National responses to COVID-19 continue to place tremendous strain on citizens and their governments.
In The Bahamas, the strain felt by Bahamians and residents is magnified by two predominant features of the country’s pandemic response: public declarations void of adequate substantiation, and government public relations that are inconsistent with its actual relations with the public.
Each day, the country is provided with a count of “new” COVID-19 cases; figures which often leave individuals questioning whether lockdown efforts are working, given that numbers are continuing along a sharp upward trajectory.
But a key piece of information yet to be provided by the Ministry of Health is how many of these daily reported cases represent what we understand to be hundreds of backlogged COVID-19 tests awaiting analysis, and what the sample dates are for backlogged tests reported each day.
The country has also not been told the extent to which a sizable number of the confirmed infections on Grand Bahama and New Providence came about as a result of workplace clusters, as opposed to the kinds of social interactions often criticized by the competent authority and health officials.
By making daily declarations of increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases without providing these key elements of substantiation, lockdown-weary residents who are abiding by established safety protocols are left feeling helpless and discouraged, wondering why so many “new” cases are continuing to emerge despite their best efforts.
Moreover, a failure to satisfactorily address workplace cluster transmission, particularly in, but not limited to, government offices and agencies, hampers efforts to guard against future surges once lockdowns end.
The Bahamas recently ranked last in a Global COVID-19 Index report of 184 countries for its COVID-19 recoveries, and part and parcel with this ranking is how equipped the country is to manage the recoveries of hundreds of active cases.
Initial guidance by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put the designation of COVID-19 recovery as a COVID-19-positive individual receiving two consecutive negative PCR test results taken at least 24 hours apart.
But as health officials recently pointed out, such double-swabbing of what is now over 800 active cases, is far more difficult a task than when the country’s case count previously maxed out at 104.
No public indication was given on how capacity will be increased to enable such swabbing, or to alternatively ensure effective case management throughout the course of one’s infection.
This week’s chaos suffered by National Insurance Board (NIB) beneficiaries, meanwhile, is a glaring and unacceptable example of incongruence between public relations and relations with the public.
Government proudly boasted of the millions allocated to assist Bahamians left jobless as a result of the COVID-19 response, and a tourism industry parked at a virtual standstill.
Over the past five months, scores of Bahamians have taken to social media to express frustration about their inability to receive payments from NIB’s offices, and through a third-party platform established to facilitate digital payments.
No doubt, NIB would have been overwhelmed with the volume of assistance claims that came about as a result of the pandemic; claims which had to be processed in addition to the board’s regular claims processed for beneficiaries throughout the country.
Though public relations highlighted the amount of monies earmarked for assistance, government did not account for how and whether it would adequately augment the human and technical resources available to NIB, so as to enable the millions in designated assistance to be disbursed to jobless Bahamians on a timely basis.
Returning to the point on workplace exposures to COVID-19, government’s announcement yesterday of the closure of the Cecil Wallace-Whitfield Center and the voluntary self-quarantine of both Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest raised immediate questions about whether safety and sanitization protocols are being strictly adhered to there by staff, visitors, Cabinet ministers and their police detail.
These questions harken to concerns expressed by leaders of trade unions representing public sector workers, that inadequate safety protocols and sanitization resources provided within the sector, left staff at risk.
Though government said exposure to Minnis and Turnquest had not yet been confirmed, it encouraged all employees of the building to self-quarantine, a statement which also triggers questions about the extent of COVID-19 exposure at the building.
In the national interest, these questions must receive full and frank disclosure, and without delay.
Detailed information matters.