Bianca Strachan, 32, a resident of Lucaya, Grand Bahama, called the COVID-19 hotline on July 26 after experiencing symptoms of the virus.
The response by health officials was not what she expected.
“I called the hotline and they told me that I couldn’t come and get tested because I wasn’t on the contact tracing list and that they were only testing people who they were calling — I guess based on their proximity to COVID positive patients,” Strachan told The Nassau Guardian.
More than 300 people have tested positive for COVID-19 on Grand Bahama since July 8. The island was placed on a two-week lockdown that ends on Friday. Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said that Grand Bahama’s lockdown may be extended.
“I remember waking up the next day,” Strachan said of the symptoms she experienced the day before she called the hotline.
“I was warming some spicy chicken and I was like, ‘Why did that smell like ammonia or like bleach?’
“It was burning my nose. I started losing my sense of smell that day. I remember I was cleaning up and I was using some cleaning products — bleach or something — and it was just burning my nose but I couldn’t smell it.
“Everything smelled like ammonia and then my sense of smell and taste completely went. I couldn’t smell anything. Like you know Pine-Sol and the strongest scent you could put out there, I couldn’t smell anything and I couldn’t test anything.
“And so, I’m one of those type of people that, from when COVID came around, I was on Google. So, I knew right away that one of the weirder symptoms was a loss of taste and smell.
“And so, I was like, ‘I know I have it.'”
Strachan lives with her young son.
It was her maternal instinct to protect him that inspired her to push for answers as it related to her COVID-19 status.
She said friends — and even some strangers — on Twitter advised her to monitor her symptoms and to call the hotline again if they worsened.
“A nurse actually messaged me and she was just like, ‘Go there and fight to get tested,'” Strachan recalled.
“I have a toddler; and living in the same household as him, I wanted to know even though I already know he would have been exposed. I still wanted to know. I have a job. I didn’t want to go and expose my coworkers so I was like I need to know.”
Strachan said she called her boss to let her know that she was experiencing symptoms.
“I told her that if they didn’t test me I was going to pay to get tested,” she said.
However, it didn’t reach the point of going to a private facility.
“I went to the Rand [Memorial Hospital],” she said.
“At the door, they don’t even let you in. She (a nurse) was like, ‘We’re only admitting people who can’t breathe’
“…That’s how they’re getting tested.
“I kind of was adamant about getting tested so she sent me across the street to Samaritan’s Purse where they were doing testing over there.
“They tested me.”
She said the process wasn’t as “painful” as it looks.
She said the waiting was worse than the test.
“That’s the thing that gets you,” she said.
“They said three days but it actually took about eight. Every day you’re waiting, just waiting for a call. You’re waiting for a strange number to call you. Yesterday, I think it was after 4 p.m. I recognized the strange number and they said where they were calling from.
“They told me they have my results. First, they asked if I got a test for anything. Then, they asked me what was the test for. And then, I told them COVID and they told me I tested positive.”
Strachan said she became quiet after the health official broke the news to her.
“She was like, ‘Hello? Are you still there?’
“I knew based on my symptoms that it was a strong chance that I would be positive.
“Hearing them say it still was a shock.”
Strachan said she gave her contact tracing list for her coworkers.
She said she has “just been processing ever since”.
“I think the problem isn’t with COVID itself,” she said.
“It’s the stigma that comes with COVID, because I have been pretty open about my experiences. I think a lot of people are scared to even get tested. I know people who said they don’t want to get tested but are having symptoms.
“I think that’s just because of the stigma of COVID. It’s like you don’t know so much about it and it’s this evasiveness from our people wanting to know all your business and passing it around on WhatsApp and not everyone is equipped to handle that.”
Strachan continued, “It’s the stigma and it’s the economic fallout from testing positive. You know what I mean? So, you have people out there, they have mild symptoms or they’re asymptomatic and they’re still going to work.
“They’re still going out into the public because they don’t want to have to deal with the fact that they won’t be able to go to work.”
Up to August 5, there were 715 cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas; 611 of which were reported after July 8.
Grand Bahama was declared a COVID hotspot two weeks ago.
Prior to July 8, the island had only eight cases, but has seen its cases swell beyond 300.
Health officials have said the island is reaching its bed capacity for COVID cases.