For the past few months, like most Bahamians, I have watched the COVID-19 (new coronavirus) drama unfold from afar, watching the news and regretting the stories of pain and despair, first in China, then Iran and Italy, then seeing the pandemic begin to affect Europe and finally in our backyard, affecting the United States of America (USA) and the Caribbean. Every day, we saw the numbers rising and experienced pain from afar. There were mostly no names, just numbers and stories. Eventually, the names started to include celebrities like Kevin Durant, Tom Hanks and his wife Rita. With time, the seriousness of the virus increased the closer it came to home, but we were all cautiously optimistic because The Bahamas had no cases to report. For a time, tourists were still coming, ships were still in the harbor and we almost wondered if we would be spared.
I remember my own roller coaster journey with coronavirus as I traveled to London and Scotland in the latter part of February. The numbers were small and there seemed to be no major alarm. The numbers in the United Kingdom (UK) were still relatively small when I arrived. I was cautious but not overly concerned, but I did carry some extra hand sanitizer. I made sure I did not touch anything with my hands as I used the bathroom on my American Airlines and British Airways flights. I sanitized the hand rests on my seats and sprayed sanitizer on the headphones, attempting to observe all of the protocols and keep safe. Coronavirus felt like a stranger in the distance, ominously present but not close enough to really produce fear. I remember on my return flight, the passenger in the back of me coughing and sneezing causing the inevitable thought to occur: Did they have the virus? I dismissed it because there were so few cases in the UK and the U.S. at the time. Finally, my flight landed in Miami and I stood on the immigration line with the other passengers.
Some of the immigration officers had masks on, others didn’t and everything was progressing well. Finally, it was my turn and just before I could get to the officer’s booth, out of nowhere, I sneezed. Everyone looked at me and I felt like I had just committed a crime. Worse yet, I did not sneeze into my elbow – I covered my face with my passport in a knee-jerk reaction. The officer wearing the mask said to the officer who was serving me, “He sneezed on his passport.” I started to wonder if they were going to quarantine me and if I would make it back home after being away for more than a week. The officer who processed me seemed perturbed, but he proceeded to ask the normal questions. “Have you been to China or Italy?” I hurriedly answered no – only London and Scotland. He looked at my U.S. visa and finally said, “Have a nice day.” I thought to myself, “That was a close one”, but I was happy to proceed unscathed.
I spent the night in my hotel in Miami and there was no sign of major concern. There was extra hand sanitizer available but other than that, the U.S. seemed pretty safe from coronavirus. I finally made it home the next day to one of the longest immigration lines of tourists I had ever seen. No sign of concern about coronavirus. I settled in back home and heard voices of concern beginning to rise but the news showed no cases of coronavirus and I began to feel like maybe the Bahamian sun would keep it out of The Bahamas. A few days later, in early March, I traveled again, to North Carolina to attend my nephew’s funeral. I spoke with my wife about going and although there was some consternation, this was my nephew who was almost like a son to me; I had to go.
When I returned home, I attended meetings and briefings and heard warnings about possible impact in The Bahamas. I started doing research and began to understand what flattening of the curve meant. We finally had our first case. Just one, and the patient was said to be fine. The game had obviously changed, and concern began to ramp up.
Should we continue to have church?
What was the level of danger, and were we equipped to handle it?
Questions raced through my mind. Finally, I got a call from President of the Christian Council Bishop Delton Fernander to attend a meeting. At the meeting, we discussed whether churches should close and what the ramifications were. There was almost a unanimous agreement – churches would close and stream live instead. The virus was at our doorstep. Other cases began to be reported. The level of alarm began to ramp up, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced a curfew of 12 hours, then 24 hours, first for a period of 11 days, then 30 days. Concern was growing but all the reported coronavirus cases were announced as doing well, with only one in hospital.
On Tuesday, March 31, COVID-19 came home. Minister of Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Elsworth Johnson informed that his sister had passed away. The press reported that it was a suspected case of COVID-19. The months of speculation, concern and fear all crystalized in that moment. COVID-19 took one of our own for the first time. The game changed forever. It seemed the mood changed over our entire country. This was no longer a nameless, faceless, global problem – it had truly become our problem. A part of me was ripped from the inside and a new level of resolve arrived. Coronavirus came home and the real fight had begun. Then, my wife’s uncle passed away after going to the hospital for another condition and contracting COVID-19 in the process. One of my friend’s uncle sent a text message saying his uncle died from COVID-19. Another message appeared on the news that Dr. Judson Eneas, a personal friend of mine and prominent local physician, had passed away. Coronavirus was no longer a global news story – it was a Bahamian reality. Travel bans were then implemented along with full lockdowns, and the order to wear masks was issued. COVID-19 was now a Bahamian reality, dramatically altering life as we knew it.
We are now several months into the COVID-19 pandemic in The Bahamas and I join Bahamians everywhere with a new realization that our sunshine, sea, sand and wonderful weather did not keep coronavirus away. Despite our prayers and faith, coronavirus still came to our doorstep. It was now all hands-on deck; prepare for the war. COVID-19, coronavirus, whatever you call it, had touched home and we must now enlist ourselves in this titanic struggle using every tool available. We have no choice; we must continue to prepare, pray, support our first responders, practice social distancing and determine to do whatever it takes to defeat this invisible and insidious foe. COVID-19 is home – but not welcome here.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.