Former health minister says testing insufficient to justify full reopening
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Underscoring the country’s coronavirus cases and deaths per capita, former Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands said notwithstanding the hard work and noble efforts, the nation is “not winning this battle” against COVID-19.
The Bahamas ranks 36 out of 215 countries and territories around the world in cases of the coronavirus per capita.
“We have a case incidence rate per million, which is twice the average of all countries in the world — 8,797 per million as compared to an average of 4,075 per million,” said Sands during debate on a resolution to extend the emergency orders to October 31.
The former health minister abstained from the vote.
“We have the 38th highest instance of deaths of COVID-19 in the world per capita.
“So, notwithstanding the noble intentions, the hard work, the resources expended to date, we are not winning this battle and we have paid an incredible price to this day.
“Our economic performance although ably managed and guided by the member for East Grand Bahama is facing hurricane-force headwinds. Let me compliment the efforts of the executive. Let me compliment you for the work you are attempting to do.”
As of yesterday, there were 3,618 COVID-19 cases in The Bahamas, of which 1,594 cases had recovered.
Sands said health officials have done a better job with testing, but The Bahamas is still not testing enough — notwithstanding the engagement of the private sector, which has performed around 10,000 tests.
He said this is evidenced by the 25 percent positivity rate of recent tests.
Adequate testing and tracing take place when test rates remain around five percent or lower for two weeks, according to Erin Bromage, a comparative immunologist at the University of Massachusetts.
“We are not testing enough,” Sands said.
He continued: “Without a robust and consistent ability to test, definitely screen, isolate and track, we will lose this battle. In June, I said if we take our eye off the ball and lessen our vigilance, we can and should expect a second wave of COVID-19 in The Bahamas. I also said if that happens I dread even considering the potential economic peril. Unfortunately, our fears have been realized.”
Yesterday, Sands said widespread random testing will allow The Bahamas to achieve the 152 tests per 100,000 suggested by Harvard Institute experts to be a safe level for reopening.
“For The Bahamas that equates to 600 tests per day,” the Elizabeth MP said.
“Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is critical to tracking the virus, understanding the epidemiology, informing case management and suppressing case transmission.
“We have appropriately and reasonably relied on RT PCR testing, but I call today for The Bahamas to embrace antigen testing as a far cheaper alternative to RT PCR; not as sensitive, but certainly a $20 or $30 test which can be supported by RT PCR testing, which runs anywhere from $120 to $480 a test. [It] may make it easier for us to control this pandemic.”
During debate, Minister of Health Renward Wells said officials were exploring the efficacy of a low-cost and non-invasive saliva-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that was recently authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration.