NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Minister of Health Renward Wells yesterday defended The Bahamas’ phased tourism reopening despite rising cases of COVID-19, an admittedly stretched healthcare system, and a less than recommended positivity rates of the virus.
Health officials confirmed 132 new cases of the virus today, pushing the total to 5,517.
Of these cases, 2,164 remain active and 107 cases have been hospitalized.
There are 73 cases at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH), which has a bed capacity for 70 cases.
Wells acknowledged PMH was “beyond capacity”.
For the past 30 days, there has been an average of 1.5 deaths per day, according to health officials.
There were three reported deaths since Wednesday.
The positivity rate in The Bahamas also stands at 21 percent, with 26,150 tests completed.
This is more than four times the World Health Organization’s recommended positivity rate of five percent for two weeks or more before reopening is considered.
During a Ministry of Health virtual press conference, health officials were asked to explain the justification for a reopening despite these indicators.
“The government of The Bahamas, in seeking to be responsive to the needs of the Bahamian people, are seeing how it is we can best manage both the survivability of our economic life as well as the physical life and livelihoods of the Bahamian people,” Wells said.
“So, whereas we are receiving advice as to what needs to take place within the health sphere, we’re also taking all of that into consideration in the decision-making process.
“Obviously, as a government, we are never going to do anything that is going to overtly endanger the lives of our people, but we do believe that we are on to a model, a formula that can work.”
Wells said amid surging cases in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, many of those jurisdictions have instituted restrictive measures such as curfews, weekend lockdowns, limiting social gatherings, not dissimilar to The Bahamas.
He said: “Nations are seeking the best ways that they can [to] deal with this pandemic while also seeking to keep some sense of livelihood, some sense of viability of its economy, and the life of its people.
“And so, here in The Bahamas we are seeking to do the same thing.
“This ministry, the Ministry of Health is working along with tourism to be able to see how we can get that best fit.”
As it relates to testing for the virus, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Delon Brennen assured there is a robust testing regime in the public and private sector.
“We do think we have a very robust infrastructure in-country to be able to enhance what laboratory and testing capacity is available, not just for when we open, but for what’s going on in-country; the growth in movement within islands; within the individual islands; between islands,;and then people moving into and out of the country at the same time,” Brennen said.
“So, while the infrastructure is robust at present, we are always looking for continued growth and doing so in a responsible manner.”
The Bahamas has a COVID-19 bed capacity of 147 beds, according to Wells.
The total includes healthcare facilities in New Providence and Grand Bahama.
The South Beach Health Center has 10 beds with a capacity for 16 more under tents, which will be supplied by the National Emergency Management Agency.
Doctor’s Hospital West has 22 beds while its eastern hospital has six beds for cases.
In Grand Bahama, the Cancer Association of The Bahamas has 16 beds while the Infectious Disease Centre has seven beds.
According to Wells, 110 COVID-19 beds were occupied.
The figure includes, Family Island cases, who have to be transported to New Providence or Grand Bahama when their health needs exceed supportive care.
Wells said: “Some of the hospitalized patients in the 110 beds are from our Family Islands.”
The minister announced that the humanitarian aid organization, Samaritan’s Purse, has once again come to The Bahamas’ aid at the request of the prime minister.
Following Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, the organization established a field hospital in Grand Bahama after the Rand Memorial Hospital and various clinics were impacted.
Samaritan’s Purse will partner with the Ministry of Health and Publics Hospital Authority to establish and operate a 28-bed COVID-19 isolation and treatment unit on the grounds of PMH.
Wells said the facility will accommodate COVID-19 patients and patients under investigation, who require hospitalization.
It is expected to begin treating patients on Monday.
The organization will absorb the cost of the unit and its support staff.
The government will provide lodging, meals, and laundry service for 30 medical personnel and staff of Samaritan’s Purse at the Melia Nassau Beach Resort.
After six weeks, Samaritan’s Purse is expected to transition out of the country and the isolation and treatment unit will be donated to the government.