Construction of COVID-19 isolation facility near completion

Construction of COVID-19 isolation facility near completion
Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands gives COVID-19 update at Tuesday's press conference at the Ministry. (BIS/Kristaan Ingraham)

Sands: “We do not have the option of failing”

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said that by Friday the isolation and quarantine facility at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) should be completed as part of the government’s response to the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

He affirmed there is adequate resources and funding to respond.

“When you look around the Family Islands there is build out of infrastructure,” he said during a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister.

“We are looking at acquisition of vehicles; test capacity a call center; the ability to do all of the things we need to identify, to isolate and to mitigate this threat.

“We have come nowhere near to exhausting the budget.

“We have purchased hundreds of thousands of N95 masks, regular masks; thousands of gowns; gloves, bootees; and other personal protective equipment kits, including visors.”

The number of COVID-19 cases climbed to five today, after a women who had presented with mild respiratory symptoms and tested positive for the virus in Grand Bahama — the first case outside of New Providence.

Sands insisted The Bahamas does not “have the option of failing”.

“This government has put all of the resources necessary,” he said.

“We’ve spoken about feeding of persons who may be isolated or unable to feed themselves.

“We have to consider whether our healthcare workers, who are on the frontlines, will have a place to stay away from their families should they decide.

“All of these things have been budgeted, funds allocated and we believe we have an adequate funding stream in order to respond appropriately.”

Over 200 people have been tested for the virus through “aggressive contract tracing”.

According to Sands, the Ministry of Health has over 1,750 COVID-19 test kits on standby, and the first 300 of 10,000 rapid test kits have arrived in New Providence.

He said an additional 2,500 are expected to arrive in the nation this week.

He also said the ministry has ensured all working health protocols are in place for clinics and health facilities across the archipelago as it relates to quarantine and isolation facilities, and assessment and treatment guidelines.

Today, Sands announced the government has taken possession of the Cancer treatment center in Grand Bahama for COVID-19 patients who may require in-patient treatment.

Additionally, several modular units have been establishment around the Rand Memorial Hospital to increase capacity, according to the minister.

As it relates to Grand Bahama and the Family Islands, Sands said the islands are adequately stocked with medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

The ministry is also in the process of establishing three food and medicine distribution centers in New Providence — strategically located in central, east and the south — to operate as pick-up sites in an effort to enforce physical distancing.

Sands urged the public to follow the emergency orders and to avoid all social activities, even with relatives who do not reside in the same household.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced a 24-hour curfew, border shutdown, and a ‘shelter in place’ order, among additional measures that expand emergency powers regulations introduced last week to prevent the local spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The new measures will remain in effect until March 31, unless extended.

The prime minister said Bahamians were not taking the virus seriously enough.

Today, health officials noted the congregation of groupings of people on public beaches, which had since been closed in accordance with the new order.

Sands said how the next few weeks go depends on compliance with the orders.

He said: “If we as a people, listen, that would lessen the impact on our country. But if we do not listen, the virus will spread and we will have many deaths.”

He said when the virus spread “wildly” in other developed countries, healthcare systems become overwhelmed — something The Bahamas must avoid.

Asked if residents in the Family Islands were taking the warning and emergency order seriously enough, the minister said: “So anecdotally, the greatest concern was in New Providence, but we wanted to be very clear that the regulations and recommendations which hold for New Providence applies to the entire Commonwealth of The Bahamas.”

Additional testing

Asked about random and mass testing, former Chief Medical Officer Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis said when additional rapid test kits and other tools become available, “we will be able to better tell you how they are going to be used once they meet a certain standard and we have the capacity”.

Dahl-Regis said based on global trends, and the pathway of the virus, The Bahamas could experience a “surge” of cases.

She said officials want to test more people.

When asked if The Bahamas will follow suit with other countries and seek to bring in Cuban nurses to shore up the long-standing shortage, Dahl-Regis said there were no plans to do so.

Cuba has deployed doctors to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Suriname and Grenada.

“We are assessing where we are and we are preparing should we have an increase in the number of cases and we would assess that should that occur,” she said. “We are truly hoping that with these measures — these restrictive, painful, difficult measures — that we have put in place, we are able to evaluate as well as to decrease the spread.”

She added: “All cylinders are on full to respond and right now we see no need to bring in additional staff.”

She was unable to project how many cases the country could observe.