No time to let down our guard

In two days, The Bahamas’ protracted state of emergency will come to an end, and its pandemic response will transition into management via the Health Services Act and rules pursuant thereto.

Daily confirmed cases are trending lower this month, with government sending the message that now is not the time to let our guard down regarding adherence to COVID safety guidelines.

As the suspension of normal constitutional order comes to a close, important questions remain unanswered about the status of the country’s third wave, and the country’s response to its deadliest wave, to date.

There continues to be a dearth of COVID data published by the Ministry of Health, save for daily reports of confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

There have been 665 confirmed COVID deaths thus far, and there inexplicably remains 67 suspected COVID deaths under investigation, with no explanation as to why these deaths remain unclassified, including several that were reported last year.

A calculation of the figures presented in the daily reports puts the country’s COVID case fatality rate (CFR) at 2.9 percent — matching that of Haiti and exceeding that of most Caribbean countries including Jamaica, whose CFR is 2.6 percent according to mortality analyses published by Johns Hopkins University.

As of its November 10 analyses, the Dominican Republic — which has recorded the highest number of COVID deaths in the Caribbean at 4,154 — has a COVID CFR of 1.1 percent.

Barbados’ CFR, according to the analyses, is 0.9 percent.

What remains unknown is the extent to which inadequate health resources and staff levels contributed to record COVID deaths since March, and how soon such deficiencies will be adequately addressed as officials look to the potential of a fourth wave.

A comparison of the number of confirmed deaths versus hospitalization counts during the height of the third wave, also raises questions about how many COVID deaths in the third wave occurred outside of hospital, and the factors that would have contributed to the same.

In his October 27 communication to Parliament, Health and Wellness Minister Dr. Michael Darville pledged that over the next 100 days, the ministry would work to define new structural adjustments needed to enhance the country’s COVID-19 response and strengthen health system integration and care.

He also indicated that “over the next few weeks”, the ministry would unveil the new structural adjustments needed at the ministry in order to achieve its new deliverables — the details of which we hope will soon materialize.

The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that SARS-CoV-2 cases worldwide are on the decline except for in Europe, which the organization says is once again the epicenter of the pandemic.

Several countries in the European region are recording dramatic increases in COVID deaths, with the WHO pointing to an over 55 percent increase in cases over the last four weeks despite “ample supply of vaccines and tools”, according to a BBC report late last week.

Developments in Europe should serve as a warning to The Bahamas, that what appears to be good fortune on the COVID-19 front can quickly change.

Testing remains an integral part of the process of preventing community spread of SARS-CoV-2, though testing numbers nationwide remain at average levels seen throughout the state of emergency.

Darville confirmed this week that Indian-made antigen tests deemed defective have been identified in-country, and that the ministry is working to locate the tests nationwide.

A report on the findings, how many antigen tests were conducted with the defective apparatus, and whether follow-up occurred of those tested therewith, should be provided at the earliest opportunity.

Meantime, no new information has been provided on when free antigen testing will become available nationwide.

The end of the state of emergency does not mean an end to the need to be vigilant and mindful of others, regardless of one’s vaccination status.

Last year saw a decrease in confirmed cases and hospitalizations heading into the Christmas season, only to see a resurgence of what became the third wave shortly thereafter in the new year.

We must continue to work toward the goal of preventing history from repeating itself.

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