NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Health minister Renward Wells yesterday urged businesses and the wider public to prepare a COVID-19 action plan as he underscored the reality of the virus being traced to a workplace.
Wells pointed to the closure of multiple government offices and quasi Government agencies due to COVID-19 exposure this week.
He encouraged employers and managers to ensure confidentiality for employees who may have tested positive for COVID-19.
When a positive case is identified, he said it is important to determine whether the individual developed COVID-19 symptoms on the job, and worked in a facility within a seven day period.
The Ministry of Health and the Department of Environmental Health Services must be informed immediately, he said.
“The Department of Environmental Health Services will provide guidance on the cleaning of the affected area,” Wells continued.
“Currently, I am consulting with my colleague Minister of the Environment to determine whether modifications to the existing protocols for sanitization of buildings/workplaces should be amended.
“The Surveillance Unit of The Ministry of Health will conduct its contact tracing and risk assessment exercises. This process can be lengthy if it generates a widely cast net. The inevitability of COVID-19 being traced to a workplace as we have experienced this week and weeks prior is a reality.”
Wells said: “Just as a plan of action is established in the event of a natural disaster, every workplace and household should have a plan of action prepared in the event a member acquires COVID-19. In households, it should be determined if it is feasible for a member of the family to quarantine or isolate in a room at home or if there is a need to relocate to an alternate facility.”
Wells underscored concerns over the growing exposure among professionals and patients in healthcare facilities in The Bahamas.
He acknowledged the local trend is consistent with virus’ spread worldwide in healthcare facilities; however, Wells noted the country’s human resource pool is “not infinite – not vast”.
He pointed to the recent directive for all healthcare workers and ancillary staff to be rostered on a shift system.
However, Wells noted there was also an option of working remotely from home for individuals with co-morbidities and a medical certificate.
“Since many of these healthcare workers were exposed and are currently in quarantine, those remaining are at very high risk for burnout and teams are working short of members,” he said.
Wells said no efforts have been spared to ensure the safety of public health employees through, training; increased and consistent stock of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to staff across all of our facilities throughout the country; increased sanitization frequency of the healthcare facilities; and rerouting of general hospital traffic to maintain distancing between non-COVID-19 patients and those suspected of being positive for COVID-19.
“To date, there has been no furloughing, lay-offs, terminations or a reduction or deferring of benefits for any worker in the public sector. The Government has seen to it that PPE have even been extended to staff at Doctors Hospital West and to all public agencies of government to ensure safe delivery of services and that will continue as guided by the increased stock ledger.
“I can also assure the public that the assessment, testing and investigation protocols for staff in the public health sector are being guided by the approved policy of the World Health Organization (WHO) and in line with the national policy under the Ministry of Health.”
Wells advised the following for individuals who quarantine or isolate at home: “One designated caregiver assigned to assist the quarantined individual; supply of food and medication on hand; a thermometer handy; access to a telephone; and a bag packed with clothes, medications and other personal
effects in the event that one needs to be relocated to a facility”.
He said: “If you are uncertain of your risk of being a contact of a COVID-19 positive individual, be proactive: inform your family that there was exposure or potential exposure at your work; monitor yourself daily for symptoms; continue adhering to the preventative measures; and limit your movements inside and outside of your household.”
“If you are certain that you were in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, and you do not receive a call from Surveillance within 48 hours, please contact the unit at 502-7382 (9am – 5pm); 376-9350 (8am – 8pm); 376-9387 (8pm – 8am).
“These numbers replace the now defunct 511,” he said.