NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The slowed testing rates for the novel coronavirus in The Bahamas is a reflection of the reduced number of active cases and the numbers of individuals presenting with symptoms of the virus, according to Director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Diseases Programme at the Ministry of Health Dr Nikkiah Forbes.
As of Thursday, 2,373 people had been tested for COVID-19 — seven more than the previous day. A total of 258 people have been tested for the virus this month thus far, a contrast to April and May where testing climbed to over 50 per day for a period.
Asked whether testing has declined due to resource challenges or as a strategy to conserve resources as The Bahamas reopens of July 1, Forbes said because the virus curve has been flattened in the country and there are far fewer cases, the testing need has changed.
“What you are seeing in the last few days is because we have flattened the curve significantly addition to the screening protocols at the point of entry,” she told Eyewitness News.
As of yesterday, there were eight active cases.
The total number of cases has remained at 104 for nearly two weeks.
“When you consider testing strategies, it depends on the scenario,” Forbes said.
“If you have large amounts of cases — cases are arriving; there are plenty people in hospital; there are plenty people with symptoms; you think there is community spread going on and you had evidence there is community spread — you have to test widely and as much as possible.”
Forbes explained that during the surge of the virus, health officials sought to test as widely as possible, but were challenged with supplies.
She said with sporadic cases or no cases for long intervals, there is no need wide community testing in-country, but the way forward “depends on the scenario.”
The expert epidemiologists said The Bahamas must continue to gain capacity for testing and rapid PCR testing as the situation can change.
She said health officials will continue to test individuals with symptoms suggestive of the virus and in the event of clusters of COVID-19, tests will be performed more widely to capture carriers through contact tracing.
Forbes said efforts to procure rapid PRC testing capabilities has proved unsuccessful due to global demand, but health officials continue to source for resources, such as cartridges for a gene expert machine at Princess Margaret Hospital that could be used for rapid PCR COVID testing.
“We’ve been having trouble getting that cartridge because these things are in such demand
“There are instruments you need to support, and the cartridge is an additional part of how the instrument could be used to diagnose COVID for example. If we could do that rapidly, that would help us tremendously.”
She continued: “We have been trying to get cartridges since April. We are not having any luck.”
Rapid PCR tests would allow for faster turnaround time for results of under an hour.
The rapid serology tests, which looks for antibodies for the virus, has been “riddled with problems”.
Forbes said efforts continue to get validate these tests, but for now, these remain unreliable for diagnosis of COVID-19.
“We have not done away with that,” she said. “That is something that we still want as scientist.
“It is valuable. We currently don’t have the rapid PCR.”