PAHO warns COVID-related deaths could rise as virus surges

PAHO warns COVID-related deaths could rise as virus surges
PAHO Director Dr Carissa Etienne (FILE PHOTO)

“We are still in the first wave” says PAHO director

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr Carissa Etienne said yesterday that as new COVID-19 infections spread to smaller towns and cities that do not have the same level of healthcare infrastructure, COVID-19-related deaths could rise once again.

More than 22,000 deaths were reported in the last week in the region, nine percent more than the previous week.

Responding to questions about a resurgence of cases or ‘second wave’ of the virus, Etienne said: “This is still the first wave, and I’m afraid it continues to grow. This wave is moving within each country, affecting areas that have not had many cases before.

“This trend is concerning. It is concerning for two reasons. The surge comes at a time when most people are experiencing a level of fatigue about the recommended preventative measures and this ends up putting all of these people at greater risk.

“It seems obvious, but we should reinforce preventative measures when cases rise in a given city or state and we shouldn’t be relaxing them.”

Etienne continued: “The second reason for concern is that the pandemic is moving from some of the bigger cities that tend to have better hospital capacity to smaller towns that may not be able to accommodate patients who require ICU or other specialized care.

“Therefore, mortality could rise​ if more​ of newly infected patients have trouble accessing the care that they need.”

She said: “We know that places with limited hospital capacity tend to have higher deaths. So yes, we are still in the first wave, not yet the second.”

There have been 104 confirmed cases in The Bahamas, four of which remain active. These cases stem from New Providence, Grand Bahama, Bimini and Cat Cay.

The remaining islands have had zero cases.

The Bahamas recorded 11 COVID-19-related deaths, the last of which occurred in April.

The first COVID-19-related death in The Bahamas — a Bimini woman — raised concerns over the island’s healthcare capacity and the timeframe to airlift the patient from Bimini to New Providence.

There have been no new infections in New Providence in 22 days, Grand Bahama in 61 days and Bimini in 47 days.

Yesterday, Etienne said PAHO continues to monitor new patterns emerging.

She said while the US accounted for 75 percent of infections in the region two months ago, more recently Latin America and the Caribbean account for more than 50 percent of cases in the LAC.

She said countries must remain alert, and ​leaders​ must let “evidence guide their actions”.

Focusing on what works and uniting their people around it,” she said.

“They have a responsibility to act transparently and proactively as they mobilize institutions in each country to respond. And each of us has a personal responsibility to protect ourselves and ​others ​through social distancing and by wearing masks.”

Etienne said while the last six months shook the world, the next six months “will not be easier”.

“We cannot let our guard down,” she said.

“To endure we must rely on our growing knowledge of this virus, our ability to apply these learnings in solidarity and our unwavering resolve; thus, we will face this pandemic.”

Last week, there were 735,000 new cases in the region, with an average of over 100,000 cases reported per day — nearly 20 percent higher than the previous week.

As of yesterday, cases climbed to 5.9 million cases and almost 267,000 deaths in the Americas.