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Some Family Islanders feel particularly vulnerable during pandemic

With health officials having confirmed community spread of COVID-19 in The Bahamas, many Family Islanders are feeling especially vulnerable and afraid.

Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday that it took 24 hours for a Bimini woman who died — possibly of COVID-19 — to be airlifted to New Providence on Monday.

For weeks now, that kind of situation has been the very nightmare of many who live on the quieter out islands that have no hospitals and rely on air ambulances or emergency flights in the event of medical emergencies.

And while that may be an acceptable risk for residents under normal circumstances, COVID-19 has presented a new case for panic in those communities.

Ramona Ritchie-Taylor, a resident of Long Island, said she feels the island is alone in its fight against the pandemic.

“To be truthful, we know where we are on Long Island,” she said.

“I don’t mean to say this to sound overly critical, but I have talked to people in the community, and we are pretty much in agreement that we are on our own. We have to stay well as much as possible.

“Basically, we are taking it one day at a time and hoping and praying that there is none of it here. But that’s how it is, and the more people I talk to, the more people feel that way.”

Ritchie-Taylor said she is an asthmatic and has been self-isolating for a long time now, but she is afraid.

“I know I can go to the clinic and get oxygen. However, for people with these types of conditions, it is scary.”

Long Island MP Adrian Gibson earlier this week advised residents that while there are no test kits on the island, swabs can be sent on a flight to Nassau for testing.

Ritchie-Taylor said that while she is sure Gibson is trying to offer comfort, she is concerned about the efficiency of that process.

“Even though I want to believe that they have something in place, it worries me,” she said.

“They’re telling us that they’ll send a plane to pick up the swab. The time between somebody presenting at the clinic, and they are swabbed, and then that swab getting to where it needs to be for testing purposes…what happens in the meantime?

“How far along they might be with the illness and at which point will they be taken to Nassau?”

Jill Smith, who is also a Long Island resident, said she is “scared as hell”.

“If we have a case and it’s a serious case, we almost have no chance unless a plane comes for somebody,” she said.

Abaco Chamber of Commerce President Ken Hutton said there are similar concerns on Abaco.

“I think it’s a concern for anybody who isn’t in one of the major population centers,” he said.

Hutton said the impact of Hurricane Dorian has become a sort of advantage for the island in light of COVID-19.

“I think Abaco has a strange advantage in that we really don’t have the population of elderly persons that we had before the storm, because they haven’t come back,” he said.

“We don’t have the population of persons who had compromised health, because of the living conditions here. Basically, Abaco is still a construction site in many regards. So, there’s not a lot of children here, not a lot of families here.”

Central and South Abaco MP James Albury said that while he and his constituents are still concerned, he does not believe that what happened on Bimini will happen there.

“I can say firsthand that of course I’m concerned,” he said.

“Everyone on Abaco is concerned. I think all logical people who are aware of what’s going on have some level of concern.”

Albury added, “I know the situation in Bimini and I understand there were some complications there. I do not know what those were. That is not a situation I see happening in Abaco. Historically, we’ve had a pretty good rate of getting people out on emergency flights. So I, for one, don’t believe we’ll find ourselves in a situation like that.”

Albury said Abaco also has an advantage because of the NGOs still there offering healthcare services. 

The government has allocated nearly $2 million specifically to support the Family Islands for any expenditure related to COVID-19, Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said in the House of Assembly on Monday.

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