Family Islanders ‘walking on egg shells’ amid pandemic

With a lack of emergency medical facilities on many Family Islands, some residents are worried about their fates amid the spread of COVID-19.

Yvonne Rolle, a Cat Island resident, said yesterday police and other officials are doing everything they can to properly enforce social distancing rules and prevent the spread of the virus on the island, but she is worried about what will happen if there is a case.

“Practicing safe distancing is quite easy here,” she said.

“We feel quite contained, not to say that it won’t come in, because I’m sure there are people who have traveled back and forth to Nassau, recently, before everything shut down.

“But in terms of getting off the island, that’s a touchy one.”

Rolle’s sister, Margaret Smith, said she is afraid.

“I feel a little bit concerned or scared that if anything happens, what would we do? What really is the protocol as to what would happen? And how easy is it to get a plane to get off the island?”

So far, there are 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country. Health officials have confirmed that there is community spread of the virus.

On Monday, a Bimini woman died after she was airlifted to New Providence. Her family and the health minister said it took 24 hours to get her airlifted.

Smith questioned whether pilots would even be willing to fly COVID-19 patients, given how contagious the virus is.

“Who is going to risk their lives and their family’s lives?” she asked.

Smith added, “Will there be help in time?

“[W]e don’t know how advanced their planning is to say, ‘This is who will go to Cat Island. This is who will go to Exuma or San Salvador.’

“Who is it that they have identified? And we need to know that they have a plan to make that happen if it is needed.”

Anthiniqueko Gibson, who owns BahamasEvac Services, said they are doing what they can to prepare for the possibility that COVID-19 patients will need to be airlifted to New Providence. However, he said pilots and crew members are concerned about the risks to their health.

“One of the problems is if we go and pick up a COVID-19 case, we could spread the infection,” he said.

Gibson added, “You have pilots, first responders who also have to be in an aircraft with a person who could potentially spread the virus among the crew. And obviously, if the one arm that the country has right now in terms of providing the service to the Family Islands, right now, if we get sick then we just won’t have anybody.

“There is no isolated way where we can transport the patient [and ensure] that a crew member won’t get the virus.

“[A]nd then God forbid, if you transfer one of the patients, you can sterilize as much as you want and miss something and then transfer another patient and then they get it. So, it’s really complicated and the industry is struggling. But we’re doing our best and everybody is stepping up together.”

He added, “We’re doing our best, but, obviously, we are really concerned about our crew and our family members as well.”

Gibson said he believes it would take many severe cases for the medical ambulance services to be overwhelmed, but he is worried about it.

“The best thing that can happen right now is these islands stay as isolated as they can and just try to make do with what they have,” he said.

Central Andros Christian Council President Rev. Dorinda E. Dean said she is extremely concerned, given there isn’t even a doctor in Central Andros at the moment.

“The medical assistance here in Central Andros is taken so lightly,” she said.

“For years now, we haven’t had an ambulance service. Accidents happen and people have to be driven on the back of a truck to come to the clinic.

“[A]nd to top it off, we don’t have a medical doctor stationed here at the clinic. If anything happens now, you have to wait for a North Andros doctor to come and say what is what.”

Dean added, “Now, we are plagued with the coronavirus. Should anything happen, because flights are not coming in as usual, you may have to wait around for a long time for someone to get a flight to come in.

“We’re living in a serious time.”

Tyrecho Bonaby said he is really worried about his mother on Crooked Island.

“Even in the least instances when you have someone who fell out and went to the clinic, they have to be airlifted to Nassau,” he said.

“So, in the event that one person is faced with symptoms, I think the whole island will be under attack, and there will be nowhere for persons to get the assistance that they need.

“[M]y mummy, at the moment, she is a storekeeper in Crooked Island. She feels that if anything happens, they don’t know what will happen. So, they are just walking on eggshells down there.”

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