Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands. (File photo)
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
ABOUT 100 healthcare workers are in self-isolation after they were exposed to a patient with COVID-19 on Princess Margaret Hospital’s surgical ward, prompting Health Minister Dr Duane Sands to say yesterday the country won’t be ready to lift the lockdown and movement restrictions anytime soon.
A surgical ward patient on Sunday became a confirmed COVID-19 case, prompting the closure of PMH’s Medical Surgical Ward II.
At least three patients on that ward have since been confirmed to have the virus.
“This has made a serious dent, a massive blow to the provision of healthcare services,” Dr Sands said before a Cabinet meeting yesterday.
“It speaks to the challenge. We’re not there yet. I know people want to break out of isolation and out of quarantine and come out of lockdown. We are not there yet. We’re not going to be there anytime soon and I need people to understand that as much as you’re tired, as much as you’ve had enough of this, we’re not there yet. These healthcare professionals find themselves on the battlefield and potentially exposed and so now they are out for 14 days.”
Their isolation “has made a serious impact on the delivery of health services,” he said, adding: “This patient was not suspected to have COVID and was there for an entirely different reason. There was, even in retrospect, very little reason to suspect that this patient should have had COVID.”
Dr Sands said the country does not have the luxury of testing every person who attends a hospital, revealing a shortage of swabs will also impact the ability to increase testing in a widespread way.
He said: “If you say every single person who comes to the hospital should be tested, bear in mind we see 50,000 people through Accident and Emergency every year…if you say now that we are going to test all of them, that’s 136 tests per day. (Say a) patient comes in with a gunshot wound, are you going to do a test before you take care of that patient? (That’s) not practical. (Say) somebody comes in with a heart attack, are you going to test before you manage that patient?
“What we need to recognise is that there are limitations to testing, even as we ramp up and there are limitations to ramping up because around the world there is a challenge to getting the basic swabs, the supply chain for that simple device cannot be sourced anywhere in the world. It is not a Q-Tip, it is a special type of swab and so we have the kits, we have the reagents, we have the labs, we have the machines, but nobody has the swabs. We have a few hundred right now and we hope to get another 500 today but before we go ramping up to do 200 tests a day we need to look at what’s going to happen down the road, three days from now, four days from now. It is a balancing act and even as we ramp up we have to ramp up deliberately and carefully.”
Dr Sands bemoaned the impact that large gatherings can have on the fight against COVID-19, pointing to the crowd of hotel union members who assembled on Tonique Williams Darling Highway on Monday as an example of what the country cannot afford.
“Events like (what happened on Monday) where we had thousands or hundreds of people congregating in a space, (are) not a good idea and if we are going to do things like that again let’s plan it a bit better, let’s use technology, maybe we can avoid watching the numbers climb.”
Dr Sands was pressed on the wisdom of reopening some businesses even as health officials plead for people to stay home. On Sunday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis identified several businesses that will be open on specific days.
“One of the things we want to do is make the assumptions that people will be responsible,” Dr Sands said, “that having gone through this now for a month that we are getting it, and the majority of Bahamians have gotten it…that five percent, that seven percent who are in lines will be a challenge.”