By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
IT is only a matter of time before The Bahamas identifies its first case of the coronavirus, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said yesterday.
After the World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 a pandemic, he said this country has moved beyond focusing on preventing the virus and instead to focusing on identification, isolation and control. Recognising that healthcare workers are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, Dr Sands said the government will increase the death benefit of healthcare workers by 500 percent––an additional $50,000 or so.
He also revealed that staff of the Fleming Street Clinic evacuated the facility yesterday when someone suggested a patient had contracted the virus. Expressing frustration with fake news, he said the person who made the remark––a suspected clinic employee––will be fired if found.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said officials will monitor price gouging amid reports that prices of hand sanitizers have exploded in recent days.
“If we detect any (price gouging), we’ll deal with it appropriately, but we will not tolerate it, absolutely not,” he told reporters after touring the New Providence Ecology Park.
The comments all came as Bahamians ramped up preparations for a disease that has already burdened healthcare systems of countries experiencing outbreaks.
The University of the Bahamas cancelled a coronavirus meeting as a cautionary measure against large meetings and encouraged faculty to use online applications to deliver content and communicate with students. Dr Minnis activated a National Coordination Committee comprising government officials and representatives from health, finance, tourism and education sectors. Meanwhile, items like paper towels, disinfectant sprays, water and hand sanitizers continued to fly off shelves across stores in the country.
Dr Sands, speaking to nurses at the Ministry of Health on Meeting Street, said: “Jamaica confirmed they have a case, St Bart’s got a case, Dominican Republic got a case, so…I’m not speaking negatively about my country but I am saying that it’s just a matter of time before we get the first case. With the declaration of a pandemic now, our focus changes from trying to prevent importation to identification, isolation and control.”
On the death benefit increase for healthcare workers, Dr Sands said: “Some might say that’s not enough, but the challenge is we have to be able to promise something we can deliver. The expectation is, given the collapsing (US) stock market, cruise ships having problems, airlines having problems, this is going to be a major financial hit to The Bahamas and nobody is going to come to rescue us other than us.”
Dr Sands said there is a need for healthcare workers to volunteer to deal with COVID-19 patients. It was suggested during the meeting that insufficient nurses have been volunteering. One nurse admonished her colleagues to volunteer for the service.
“There is no way that we as this small unit can stretch ourselves as the front-line, middle-line and the back-line, we really need our colleagues,” she said. “It could be by mother, your mother, your aunt, your sister’s name on the beds. Some of us, we’re not just coworkers, we’re family. There’s no way we can sit down and say ‘I’m not touching this patient because of XYZ.’ We knew when we got into this profession what we’re getting into.”
Another nurse complained that there is difficulty identifying an isolation area at Carmichael Road Detention Centre for potential CVOID-19 patients.
“I think,” Dr Sands responded, “you have a peculiar and unique challenge because the Detention Centre has a serious challenge with TB and managing patients with TB. The fact that you don’t have an isolation area is unacceptable…Let’s deal with the issue of the Detention Centre off-line please…”
Videos circulated yesterday of anxious people standing outside the Fleming Street Clinic amid a false claim that someone who showed up with the coronavirus.
Dr Sands said: “Somebody would’ve said this person could have that thing and before we know it, the entire staff break off running. Next thing I know, we got videos on social media, Facebook. I ask you, suppose it was my HIV status, or your pregnancy status or gonorrhea or syphilis or whatever. I think we need to understand that no matter what, patient confidentiality even in this era has to be maintained. If I ever found out who it was that created that fear, I will see to it that you are fired. I don’t think that there is any justification for violating patient confidentiality at any time. If you are afraid, call and say ‘I don’t think I can do this,’ but to abandon a patient, to leave a patient, is a violation of the oath that we take. I understand fear but fear that is misguided is inappropriate.”
Dr Sands said officials are still trying to determine how many ventilators, oxygen tanks and other key materials are in the country. He said the country has about 400 diagnostic tests right now and has just ordered 500 more.
He added he does not believe the coronavirus will be an “Armageddon scenario” leading to millions of deaths around the world.
“There will be thousands of deaths, many thousands of infections…but if we work together as health professionals I believe that we can protect our population, protect our country and move on, but we cannot unless everyone buys into that,” he said.
Meanwhile, Robert Sands, Baha Mar senior vice president, discussed with The Tribune the impact the coronavirus is having on the resort’s business.
He said the resort has seen a slight decrease in advanced bookings and increasing inquiries about its coronavirus protocols.
He said spring break and Easter bookings remain strong.