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Exuma’s COVID crisis worsens

Health officials say Exuma has 79 percent positivity rate

Health officials last night revealed that Exuma has a COVID-19 positivity rate of 79 percent as the island grapples with a surge in cases.

The revelation came as the Ministry of Health recorded an additional 16 cases on the island on Monday, bringing its total number of confirmed cases to 99.

“Exuma is currently experiencing a surge in cases with a high positivity rate and does not have the facilities on the mainland nor the cay[s] to care for severe COVID-19 cases,” officials from the Ministry of Health’s Surveillance Unit said last night during a presentation on Exuma, held virtually via Zoom.

“The age profile of cases is similar to the other islands. The younger to middle-aged people are of most concern. Currently, there are no active cases in the cays. However, these communities are vulnerable due to inadequate care facilities and supplies to address a positive case. Frequent travel from hotspots, especially to the cays, increases the risk of importing COVID-19 and putting these communities at risk.” 

The World Health Organization standard is a positivity rate of no more than five percent over a two-week period before the full reopening of economies.

Officials from the surveillance unit recently conducted an assessment of Exuma. Data, which was provided by the ministry, noted that 125 RT-PCR tests were conducted on the island. It did not indicate the period during which those tests were done.

As of Monday, there were 41 active cases and 130 contacts in quarantine. 

East Exuma had the largest concentration of cases with 55 recorded, 31 percent of which were recorded in Bahama Sound.

George Town had the second highest in that area with 17 percent, followed by Moss Town with 12 percent.

West Exuma recorded 34 cases, 26 percent of which were recorded in The Forest. Seventeen percent of the area’s cases were recorded in Stuart Manor and 12 percent each in Steventon and Roker’s Point. 

Only eight cases were recorded on Exuma’s cays. Sixty-two percent of those cases were recorded on Black Point. As of November 12, half of the total cases on the island are between the ages of 20 and 39.

Forty percent of cases are between 40 and 59, six percent are between 60 and 79, and two percent are between 11 and 19. There was no age data for two percent of cases.

The island has a population of roughly 10,000.

Last week, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced a flurry of new restrictions for Exuma in the wake of an explosion of new COVID-19 cases on the island.

Among them were the closure of some businesses, including restaurants and bars; weekday curfews, weekend lockdowns and the ban of travel in and out of the island.

The island has a 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. weekday curfew.

Recommendations

Last night, health officials recommended that overcrowding in indoor spaces be limited on the island.

A limit should be set for how many people can be in a store, they said, adding that a member of staff should be chosen as a COVID ambassador and businesses should consider curbside services and delivery. 

It was also recommended that travel between other islands and cays be limited “to essential needs”.

Health officials highlighted the need for a reassessment of the inventory of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other healthcare equipment for mainland Exuma and its cays, noting that here needs to be enhanced contact tracing with the training of additional staff and involvement of other government agencies, increased testing, better collaboration between the public and private sectors and the establishment of a protocol for antigen testing. 

Challenges

Health officials noted case identification and contact tracing among their challenges on the island. 

“Contact tracing is paper-based,” the surveillance team noted.

“Reluctance to provide names to facilitate contact tracing and contacts are non-compliant with giving information.

“Transportation of healthcare personnel, samples and patients is at the discretion of police and community members. [The] first five suspected cases were swabbed on Black Point by a physician that traveled from George Town.

“The most recent case was transported to George Town to be swabbed.”

They also noted a lack of financial provisions and set protocols.

Officials also noted that on the cays there are no port authority officials to man ports of entry. 

They pointed to “ongoing challenges on weekends with privately owned boating traffic from Nassau for social events”.

“This activity increased during the 24-hour weekend lockdown in Nassau and still continues,” officials noted.

There is also a challenge with the adherence to quarantine on the mainland and the cays.

The team noted that residents on Exuma suggested a later curfew, more enforcement of the emergency order and a lockdown of the island.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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