When it comes to the provision of detailed and comprehensive information about the status of the country’s ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, a change of administration has not yet brought about a change in the quality of communication disseminated from the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
Current public focus is on a troubling number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Inagua, which Health and Wellness Minister Dr. Michael Darville said yesterday is the result of cluster transmission originating with a resident with a recent history of travel to New Providence.
Four Inagua residents have died of COVID-19 in recent days, three having died in New Providence and one who died on that southernmost island.
Darville advised reporters outside Cabinet that a health team has since been dispatched to Inagua, and a ministry statement issued over the weekend indicated that Darville “made provisions for additional unused oxygen tanks located in Mayaguana to be transported to Inagua for swift use”.
What has not been disclosed is whether there was sufficient oxygen previously available on the island to provide to COVID sufferers who presented for care, and whether oxygen availability played a role in the unfortunate demise of one of the island’s residents.
It has also not been disclosed how long health officials were aware of the mounting outbreak on Inagua, before the decision was ultimately made to dispatch a team there.
What remains consistent across administrations is the vulnerability of the healthcare plant on Family Islands, and considering Darville’s revelation that the island’s outbreak might have involved a breaching of quarantine orders, what also continues are containment challenges for those confirmed to be infected with SARS-CoV-2.
The governing Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) COVID-19 action plan pledges to both expand testing and contact tracing, and to provide support for COVID-19 positive people who need to isolate to protect those around them.
Having only recently assumed office, it is understood that revenue-intensive pledges such as these would take some time to fulfill, but the administration ought to provide the nation with prospective timelines for these initiatives that play an integral role in stemming the tide of COVID-19.
What it must also do is return to regular live ministry press conferences, that unlike those held sporadically during the third wave, ought to include detailed information on case numbers island to island; the country’s relatively high COVID mortality rate compared to countries in the region and the specific contributing factors thereto; and details on how many people are in quarantine, whether and how those in quarantine are being monitored, and findings emerging from contact tracing.
Such findings would include where case clusters are as well as patterns of transmission, which could inform residents of problem areas and habits, and guide health teams on effective mitigation strategies inclusive of recommendations for restrictions if need be.
The ministry advises that first doses of the Pfizer vaccine will no longer be available as of Monday, October 18, and first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have also been discontinued for most residents.
Darville could not give reporters a definitive answer yesterday on when and how many additional COVID vaccines would arrive in country, and the country is due an update on efforts to secure additional vaccines, and the outcome of those efforts.
Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis, meantime, expressed concern about the limited healthcare resources of islands such as Inagua, stating on his official Facebook page of the island’s outbreak that the situation can lead to “more unnecessary deaths” if not addressed “aggressively”.
This call to action comes from the former prime minister who – knowing the vulnerabilities of the nation’s healthcare system and moreso that of services on the Family Islands – not only did precious little to boost COVID response capacities on those islands, but increased nationwide risk of exposure and outbreak by calling an election in the height of the country’s deadliest surge to-date.
Where deficiencies in resources and response capabilities exist, it is now the duty of the Davis administration to address adequately and expeditiously.
With over 600 COVID deaths recorded and more likely to be confirmed in the coming days, there is no time to waste.