TESTING SLOWDOWN: Fewer coronavirus tests conducted

TESTING SLOWDOWN: Fewer coronavirus tests conducted

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Testing for the novel coronavirus has dropped nationwide in the past week, according to available data from the Ministry of Health’s dashboard.

However, Eyewitness News understands the testing figures on the dashboard is not a true reflection of the number of tests performed in the country as several private facilities performing tests have only reported on positive test results, and not negative tests.

There were 2,783 tests conducted between September 30 and October 6.

However, 2,199 tests were performed the following week, October 7-13.

This represents a 20.9 percent drop in testing when comparing the two periods.

As of yesterday, 25,585 had been completed in The Bahamas.

This includes tests performed in the private sector.

Last week Sunday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced new processes to standardize COVID-19 diagnostic testing, which was expected to improve the turnaround time of tests to 48-hours and ensure better data collection from cases.

As a part of the new processes, laboratories were required to be registered with the Ministry of Health; meet the established testing standards; and collect patient data consistent with the case identification form before administering a test.

He said laboratories will also be subject to periodic cross-referencing to ensure quality control.

“Going forward, the Ministry of Health and the laboratories will utilize various technology to ensure the timely receipt of testing data by the Ministry of Health’s Surveillance Team and Contact Tracing Unit,” the prime minister said.

New infections continue to rise in the nation, predominantly in New Providence.

Health officials have directly linked testing to the discovery of new cases.

Harvard Institute experts suggest 152 tests per 100,000 people as a safe level for reopening that equates to 600 tests per day.

In the last week, testing has averaged just under 314 tests per day.

In the previous week, the average testing per day was around 397 per day.

Notwithstanding the lower than suggested daily averages, testing has improved in September and October.

In August, approximately 300 tests were being reported per day.

According to the prime minister, the testing and contact tracing regimes are key to The Bahamas’ “strategy to combat the virus.”

Last month, Minister of Health Renward Wells underscored the improvements in testing.

He said there were adequate supplies of RT PCR test kits and reagents with ongoing procurement efforts, and officials were testing the efficacy of a low-cost and non-invasive saliva-based PCR test for the virus.

There have been 5,385 COVID-19 cases in The Bahamas, representing a positivity rate of 21 percent.

According to Erin Bromage, a comparative immunologist at the University of Massachusetts, adequate testing and tracing take place when test rates remain around five percent or lower for two weeks.

There have been concerns about The Bahamas’ testing program.

In late September, former Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands acknowledged testing for the virus had improved.

However, he said the rate of testing was insufficient to justify the full tourism reopening.

Tourism officials had previously announced a soft reopening was set for today with new travel measures expected to be implemented on November 1, including the removal of the travel quarantine.

Additionally, travelers will be required to submit to the rapid antigen test upon arrival.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis has repeatedly called for a “substantial expansion” of testing for the virus, a free testing mechanism; an expanded contact tracing program; and inclusion of the rapid antigen COVID-19 testing.