By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
A PAN American Health Organisation official has attributed the alarming number of COVID-19 cases in The Bahamas to the opening of borders allowing non-essential travel and citizens visiting destinations where the virus has skyrocketed.
Dr Sylvain Aldighieri, PAHO Deputy Director, answered media questions yesterday during PAHO’s virtual press briefing on COVID-19.
While he commended as vital in the fight against the spread of the disease The Bahamas’ COVID-19 Contact Tracing Task Force, Dr Aldighieri highlighted this country’s heightened cases over the last several days.
The Bahamas recorded 371 cases of COVID-19 from August 1 to August 10.
“… We cannot say that the increase in the number of cases is due to the increase of testing,” Dr Aldighieri said. “We would more favour as it relates with the resuming of non-essential travels and travel to countries that have very high rates of transmission of the virus at the moment.
“We are working very closely with The Bahamas regarding the strengthening and the expansion of the government surveillance network. I would like to flag the importance of the strengthening of contact tracing activities and to highlight the implementation in The Bahamas of the contract tracing strike force which is very important for controlling the amount of cases reported.”
Asked about the effectiveness of lockdowns in the second wave of COVID cases in The Bahamas, Dr Aldighieri said: “The lockdown which was already effective in Grand Bahama has been extended to all islands and the common sense thing is that we have to wait a bit before making conclusions regarding the outcome of this very strong measure.”
The Director of PAHO, Dr Carissa Etienne, the main speaker at the PAHO conference had a strong message for young people in the region saying they are at risk of all aspects of COVID-19 including death.
“Indeed it is important to know that young people are not immune to COVID-19,” Dr Etienne said. “Young people, do not have special powers against COVID-19. They are also at risk for severe sickness, hospitalisation and even death. As of July we have recorded more than 200,000 confirmed and probably COVID-19 infections in adolescents in all regions. More than 10,000 hospitalisations and more than 200 deaths. So not only can young people contract the virus, but even when asymptomatic, they can spread COVID-19 to family members and friends who may be more vulnerable.
“We recognise that youths and adolescents throughout the region are disproportionately affected by a whole range of health issues like violence and suicides and road traffic accidents and substance abuse. Taking care of the mental health of young people during the pandemic is critical, particularly in a region where suicide is the third leading cause of death among adults and youth after homicides and traffic fatalities. So let’s be clear. Suicide is preventable and COVID-19 is also preventable, too.”
Sympathetic towards the regional youth, Dr Etienne said they are impacted differently by COVID-19 precautionary measures.
“We recognise that young people are affected by the pandemic in a unique way. And, they struggle and are impacted differently by prevention measures such as physical distancing and school closures. But we are living in extraordinary circumstances and now more than ever, we need all hands on deck to get through this difficult time in our history. We need the energy and innovation of young people to help us all through these challenging times.
“So to all young people, let me say that at PAHO, we want to encourage you to become engaged in your own health and that of those around you. Follow prevention measures like regular handwashing and physical distancing. Assist or aid a family member or neighbour and support community actions to help that those who are struggling around you have the support that they need.”
Dr. Etienne said young people are a tremendous force for change in the fight against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.