New Minister of Health, the Hon. Renward Wells, during a national press conference, hosted on Friday afternoon, July 31st, 2020, gave an update on the status of COVID-19 in the Bahamas, confirming a significant surge, with Friday’s case numbers adding another sixty-six confirmed infections to the nation’s total, now at 574. Sadly, he also confirmed an additional three (3) deaths from the disease, bringing the national toll to fourteen (14) people having passed away as a result of COVID-19. His full statement reads as follows:
Here is the latest update on COVID-19. To date, there have been 574 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas. Of our total cases, we have seen 91 individuals recover.
Life is precious and any death from COVID-19 is a great loss to our country. After a thorough investigation, during this current surge, 3 additional deaths have been confirmed to be deaths due to COVID-19, thus bringing the death toll to 14. Currently, there are 467 active cases of COVID-19, including 19 in hospital (6 in Grand Bahama and 13 in Doctors Hospital West).
Our dashboard total positive COVID-19 cases include –
– 232 in New Providence;
– 286 in Grand Bahama;
– 21 cases in Bimini;
– 18 cases in Abaco. (Nine (9) of those cases are in Moore’s Island, 9 in Great Guana Cay, and one in Sandy Point);
– There are 6 cases in the Berry Islands;
– 4 in Cat Cay;
– 3 in Cat Island; and
– 3 in Exuma.
The statistics confirm that The Bahamas is in a surge. We have experienced increases mainly in Grand Bahama and New Providence. Unfortunately, as indicated, The Bahamas is now experiencing COVID-19 positive cases in our Family Islands.
The COVID-19 surge has put a significant strain on resources including bed capacity of our health system. In response, the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) has activated an aggressive reconfiguration of wards at the Princess Margaret Hospital, the Rand Memorial Hospital, and the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre. This reconfiguration is geared toward better managing patient admissions subject to their medical needs and gender.
The current exposure of employees and patients across our hospitals is being managed subject to international Infection Prevention Control guidelines for infectious outbreaks of this kind and the policies of PHA. Every effort is being made to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within our institutions.
The PHA has also increased the distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for staff working across our hospitals to ensure the safety and protection of our valued employees. Every effort is being made to ensure that no COVID-19 positive patients are housed or treated at the main campuses of our hospitals.
The public is asked to partner with us as we fight to contain this pandemic by contacting their personal physicians or local community clinics during the day for non-emergencies, and only accessing the Accident & Emergency Department in the event of an actual emergency or after-hour services. Similarly, requests for Ambulance Services should be limited to EMERGENCIES ONLY.
Based on information available to us, the initial confirmed cases of the second wave of COVID-19 is connected to individuals from Grand Bahama who travelled from the United States. Our information also leads us to conclude that the increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases is connected to the social activities among Bahamians – funerals, weddings, and home parties.
For example, individuals from Grand Bahama, New Providence, and Bimini, all attended a particular funeral and within a single incubation period, there were increased numbers of cases on those islands.
Let me be frank, while there is no way to ensure zero risk of infection of COVID-19, doing all that we can to minimize risks and stay safe requires personal responsibility.
Do not socialize with people who do not live with you. Do not engage in activities that do not respect the protocols of social distancing and wearing masks. There is no way for you to know who is infected.
With the impending threat of Hurricane Isaias, the government has relaxed some restrictions to facilitate hurricane preparations. This time should be used to do all that you can to preserve life and property. I strongly advise all Bahamians and residents not to squander it on gatherings and parties that ripen conditions for the spread of COVID-19.
It is important to understand that –
– the more people you interact with;
– the more closely you interact with them; and
– the longer the interaction, the higher your risk of getting COVID-19 and spreading it to others.
It can never be overstated and it is important enough for me to continually repeat:
– Wear a face mask over your mouth AND nose when you leave home and especially when you are around other people.
– Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
– If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 70% alcohol.
– Always cover your cough or sneeze in your inner elbow or with a tissue.
– Frequently clean and disinfect your phones, remote controls, counters, doorknobs, and keyboards.
This is the only way we can consistently bend and eventually flatten the contagion curve.
Another fundamental way that we respond to the COVID-19 challenge is through contact tracing. Contact surveillance is a time-tested public health strategy that breaks the chain of transmission and limits the spread of infections. Contact tracing, though, is heavily dependent on individual honesty.
Everyone must be honest and open when contacted by our COVID-19 Surveillance Team. We beg you not to refuse to answer calls, block calls, or purposely lose contact with Surveillance Officers; and not to provide untruthful accounts of activities. If you have been directed to self-isolate or self-quarantine, please do so – without exception.
When positive COVID-19 patients and others who may have come in contact with them are not cooperative, the risks for the spread of disease is higher and health officials are not able to make critical decisions to stop the virus in its tracks. This means the general public will experience more lockdowns and restricted activities.
As we ramp up testing, more persons will be found to be COVID-19 positive. It is important to advise that public that, in COVID-19 positive cases:
– A member of the Surveillance team will contact you and notify that you have been tested positive.
– A series of questions will be asked such as name, age, sex, where you work, and if you travelled to another country.
– Details about your home will be gathered. Questions like how many rooms or bathrooms in the home will help health officials to determine if you can isolate properly at home.
– Information about COVID-19 is shared to ensure you understand the disease and the importance of isolating while sick.
– Arrangements are made to provide food and medication if required. If psycho-social support is needed, this is quickly addressed.
– All persons are encouraged to isolate. If you are unable to safely do so at home, options will be provided for your safety.
– Quarantined persons are signed up with Hubbcat, an electronic monitoring system that can locate the person with the use of their cell phone.
– There is a daily assessment of all persons to see how they are coping with the new illness. Efforts are made to ensure that the person communicates with the same surveillance personnel as far as practicable.
– If the person becomes symptomatic, a physician is sent to their home.
If you have any questions or concerns about COVID-19, please call the hotline at 502-7382 or visit the www.covid19.gov.bs for more information.
With the exponential increase in COVID-19 confirmed cases, the Ministry of Health has taken the decision to publish basic information such as age and sex for public consumption.
In light of the increase in cases, I continue the clarion call for healthcare workers to assist the Ministry of Health with contact tracing. Our efforts to augment our capacity for contact tracing will take effect as of Monday, 3rd August 2020. These additional efforts will reduce the time taken to control the present wave of COVID-19 cases.
In Grand Bahama, COVID-19 testing was ramped up tremendously. There are more than 800 persons in the contact tracing system there and this makes it very challenging for the team to monitor each person with COVID-19 every day.
Although multiple teams have been dispatched from New Providence to Grand Bahama, there is still the need for more contact tracers on the island. Swabbing exercises are being carried out in various locations on Grand Bahama. Those swabs were transported to the capital for analysis.
We have also sent additional communications instruments such as cell phones, tablets and laptops to Grand Bahama to enable the team there to digitize our efforts.
Recently, there has been an increase in the number of public and private workplace establishments in New Providence and Grand Bahama that have been forced to temporarily close due to exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
It is important to note that a person is considered a contact of persons who tested positive for COVID-19 only if –
– they were in direct contact with the COVID-19 confirmed case; or
– was closer than 6 feet from the infected person without both individuals wearing a mask over their mouth and nose for 15 minutes or more.
Direct contacts of positive cases are the only individuals who need to quarantine, not contacts of the contact. So if a contact of a case entered a business establishment, while this is improper because they should be in quarantine, the business is not required to close and may continue with all appropriate cleaning and sanitization practices, especially frequently-touched surfaces.
As we are aware, all of The Bahamas is preparing for Hurricane Isaias. Given that, the Grand Bahama medical team has been actively discharging patients who can be safely cared for out of the hospital setting. Grand Bahama is also addressing space and staffing issues that have any potential to lead to crossing over of suspected and non-suspected COVID-19 cases.
In the Public Service, it has come to our attention that some employees who were thought to be exposed on the job to a COVID-19 case were asked to take the time directed to quarantine from their vacation leave. This should not be and does not comport with the directive of the Competent Authority in respect of staff that travel internationally. It is important to note that these employees were not irresponsible, neither did they decide to travel. They were simply exposed to a COVID-19 case on the job. In such instances, if an employee is requested to quarantine, the time off from work should not be deducted from their vacation leave. Managers should ensure that there is proper application of policies surrounding quarantine measures.
With the impending threat of the hurricane, the Government relaxed some restrictions to facilitate storm preparations. Be sure to practice the public health measures we have outlined while you are out making your preparations. When you are done, we advise you to stay at home. Do not use the remaining time to socialize or gather with others.
As the Prime Minister foreshadowed, after the storm, we look forward to reinvigorating our efforts to contain this surge.”