By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
A FUN getaway to Moore’s Island for the Independence holiday weekend is now a regret for Valencia Francis after the Berry Islands resident contracted COVID-19 and subsequently infected her 79-year-old mother.
The annual event she attended became a breeding ground for one of the country’s latest COVID-19 clusters, spawning at least six Berry Islands cases and three Moore’s Island cases––jolting residents in the Berry Islands where some had begun to think they were safe from COVID-19.
“My mother is not into partying and the fast lifestyle and she got COVID because of me,” Ms Francis told The Tribune yesterday.
“That’s my only regret and that’s what makes this so tough.”
Fortunately, she and her mother are coping with the virus and do not have serious symptoms. But she said even under normal circumstances their island has inadequate healthcare services, forcing worries about what happens if their health suddenly deteriorates.
“It’s kinda scary to think about what happens if we decline,” she said. “I’ve lived here all my life and I know once things get real bad you have to get airlifted out.”
Ms Francis hasn’t missed the annual Moore’s Island event since she was 17. As many as 500 people attended this year’s event, she said, including she and 25 others who left the Berry Islands on July 10 aboard two boats. Social distancing protocols were ignored as people partied , she said. Although Berry Islands residents planned to return home on July 11, the weather kept them on the island until July 13.
“I wasn’t really sick when I got back,” she said. “I had a little cough and I went to the clinic for the cough and they tested me. We waited for about three days and it came back positive. I was kinda sad because I live at home with my 79-year-old mother and she also tested positive. We are really close-knit and I knew it was because of me.”
During a Ministry of Health press conference on Friday, Chief Medical Officer Dr Pearl McMillan said: “We believe, based on our history taking, that 26 persons from Berry Islands went into Moore’s Island on the July 10 holiday and I’m sure they enjoyed themselves, but this is a result of we believe in our contact tracing we learned that there was a socialising event where there was contact between persons from other islands that we know have multiple cases, i.e. Grand Bahama. So they went back home to the Berry Islands and began having symptoms and we have six active cases. So movement across our islands, it has risk at this time, particularly out of islands that we know have active transmission.”
Ms Francis said the episode has taught her and others a valuable lesson, one she hopes all Bahamians learn.
“My thing with the whole inter-island travel thing is I’m a Bahamian. Bahamians have a problem with listening. You could go wherever you want to go and do whatever you want to do but the smart thing is if you were to Moore’s island, go and get tested. People think once it’s not in a particular place they don’t feel a need to do the social distancing. But after what’s happened the past week or two, that mindset has changed.”
Indeed, Kelvin Pinder, another Berry Islands resident, said many residents there thought the virus was a hoax.
“Most people believed that because they haven’t seen anyone with it, it must be a hoax,” he said. “A lot of people thought the government was just using it as a ploy to lock people down. Now that it’s on their doorstep I think people are taking it more seriously because these are people they know personally who are affected.”
He said some Berry Islands residents are angry at those who traveled to Moore’s Island.
“We were focused on tourists and homeowners from the States, thinking they would be the ones to bring it here and it really was kind of disappointing that our own brought it here to the island.”
He said he hopes residents take social distancing rules more seriously now that the virus is on their island, noting that they ignored lockdown rules the last time COVID-19 cases surged in the country.
“There was very little consideration of social distancing rules on the Berry Islands,” he said. “During the previous lockdown persons here were having block parties. You had people coming down here to campaign and were involved in these parties. No one was supposed to be doing that. The police were called in a few times to disrupt the flow of those gatherings.”