Princess Margaret Hospital to begin COVID-19 testing
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearl McMillian yesterday revealed the number of COVID-19 cases reported daily are not a clear indicator of the current level of transmission due to a backlog in testing of about five days.
The backlog has significantly widened since last week’s briefing on August 7 — when McMillian put the testing delay at around 48 to 72 hours.
There were 356 cases confirmed this week, notwithstanding the nationwide lockdown implemented on August 3.
According to Health minister Renward Wells, the South Beach Health Centre is receiving some 45 to 55 people daily who are referred from the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 hotline, community clinics, Princess Margaret Hospital or who are walk-in clients displaying mild COVID-19 symptoms.
The CMO said the national lab received some 500 swabs for testing on Saturday alone.
Noting the facility is receiving samples above its capacity to test, McMillian said lab facilities at the Princess Margaret Hospital were expected to begin COVID-19 testing today.
The number of cases rose to 1,119, with 30 new cases being recorded yesterday.
During a press briefing, McMillian explained the lab outputs being reported are likely cases exposed before the country’s reinstated lockdown began.
“We are delayed about four to five days, so we will continue to see that kind of spike in our cases, but it will not be a true reflection of the as-is now,” McMillian said.
“As we enhance our capacity for testing and we have a higher throughput we will be in a better position to categorize what is actually happening now.”
For her part, National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme Director Dr Nikkiah Forbes said officials were told there are some 800 samples still waiting to be processed and tested.
Forbes stressed that the effect of the lockdowns will not be seen immediately.
She said individuals who may have been exposed before the lockdown began will be presenting to the healthcare system at this time.
Forbes added others who may have been exposed just as the lockdown began, could still be in the pre-symptomatic phase and present later on.
She said this challenge has been compounded due to the backlog in testing and contact tracing.
“We have heard that up to 800 tests are pending, processing,” she said.
“Those results are being reported on a daily basis. Our task at the Ministry of Health in the coming weeks will be to analyze that information and to see when those patients were sampled and how does that fit into the epidemiological curve.”
During the first wave of cases, the National Reference Lab – which performed the vast majority of COVID-19 tests in the country – was able to maintain a 24-hour testing period.
However, McMillian revealed that within the last six days, the lab has performed 665 tests with a positivity rate of about 20 percent.
On average, 52 percent of the COVID-19 tests are being reported from the National Reference Lab, she said.
To increase capacity, McMillian said the Princess Margaret Hospital lab has performed an independent verification of the test performance of its two molecular instruments and will begin the COVID-19 testing of suspected cases and contacts of positive cases today.
McMillian said there remains a challenge with access to the reagents from international sources; however, she insisted that sourcing challenges are being addressed.
She said with the new test systems, health officials now have access to a larger volume of testing capacity in the country – up to 1,000 samples per day.
McMillian also noted the private sector has also increased its testing capacity during the second wave.
Health minister Dr Renward Wells said medical technologists from the private sector such as Premier Clinical Laboratory and Oak Tree Medical have offered combined processing assistance to bolster capacity to address the backlog of samples.
McMillian said: “The Ministry of Health will be providing more test results over the upcoming days and our surveillance unit will contact those confirmed cases and their contacts as this information is made available.
“This testing capacity within the hospital will also allow rapid turnaround of results, which will aid in the management of the acutely ill patients at Princess Margaret Hospital, South Beach Health Center and Grand Bahama Health Services.”