Positive result nearly a month after testing

Three and a half weeks after being swabbed for COVID-19 at South Beach Health Centre, a firefighter was informed that he had tested positive, but with so much time passing since that test and the time the result came in, he expressed concern over the weekend that what he called a highly inefficient public testing system could very likely be contributing to the spread of the novel coronavirus in The Bahamas.

The firefighter, who asked that his name not be used to protect his identity, said he initially went to Elizabeth Estates Clinic last month because he had lost his appetite, had a bad case of diarrhea and was having sleepless nights.

It was then that he was referred to the South Beach facility.

After repeatedly calling to try to get his results, he decided to go back there late last week.

“When I went there [on Friday], I spoke to the two ladies there. They told me to hold on and they will check,” he said. “They told me park on the side. I parked on the side for an hour. After I got weary in waiting so long, I told them I had to go and to call me if they ever get it. A doctor finally called me about 3:30 and told me my results were positive, after all that time waiting.”

That was 24 days after he took the test.

“When I got the test, I was told to go home and rest,” he said. “I wasn’t told anything about any quarantine. I was given 14 days off to go home and rest.”

Asked whether he quarantined after he took the test, he said, “I wasn’t really down and out, so I was out and about.”

Asked how he felt having to wait so long for a result, he said, “I feel terrible because I want to go back to work. A lot of our firemen are out; a lot of them have it.”

The firefighter said he will not go back to South Beach to do another test, but will go to a private facility and pay to get it done because he refuses to wait another three weeks or a month to get his result back.

He expressed frustration that public health authorities took so long to tell him his positive status and added that no one had yet reached out to him on contact tracing.

“The government system will kill you,” the firefighter insisted.

“They just took so long to tell me.”

He added that another friend who took the test before he did was still waiting. 

“He is still waiting on his result five weeks or more,” he said. “I think if the government did a general testing of everybody, the whole country would be shut down because everybody would have to quarantine for 14 days based on how long they are taking to give results. It’s dangerous how they are dealing with this, dangerous, dangerous.”

The firefighter said he does not understand how the country could have a more accurate reflection of the COVID-19 picture with such limited testing capacity.

“They really have to do better,” he told The Nassau Guardian.

“They have a lot of people who die and they say they have to investigate to see what happened. I think this is what’s causing all of that. The wait is just too long.”

There have been repeated stories about people who have had to wait weeks for results from the public health system.

In one case, a Crooked Island resident was tested and the swab sent to New Providence almost a month ago.

After repeated attempts he still has not gotten his result.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearl McMillan has in the past acknowledged that some people have waited for as long as 30 days to get their results back.

“The data reveals that 62 percent of samples were processed within 72 hours or less of the sample being received by the lab,” McMillan said on August 28.

“The remaining 38 percent of samples experienced delays from four days upward of 30 days. The continued effectiveness of our testing strategies depend on having adequate reagents, swabs, extraction kits, chemical solutions and manpower, to name a few.

“If any of these are in short supply, then it impacts our processing time. Processing time is also impacted by the volume of samples being submitted for processing within the given time frame.”

McMillan reported that there had been a delay beyond 30 days “in a few cases”.   

On August 24, Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis, a special advisor to the prime minister on health matters, reported that the testing backlog had been cleared up.

But the current status of the backlog is unknown. 

At a Ministry of Health press conference last week, McMillan did not answer a question on the backlog, pointing out to a reporter that he had exceeded his two questions.

The Guardian recently reported that Doctors Hospital (DHHS) conducted more than 65 percent of the COVID-19 tests conducted in The Bahamas between August 3 and September 13, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

The data indicated that DHHS, which also processed samples from Lucayan Medical Centre on Grand Bahama, conducted more tests than the public sector — the National Reference Laboratory (NRL) and Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) combined — during that period.

Doctors Hospital conducted 7,390 tests whereas NRL and PMH only conducted 3,850 tests during that period.

According to the Ministry of Health’s Sunday, September 20 dashboard, 55 cases were reported – 51 on New Providence, one on Grand Bahama, one on Abaco, one on Exuma and one with location pending. In total, 17,102 tests have been conducted.

The total case count for The Bahamas is 3,370 with 1,580 active.

Officials on Saturday reported 101 additional cases — 69 on New Providence, eight on Grand Bahama, one on Exuma and 23 with locations pending.

Thirty-seven cases were reported on Friday — 34 on New Providence, two on Eleuthera and one on Abaco.

There have been 74 total confirmed deaths and 16 deaths are under investigation.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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