Perspective

‘We need affordable testing’

He says he does not know how he contracted COVID-19, and though only in his 50s, began imagining his death before being placed on a treatment regimen he credits with bringing prompt relief and eventual alleviation of what were otherwise incapacitating symptoms.

Robert Williams, a small-business service provider in Freeport whose name has been changed to protect the confidentiality of his medical conditions, spoke to Perspective on the impact of contracting COVID-19, made more challenging, he surmises, due to having a pre-existing condition of deformed blood platelets.

There has been an uptick in COVID-19 cases on Grand Bahama in recent weeks, though health officials have provided no details on what accounts for the rise in cases, and whether the spike is evidence of sustained community transmission versus cluster transmission.

As with previous fall seasons, Williams said he thought sinus pain and pressure he was experiencing was due to seasonal allergies, but decided to take a COVID-19 test at one of the island’s private testing facilities after learning that a family friend on New Providence, who also thought her sinus discomfort was merely due to allergies, tested positive for COVID-19.

Noting that he routinely takes necessary safety precautions when out in public, Williams said, “I had a fever, sinus pain, headache and elevated blood pressure, and I tried to think back to who may have coughed or sneezed in my presence. But it is hard to figure out because so many people can be asymptomatic.

“None of my staff members reported experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, I use full personal protective equipment when performing my job and I don’t interact with people like that anymore – most of my conversations are over the phone, so I do not know how I would have gotten it.”

Describing interminable night sweats, a headache, diarrhea, a persistent dry cough and a progressive loss of smell, Williams added that eating was also difficult due to an altered sense of taste that made everything he ate unpalatably salty.

He shared, “I was so dehydrated that with the dehydration almost brought about a form of hallucination, like I just wanted to die.

“I was seeing my funeral and envisioning my death, and I felt like I could not get enough oxygen with every breath I took, so with just talking I would be out of breath.”

The progression of his symptoms lead Williams to make contact with integrative medicine consultant at Freeport’s Family Wellness Center Dr. Kevin Bethel.

Williams shared with us photos of his doctor’s prescriptions that he took together with vitamins D3 and chelated zinc, vitamins which he said he had been taking prior to his illness, though not consistently.

He was prescribed a seven-day course of hydroxychloroquine 200mg and Arcalion 200mg, a synthetic derivative of vitamin B1 indicated for treatment of weakness and fatigue.

Williams disclosed, “My respiration improved immensely with the hydroxychloroquine, probably within six hours I could make full sentences again, and with the Arcalion I quickly got my appetite back.

“In about five days, my sense of taste and smell returned to normal, and I felt so much better by day five that I almost felt I did not need to take the rest of the seven-day course.”

Williams, who said he also suffered significant weight loss during the course of his symptoms, indicated that he now experiences lingering effects of an occasional cough and fatigue.

‘The ministry never contacted me’

Prior to our discussion with Williams, we were made aware of Grand Bahama residents who claimed they were never contacted by the Ministry of Health, notwithstanding their positive COVID-19 test result.

He noted, “No one has called me and no one has contacted me, and I know for a fact that I left at least three telephone numbers [on the form] for them to contact me.”

Robust contact tracing and enforcement of quarantine or isolation orders is essential to containing the spread of COVID-19, thereby making it less likely for tightened restrictive measures to be ordered to interrupt chains of transmission.

Contact from health officials can also help to establish whether a COVID-19-positive person can safely isolate in his or her home so as to protect others from infection in the household.

The home has been indicated by health officials as the principal source of COVID-19 transmission in the country’s second wave.

Williams said he stayed in a separate section of his family’s home during the course of his symptoms.

Access to affordable testing on demand remains the call of medical professionals and the general public, given that free testing in the public health system is only administered to symptomatic patients.

With business owners seeking affordable options for COVID-19 employee screening, the current public testing protocol leaves workers and employers on Grand Bahama with no option other than private testing at over $200 per person.

Williams, who has not yet taken a follow-up RT-PCR test due to lack of funds, argued of current employee screening options, “I can’t afford that. I’ve got six to seven people in my office, you might as well tell me to shut my doors. We need affordable testing.”

As of November 7, Grand Bahama has recorded 805 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the start of the country’s declared outbreak back in March, and recorded 58 new cases between October 31 and November 7.

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