By LEANDRA ROLLE and DENISE MAYCOCK
HEALTH officials are awaiting test results to determine if a Bimini woman who died Monday night after an emergency medical flight to Nassau had COVID-19.
According to relatives, she is Kim Johnson-Rolle, 57, the sister of Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson. Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said the woman had suspected COVID-19 symptoms, but until test results come back, it is not confirmed she had the disease.
The news came hours before the Ministry of Health reported an additional COVID-19 case in Grand Bahama, bringing the national total to 15.
There are now three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Grand Bahama and 12 confirmed cases in New Providence. The latest confirmed case is a 57-year-old female with no history of travel and no known direct link to previous cases. She is in hospital in stable condition.
Speaking about the Bimini woman’s death yesterday, Dr Sands, said she had shortness of breath and a recent travel history.
“This is a very unfortunate case, yes there was a patient airlifted from Bimini,” he said before heading into a Cabinet meeting. “She had shortness of breath and a travel history… We can confirm there was significant clinical suspicion of COVID.”
Stressing he could not confirm her COVID-19 status, Dr Sands said officials would have to wait on test results to determine whether she had tested positive for highly infectious disease.
“We do not know her COVID status at this point. She has been tested because there were clinical signs suggestive of COVID, but we do not know those results at this point,” he said.
“We would notify the public as we always do… after we have met to discuss the results of the day’s findings.”
When asked if this case could be the country’s first COVID-19 death, Dr Sands said it was a possibility.
“It could be, and I think we have to be very clear about that, we do not yet know. When we do get the test results, we will advise the family members and the public,” he said.
According to a relative, Mrs Johnson-Rolle travelled to Florida two weeks ago. The relative said she complained of having chest pains early this week and went to the Bimini clinic.
The family was informed Mrs Johnson-Rolle was having issues with oxygen intake and would need to be airlifted to Nassau for further medical treatment.
A plane was secured for her on Monday and she was accompanied by a medical team but died en route to Nassau, the relative said.
“We were told that her heart stopped and they tried to revive her,” said Mrs Johnson-Rolle’s brother-in-law, businessman Lloyd Edgecombe, who said her death is “a blow to the entire family”.
Mrs Johnson-Rolle owned a restaurant/deli and was very well-known in the Bimini community. Mr Edgecombe said the death of his wife’s sister is very difficult for them to come to terms with as she was a “healthy” individual who loved to work. Mrs Johnson-Rolle’s brother-in-law is frustrated with speculation about her cause of death on social media. He believes she had a heart attack.
“She was a regular person who experienced a heart attack on the way to Nassau. No test was run on her; she never made it to Nassau, she died on the plane,” said Mr Edgecombe.
When asked whether his sister-in-law had travelled recently, he said that she went to Miami on March 18 with her grandchildren for a medical check-up.
According to Mr Edgecombe, his sister-in-law was a “healthy” person and relatives are shocked over her sudden passing.
“She was strong and healthy, and loved to get up early every day to go to work,” he said. “My wife and her sister were close and would talk all the time and travel together, so this is very difficult for us,” he said.
Mrs Johnson-Rolle also leaves behind a disabled husband, who is paralyzed and was dependent on her.
The incident has raised concerns about the Family Islands’ capacity to treat suspected COVID-19 patients.
However, Dr Sands was very clear that “every effort” was made by officials to get Mrs Johnson-Rolle the required medical care.
He said: “There are no specific medications for COVID-19 and she did not have a diagnosis of COVID. I’ve had questions asked about the availability of ventilators on the Family Islands.
“(But) it’s very important to understand that a ventilator in the wrong hands is a dangerous tool and a ventilator, if you put a breathing tube in somebody’s airway, COVID, which is ordinarily spread through droplet will become aerosolised and you have the (possibility) of infecting or contaminating everybody in the room.”
He continued: “We do not have intensive care units in Acklins, Crooked Island, Bimini, Long Island etc, nor are we likely in the foreseeable future to have intensive care units (there).
“So, as we look seriously at the rollout of our national response to COVID, I think we have to be honest, I think we have to be direct with the Bahamian public to help them understand the implications.”
“This is not about machines. This is about the holistic ability to provide competent, intensive care support to critically care patients and that could only be done in Grand Bahama and Nassau.”
Still, Dr Sands said health officials are working out ways to hasten the process where Family Island residents who are in need of medical attention can be transported to the capital faster.
“We have been working on this for many weeks now and there were exigencies about this particular situation that we have not overcome for some 24 hours. As a matter of fact, I want to say thank to the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, who ultimately would’ve scrambled vessels and aircraft to bring this patient ultimately here.”
Noting that the country is already seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases, Dr Sands said it’s important for everyone to adhere to guidelines “to minimise the number of people affected” in the country.
According to the latest Ministry of Health COVID-19 dashboard, more than 200 persons are currently under quarantine.
Speaking on the increase of persons in quarantine, Dr Sands said: “What we have been seeking to do is validate and verify the numbers. We have modified the dashboard a number of times.
“…We wanted to validate the numbers of how many people are in government quarantine facilities and how many are being isolated that we’re following. We think that that is as transparent as we can be but we had to verify and validate those numbers. And so moving forward, the numbers that you see there should be an accurate reflection of what is going on in the Bahamas.”
Asked why there are no recovered cases on the dashboard, Dr Sands replied: “The definition of recovered required a series of negative COVID tests done over a period of time.”
He added: “So, even though patient number one is recovering and according to lay talk, they may be recovered. (But) when we report to our international public health agencies, we need to make sure that our definition of recovered is in line with the international definitions.
“When that happens and we’ve gotten a series of negative molecular RTPCR COVID tests, we will be pleased to report that that patient and subsequent others have recovered.”
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