It is critical for The Bahamas that coexistence with COVID-19 does not translate into downplaying its rate of spread in the country, or become a euphemism for political expediency that sees benefit in shifting focus away from what remains a precarious state of affairs.
In the nine days since relaxed restrictions for New Providence were announced, the island recorded 402 cases and four new deaths, after having recorded over 20 deaths in the previous month.
New confirmed cases on New Providence are continuing on a cumulative climb.
And since September 1, the country has seen no cumulative improvement in the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19, with 68 having been hospitalized as of September 1, rising to 83 on September 5, and standing at 69 on September 9.
It was back when hospitalizations stood at just 22 that Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis sounded the alarm about the nation’s healthcare system approaching its capacity to treat COVID-19 patients.
Now with 69 hospitalizations, we have 74 beds between New Providence and Grand Bahama designated for COVID-19 patients nationwide, according to Health Minister Renward Wells’ communication to Parliament this week.
The ministry’s unexplained decision not to hold its weekly press conference last week Friday when 15 deaths were confirmed since its briefing the week prior, sent a worrying signal that government might be seeking to shy away from questions on mounting deaths and overstretched medical capacity in the midst of liberalized protocols.
The number of positive cases for which no confirmed island location exists continues to grow, which raises questions about enforcement of data collection protocols, and how potential inability to conduct contact tracing for cases whose location and presumably their positive identity are not confirmed, may be contributing to continued spread of the virus on New Providence and elsewhere.
That spread has resulted in deaths being recorded in the Family Islands, where limited healthcare resources and an older average age of residents make for a vulnerable dynamic, particularly in an atmosphere of lax enforcement.
Effective management and enforcement of a mandatory 14-day quarantine order for all inter-island air and sea travelers, for example, is unlikely, and an allowance for senior government officials to be exempted from COVID-19 testing if traveling inter-island from New Providence sends an irresponsible message that risk of viral transmission is commensurate with one’s social ranking.
One of the more troubling allowances for islands with confirmed cases except New Providence, is social gatherings of 10 people or fewer at private homes and facilities, whether or not attendees are from the same household.
Community spread of COVID-19 has not been declared contained in the second wave, and it is unreasonable to expect that all hosts of private parties will enforce the attendance limit order, or existing safety protocols for all guests.
Yet the competent authority through this order, has opened the door for the growth of potential super spreader events on islands where confirmed cases continue to increase such as Abaco and Long Island, and on Grand Bahama where marked case reduction is evident, but where containment of the virus has not yet been declared.
Yesterday, the prime minister said he does not foresee future lockdowns, though he notably did not state that his newfound confidence in the state of COVID-19 in the country, warrants his relinquishing at month’s end of emergency rule which he has studiously held on to for close to six months.
Nevertheless, his tone in recent days gives the air of a leader who wants to move on from a laser focus on COVID-19, and blistering criticism borne out of precipitous and questionable emergency orders.
But with cases mounting, close to 200 healthcare workers out of commission due to infection or exposure and a case fatality rate among the highest in the region, a laser focus on safely coexisting with COVID-19 is necessary.
Otherwise, inevitable complacency throughout the country will set in, and with it the risk of more deaths and a third outbreak of COVID-19.