With a confirmed case of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Dominican Republic, and Florida announcing two presumptive cases of COVID-19 – the virus is essentially in The Bahamas’ “backyard”, which may raise the awareness among Bahamians a little more. But, while The Bahamas aims at early detection, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearl McMillan encourages the public to protect themselves as it not only relates to respiratory illnesses, but any other potential public health concern. And she continues to push recommendations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which include frequent, proper hand washing and use of hand sanitizer; covering the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, preferably with the elbow and sleeve; thoroughly cooking meat and eggs; cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects; and avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
McMillan also urges people who have traveled to countries with ongoing transmission, who have begun to have respiratory symptoms, to contact their medical provider for guidance through the steps they should take.
She says the contact with the medical provider should, in the first instance, be via telephone, rather than an individual walking into a facility, if they have been in a situation that could have exposed them to the virus.
According to McMillan, they will be asked about their travel history and a decision will be made as to whether they need to be further evaluated. If they do, she said guidance would be given as to how that would happen.
“We would prefer that if you are a potential case, we are able to prepare better if we know you’re coming to the healthcare facility. But, persons can first contact their healthcare provider [via telephone] to seek guidance. And what will likely happen when they do that, those facilities then contact us as the national disease surveillance unit and we all become involved in how we deal with a suspect case.”
The Ministry of Health’s latest update, as of yesterday, showed no number of confirmed, suspected and recorded cases in The Bahamas; and the number of people currently in quarantine, at two. And that 26 people had been released from quarantine.
Confirmed number of deaths worldwide amounted to 3,048 with the current number of confirmed cases worldwide at 89,198; the current number of confirmed cases in mainland China was 80,026.
South Korea’s confirmed cases numbered 4,335; Italy 1,694; Japan, 256; the United States 86; the United Kingdom 36; and Canada 24.
On Sunday, the World Health Organization (WHO) upgraded the global risk of the coronavirus outbreak to “very high” – its top level of risk assessment. The WHO has said there is still a chance of containing the virus if its chain of transmission is broken.
The focus is on containing COVID-19 by strengthening surveillance, conducting thorough outbreak investigations to identify contacts and applying appropriate measures to prevent further spread.
McMillian said when the national preparedness and response plan put in place border patrol security measures, they did so seeking to try to decrease the likelihood of the virus being introduced into The Bahamas, as China had put in place multiple public health measures to try and delay or decrease the likelihood of it actually coming out of the country.
She said The Bahamas has the capacity in-country to test for COVID-19.
“We can diagnose it, but we will treat based on travel history and how people present. We will then begin to have it as a suspect case, and then we will go ahead and do the other investigations to see whether or not the respiratory symptoms they’re having may be influenza or some other respiratory illnesses; but we will definitely test for COVID 19, if we have the recent history of travel, and then we will be able to know if it is or if it isn’t.”
According to the WHO, a pneumonia of unknown cause, detected in Wuhan, China, was first reported to the WHO Country Office in China on December 31, 2019.
The outbreak was declared a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020.
“It may have delayed it, but up to yesterday, it was up to 50-plus countries that are now reporting cases, so once you have 50-plus countries reporting cases, and you have it in the U.S., you have it in Canada – they’re all close to us, trade and travel being what it is, people are moving back and forward, so we have to be in a preparedness state, with respect to the possibility of a case coming to our shores.”
With the virus in The Bahamas’ “back door” – McMillan doesn’t anticipate people will stop traveling, so her advice is ideally to avoid non-essential travel to countries that are having ongoing transmission.
“If you are going to travel into those areas, then take extra precaution.”
McMillan urges people to protect themselves not only as it relates to the respiratory illnesses, but any other potential public health concern.
And she encourages members of the public to be alert and aware of what is happening with COVID-19.
“It’s a new strain of a virus that we know somethings about. Because it’s new, there are things we still have to learn, and that is ongoing.”
With other respiratory illnesses such as influenza circulating daily, she said the flu is preventable with a vaccine, and that people should take the opportunity to be immunized.
The confirmed case in the Dominican Republic, and two presumptive cases in Florida, she said, may raise the awareness among Bahamians a little more, as it relates to the virus being on their “doorstep.”
“Now it’s spread a little more, but the point is this – with travel being what it is, people getting on aircrafts and moving about, we have moved beyond the possible containment of it just in China when it was there and we have many countries now having cases – all of that increases the likelihood of having a potential case.”
McMillan said that their focus is on early detection.
“If we have a suspect case introduced into the country for whatever reason and from whatever means, we want to know about it very early – so, we’re working with our border control people. We have health surveillance port medical officers that actually monitor what happens at the airport, at the cruise ships. So, we would hope through that surveillance mechanism, we would be alerted early if it came to our ports. We are also working with our healthcare facilities, which would be clinics, hospitals and others.”
McMillan said a national preparedness and response plan has already gone out, so that medical personnel know what questions to ask that would alert them to a possible case. She said anybody with respiratory symptoms that have a history of travel to infected countries, they may want to flag. That person would then be isolated, so they have less contact with any other person and then they do the necessary test to determine whether or not it is influenza or other things that can potentially cause respiratory symptoms.
McMillan said the national preparedness and response plan has multiple levels across multiple agencies in place to be best prepared in the event the virus is introduced into the country.