Swab shortage amid COVID-19 testing expansion

Swab shortage amid COVID-19 testing expansion
Health minister Dr Duane Sands

Minister acknowledges public’s fatigue with restrictions, but insists “we are not there yet”

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Ministry of Health has been limited in its testing capacity due to a shortage of swabs, according to Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands.

Officials are expected to ramp up COVID-19 testing this week to get a better representative sample of community spread of the virus.

However, Sands told reporters today there are only a few hundred swabs in-country.

Another 500 swabs were expected to arrive in The Bahamas today.

“We have the kits. We have the reagents. We have the lab. We have the machines, but nobody has the swabs,” said the minister ahead of a Cabinet meeting at the Churchill Building.

“We have quite a few hundred right now, and we hope to get another 500 today.

“But before we going ramping up to do 200, 300 [tests] a day we have to look at what is going to happen down the road.

“…It is a balancing act. Even as we ramp up, we have to ramp up deliberately and carefully.”

In the United States, President Donald Trump has pledged to increase the nation’s swab production by at least 20 million, and has sought to have local companies increase production of the item for COVID-19 testing.

Addressing suggestions for officials to test individuals admitted to healthcare facilities, Sands said Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) for example treats 50,000 people in Accident and Emergency (A&E) alone per year.

Another 100,000-plus people are in the clinics, and a couple hundred thousand people in the Family Islands annually.

“If you say that we are going to test all of them — just the 50,000 that comes into A&E, that [136] per day,” Sands said.

“…So, let me put a hypothetical. The patient comes with a gunshot wound. Are you going to do a test before you take care of that patient?

“Someone comes in with a heart attack. Are you going to do a test before you manage that patient?”

The Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) announced the closure of a ward at Princess Margaret Hospital on Sunday after a COVID-19 case was confirmed.

It said all remaining patients on the ward were tested for the virus and contact tracing of people who were previously discharged from the ward had begun.

It also said PHA employee health services commenced an assessment for all employees who had direct contact with the patient in question.

Today, Sands said the patient in question was not suspected to have COVID-19.

He said even in retrospect, there were very few reasons to suspect the patient had the virus.

Health officials have said limited resources has led to testing of only symptomatic people.

As of Monday, there were 64 confirmed cases of the virus — 55 in New Providence, seven in Grand Bahama, one in Bimini and one in Cat Cay.

As of April 2, 50 healthcare workers were out of the system and in quarantine due to potential exposure to the virus.

In a statement yesterday, consultant general surgeon Dr Locksley Munroe expressed concerns about a healthcare worker shortage.

At the time, there were 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.

It remains unclear how many healthcare workers are out of the system today.

When asked, Sands could not provide an exact number, but said it has had a “serious impact” on the delivery of care.

He said: “This has made a serious dent, a massive blow to the provision of healthcare services and I think it speaks to the challenge.

“We are not there yet. I know people want to break out of isolation and break out of quarantine and come out of lockdown.

“We are not there yet, and we are not going to be there anytime soon.”