiah Forbes, director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme warned on Friday.

Last night, the government annoucned that people in quarantine who are registered to vote will be allowed to leave quarantine to vote on Election Day.

Forbes said if special provisions had been made to allow people with COVID to vote in a different manner, it could have been done safely, but the plan, as recently indicated by Minister of Health Renward Wells, does not allow for that.

“If that scenario happens with persons in the same space, there will be a potential for COVID transmission,” she said during a Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) press conference on Friday.

“So, that could be safely done, for example, if it were online or some other remote forum, but the practiced recommendation is that persons who are COVID-positive should be in isolation.”

On Thursday, Wells indicated that The Bahamas will follow the United States’ model that allowed quarantined people to vote in its election.

His comments followed weeks of uncertainty about whether quarantined voters will be allowed to vote.

Since July, The Bahamas has been battling a relentless surge in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths – the worst by far since the start of the pandemic. 

While the Ministry of Health has not provided the public with contact tracing data in the third wave, which would give insight into the average number of close contacts that those who are COVID-positive have been found to have, The Bahamas has been regularly confirming more than 100 new cases each day.

As of Thursday, there were 3,205 active COVID cases, indicating that thousands of voters would likely be in quarantine on Election Day.

After thousands of people waited in long lines to cast their ballots during the advanced poll on Thursday, health officials said they are concerned about the potential impact on case numbers.

“Yes, we do have a concern that what’s happening may be shown 10 to 14 days from what was happening yesterday, so we do have a very serious concern at this time,” Dr. Deshawn Saunders, deputy chief of staff at Princess Margaret Hospital, said when asked about the issue on Friday. 

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Rachel Scott

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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