COVID-19’s uncharted waters

COVID-19 numbers worldwide are once again on the increase as debate continues among Bahamians about the best approach to reopening the country’s external borders, an approach former Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands believes should include testing.

In the United States, our largest tourism market, there are over 1.1 million active cases, a figure which officials believe is on the increase due in part to Memorial Day weekend celebrations.

As those officials await what is feared to be a surge of new COVID-19 cases due to large-scale protests over the police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Florida recorded its highest single day of new cases yesterday, with its total case count jumping to over 69,000.

Worldwide, there are approximately 3.3 million active cases; nearly 54,000 (two percent) of which are in serious or critical condition, with over 421,000 COVID-19-related deaths.

Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar recently advised that The Bahamas will not require incoming visitors to submit to COVID-19 testing, and ministry officials have indicated that guests will be encouraged to wear face masks in public, but it will not be a requirement.

How to handle the question of testing and face masks has been tackled by several other countries in the region, with varying outcomes.

Jamaica will require visitors to wear face masks in public, with COVID-19 testing for visitors being on a voluntary basis; St. Lucia and Antigua and Barbuda require proof of a negative test, with the latter also requiring the use of face masks; and Puerto Rico requires face masks and rapid testing as part of its health screenings for incoming passengers.

The Cayman Islands has opted to keep its borders closed until September 1, while others in the region are eyeing a July 1 reopening of borders to international traffic.

Major cruise lines, meanwhile, are preparing the rollout of their COVID-19 protocols, as several which service The Bahamas eye an August 1 return to sailings, though protocols for incoming cruise lines have not yet been announced by the government.

With respect to the need for robust testing and contact tracing protocols as the country prepares to reopen for tourism, Sands warned yesterday that, “If we take our eye off the ball and lessen our vigilance, we can and should expect a second wave of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.”

In considering what a potential for new outbreaks could look like should cases of COVID-19 be imported and result in community spread, little emphasis has been placed on the country’s children given that most warnings have targeted the elderly and adults with a range of pre-existing conditions.

But last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global health alert for Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), an inflammatory condition similar to Kawasaki disease affecting children who have been infected with COVID-19.

Though considered a rare complication of COVID-19, MIS-C can be fatal in some cases, and healthcare professionals are working to understand why the complication occurs in youngsters and how best to manage the illness.

No cases of MIS-C have been publicly reported in The Bahamas, but as parents prepare for the reopening of schools, concerns and questions linger over how safety protocols will be carried out on school campuses, particularly for the youngest of students and those with special needs.

Focus has also failed to be placed on the psychological needs of the nation’s children who are the silent sufferers of months of lockdowns, isolation from friends and family, and household tension brought about by widespread job losses.

Many facets of COVID-19 remain a mystery for researchers, who initially hoped viral transmission would slow down with the rising temperatures of summer.

Evidence of the impact of protests in the United States on COVID-19 infection rates is expected to emerge at the end of the month, just as this country readies itself for a reopening of its borders to tourist arrivals.

It is a roll of the dice in a COVID-19 environment whose outcome remains to be seen.

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