Health officials need to be more forthcoming

Dear Editor,

I wish to record my disappointment with the Ministry of Health press conference to provide a “COVID-19 update” yesterday afternoon.

The press conference was not enlightening and apart from advice that another patient had been detected in Grand Bahama, the team provided no new information.

The number of COVID-19 patients had increased from one to three by last Wednesday, then to four on Friday and further to five yesterday.

The fourth and fifth patients, we were told, are not connected to the first patient. But, like the first patient, the fifth patient has no recent travel history and had not been knowingly in close contact with infected individuals. I don’t recall any particulars about the source of contagion of patient number four.

Beginning last Thursday, most businesses were closed to the public and an overnight curfew was imposed. On Monday, the prime minister strengthened the shutdown and expanded the overnight curfew to a 24-hour curfew for seven days.

At yesterday’s ministry of health press conference, the minister said that 200 people had been tested for coronavirus. He gave no information on the results.

He and his team stressed their dedication to patient confidentiality. He and his team seem to confuse patient confidentiality with secrecy.

Risks to public health must be treated with confidentiality but they should not be held secret. The public has a right to, and the government has an obligation to provide, full and accurate information on any and all public health threats.

Shutting the country down is not enough.

We all appreciate that drastic measures to slow the rate of infection is proving effective in many countries where the virus is rapidly infecting increased numbers of individuals at alarming rates. But in those countries the public is provided with far greater information about the spread of infections including the places of worship, neighborhoods, cities and municipalities where the infections are occurring and increasing rapidly.

On Monday evening, a young woman who identified herself as the daughter of the first patient was interviewed on a local television station.

She said she spoke on behalf of her family. She claimed that she and two siblings were still abroad when they learned that her mother was hospitalized with COVID-19.

She confirmed that they had earlier visited Trinidad and Canada and that they were returning from a visit to Dubai. She also volunteered that she had also visited Egypt on the trip.

She said that on arrival in Nassau she and her sisters were detained at immigration.

Subsequently they were placed in quarantine and tested for the coronavirus. All tested negative. She emphasized that all contact with health officials was highly professional and sympathetic and she gave special recognition to the nurses attending to them.

She said that a friend who had travelled with them was not quarantined but self-isolated at home out of an abundance of caution. None developed symptoms.

She advised that her mother’s recovery had progressed well and that they expected her to be released from hospital this week.

Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands confirmed yesterday that patient number one might be released from hospital as early as that evening.

None of this was addressed at yesterday’s press conference.

The Bahamian public has been chastised for disregarding advice to observe social distancing, not to gather in large groups or not to visit with friends and neighbors.

Such disregard of official directives is wrong.

However, we also have to accept that many people find it difficult to restrict their movements and change their social practices when they have not been given information on local conditions that suggest a need for such dramatic change in behavior.

Yesterday’s press briefing was not informative or particularly useful. Nothing said supported the need for the dramatic close down of business and curtailment of movement around our islands.

Perhaps rather than the minister and the consultant, the public health administrators and doctors on the health team should be empowered to face the public and outline the concerns which they have and why they are recommending such stringent curtailment of movement in the country.

Concerned Bahamian 

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