IS IT TIME FOR CAMPAIGNING?: Health officials say once public health measures are followed

IS IT TIME FOR CAMPAIGNING?: Health officials say once public health measures are followed
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis campaigns in Garden Hills with Free National Movement (FNM) candidate Stephen Greenslade in March 2021.

Four consecutive weeks of increase in COVID-19 cases 

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — With coronavirus cases continuing to increase for the fourth consecutive week, health officials have stopped short of condemning political gatherings and campaigning.

During a Ministry of Health press conference on the COVID-19 situation to date, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Pearl McMillan said certain social events and gatherings “can wait” and urged Bahamians to continue following protocols.

Supporters and candidates of major political parties have been hitting the pavement, campaigning in various communities in large numbers despite recent criticism and concerns over its impact on rising coronavirus cases.

McMillan noted, however, that health officials are not currently monitoring the activities of political parties.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Pearl McMillan speaks during yesterday’s press conference. (BIS PHOTO/PATRICK HANNA)

“The health guidelines and the health measures remain the same… Our recommendations are based on what the science shows to decrease transmission. All of the recommendations that we make in health, we make for the general public of The Bahamas.”

Asked whether it is currently safe for parties to engage in political campaigning, the CMO insisted that the public health measures should be adhered to by all and are not exclusive to any group.

She indicated that if there are concerns with respect to any activities, individuals are encouraged to make a report through the proper channels.

“There should not be gatherings that are above and beyond what is agreed upon in the emergency order — wear your mask, sanitize. Those types of gatherings should not be occurring and certainly individuals have a responsibility to protect themselves and others by not availing themselves of such events, be they political, a party [or] a gathering of family.

“We have to continue to follow the public health measures. That is the only way we are going to continue to move down the road of being in a position that we all want to be in a position of.”


COVID by the numbers

Twenty-six new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Tuesday, taking the number of cases in the country to 9,296.

To date, there have been 189 COVID-related deaths, with another 17 deaths under investigation.

There are currently 240 active cases, with 82 recoveries confirmed recently.

Officials said there has been a marked increase of positive cases on New Providence, Grand Bahama and Eleuthera.

This graph shows the number of COVID-19 cases on Eleuthera.

McMillan explained that there continues to be an upward trend of new cases in the capital and six consecutive weeks of increases in the second city.

Eleuthera, which has recorded 201 cases since the start of the pandemic, began seeing increases in January, with 42 cases recorded since the beginning of the year.

The marked increase of cases was primarily imported or import-related, according to officials.

This graph shows the number of COVID-19 cases on Abaco.

As for Abaco, where cases were also trending upward, McMillan said the island is now showing a consistent downward trend.

She noted, however, that there is a cluster of cases linked to Guana Cay and that Green Turtle Cay is proving to be an area of interest, with recent reports of increasing positive rapid antigen tests.

A recent surveillance mission to the island underscored a need for more peer accountability, McMillan said, insisting that the Ministry of Health, police and COVID ambassadors cannot do it alone.

“Family members, neighbors, friends and coworkers must hold each other accountable for practicing the public health measures,” she added.

“As a reminder to all of us, things can wait that is not immediate.”

In addition to the spike in cases is an overall increase in the number of hospitalizations since March 2021.

This graph shows the average number of new COVID-19 cases per day in The Bahamas for the prior 28 days.

McMillan noted that cases were steadily rising from February, adding that while there appeared to be a reduction in cases last week compared to the prior week, this could be attributed to the fact that many of the testing centers were closed or had reduced hours due to the Easter holiday.

Videos of the weekend scene quickly circulated on social media, showing crowded beaches and dozens of people gathered at indoor venues such as Fusion Superplex and Baha Mar.

The CMO indicated that while the activities that occurred over the Easter Holiday weekend are “somewhat concerning”, officials will not know the full impact until at least the next 14 days.


COVID-19 variants

Since the beginning of the pandemic, several new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been detected across the globe — three of which have been identified as concerns.

The Bahamas currently lacks the capacity to perform genome sequencing in-country.

Health officials indicated that there has been no evidence of new strains of COVID-19 in the country from viable samples sent away to be tested earlier this year.

Another 10 samples were sent to CARPHA (the Caribbean Public Health Agency) for review and the results are expected within two weeks.

McMillan said these results will give a clearer picture of the current context as it relates to whether or not variants are in the country.

Additionally, the Bahamas National Reference Laboratory (NRL) is expected to begin a new method of testing for variants in-country.

Head of the NRL Dr Indira Martin explained that they are expected to commence an RT-PCR-based method of detecting mutations that characterize the three concerning variants of COVID-19.

About Sloan Smith

Sloan Smith is a senior digital reporter at Eyewitness News, covering a diverse range of beats, from politics and crime to environment and human interest. In 2018, Sloan received a nomination for the “Leslie Higgs Feature Writer of The Year Award” from The Bahamas Press Club for her work with Eyewitness News.