Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis, in a Ministry of Health press conference moment she described as being “brutally honest” this week, indicated that health officials do not yet have all the appropriate resources to meet the data reporting needs of the current COVID-19 outbreak.
A consequence of this and of previously limited testing capacity, is seen in the ministry’s most recent data, which points to a distortion of daily case reporting in COVID-19’s second wave due to the inclusion of test samples collected weeks earlier.
This distortion gave the impression that stricter containment measures were needed at a point in the outbreak when new cases were actually on the decrease.
Moreover, Dahl-Regis advised that what occurred in the second wave “were clusters of transmission, not community spread”, and Grand Bahama, which was forced to endure a five-week lockdown, began seeing a marked decrease in rates of new cases as early as week three thereof, according to the data.
A consistent refrain by the competent authority, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, has been that his emergency orders are based on the advice of the health professionals.
But that advice, if it is to be sound, must be based on accurate and timely data, the management of which health officials were under-equipped to effectively perform.
The result now appears to have been unnecessarily heavy and protracted restrictions which stemmed from data deficits that may not have existed, had government ensured the Ministry of Health was given all the necessary tools to meet the needs of an anticipated second wave in an open-border environment.
The implications of this cannot be overstated.
For Grand Bahama, whose economy was ravaged by Hurricane Dorian nearly one year ago, businesses teetering on collapse were forced to remain closed and tens of thousands forced to remain out of work, though case conditions on that island were improving.
New Providence was sent into spasms by the prime minister’s precipitous announcement of an immediate lockdown on August 17, though the data shows that rates of confirmed daily cases on the island were trending downward as early as August 12.
And Abaco and Bimini had entered a full flattening of their respective curves within days of Minnis’ August 3 national lockdown announcement.
Given that the country’s explosion of cases in the second wave is now said to have been the result of cluster transmission rather than community spread, the natural question is whether it was necessary to effect a national lockdown, as opposed to carrying out targeted mitigation to address cluster sources.
Dahl-Regis pointed out that current efficacy in data analysis is a result of transferring information from a manual to digital format, which aided in the removal of duplicate cases that in turn reduced case counts for New Providence and Grand Bahama.
That the ministry was working in a manual format under the pressures of exponential growth in new COVID-19 cases is astounding, and an indictment on the competent authority’s management of the crisis, a crisis that ironically prompted him months earlier to encourage the private sector to enhance its digital capacity if businesses hoped to survive “the new normal”.
Of latest note is a marked decrease in what heretofore were hundreds of completed tests recorded daily by the ministry’s dashboard since the start of the second wave.
Between August 24 and August 25, just 22 completed tests were recorded, with 15 new cases reported.
In the seven days prior, an average of 354 tests were completed daily, with a day’s high of 753 tests and a low of 129 tests, recorded during that period.
Members of the public are now seeking redress before the courts for what they contend are rights violated and injury suffered as a result of emergency orders.
We accept that the prime minister has sought to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The prime minister, meantime, must accept responsibility for inadequacies on his watch that may have led to the exacting of unnecessary pain and loss on a populace brought to its knees by the virus’ global impact.