Data makes the difference

We have consistently stressed the importance of data with respect to the competent authority’s emergency orders over the last five months, because decisions based on properly interpreted evidence can have a higher likelihood of yielding maximum benefits with minimal risk.

A significant portion of that oft-requested data was finally presented this week, and it raises key questions about the extent to which core executive decisions were misplaced in light of that data, and how the government plans to mitigate future risk now that lockdown measures are being relaxed.

According to the Ministry of Health’s figures, the majority of contact exposures for COVID-19 in The Bahamas (45 percent) occurred due to family exposure.

And as of August 24, more than half of the COVID-19 positive cases placed into isolation, were incubating at home as opposed to a government facility.

This data triggers the query of whether permitting so many COVID-19-positive individuals to remain at home as opposed to spending their incubation period at a facility added substantially to the spread of the virus, as it would be impossible for officials to monitor levels of interaction in so many homes.

The second largest source of contact exposure is the workplace, according to the data, and of that segment, close to 40 percent of the exposures occurred via the uniformed branches and the healthcare sector.

Cries for personal protective equipment (PPE) within the public healthcare system are well documented, and we understand that notwithstanding insistence that adequate levels of PPEs exist, nurses are routinely working public wards without gowns or aprons.

Given the degree of interaction police and defense force officers have with members of the public, we question whether both branches have adequate forms of PPEs, and have been trained by health experts on the effective use of PPEs in high-contact situations.

Data presented shows that the police force on both Grand Bahama and New Providence accounts for significant numbers of individuals becoming exposed to COVID-19.

The third largest source of contact exposure for COVID-19 is in the trade, utility and construction sectors.

Construction has been permitted to continue for almost the entirety of the country’s states of emergency, and notwithstanding the data, little has been stated by the competent authority about enforcement of safety protocols at large construction sites.

Fourth among sources of contact exposure is government offices, which again raises the specter of scrutiny on how the government will address safety and protocol deficiencies in its offices, so that both workers and the public can be protected from future instances of cluster transmission.

Notably, areas of private sector operations that have presented the lowest incidences of contact exposure throughout the pandemic response thus far, have been subjected to consistent and longstanding interruptions in business as a result of emergency orders.

Of the 15 categories of contact exposure via the workplace, beauticians ranked 12th, the legal sector ranked 11th and insurance companies and banking, finance and compliance institutions ranked 14th and 15th respectively.

With regard to prevailing narratives about who is at fault for this second wave, the data paints a picture that in several ways appears to differ from messages consistently driven home to the public.

Despite what we have been told about the spread of COVID-19 as a result of funerals, parties or other gatherings throughout the country, mass gatherings and casual contact are confirmed to have accounted for just six percent of contact exposures to-date.

While this data is certainly not a license for the public to ignore warnings about social gatherings, it is an indication that the government may have spent a disproportionate amount of time decrying the reputed damage these activities caused, while paying too little attention to core agencies under its charge that were leading sources of the spread of COVID-19.

Government must learn from its failures, and collaboratively devise strategies moving forward that are driven by data rather than conjecture or expediency.

With flu season on the horizon and its potential to overwhelm resources already taxed by COVID-19, unaffordable failure can be the consequence of inaction, and of action incongruent with evidence.

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