By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
THE Bahamas is still not testing enough people to make the best decisions about re-opening the country from the COVID-19 lockdown, Senator and former Cabinet minister Dr Michael Darville said yesterday.
Some experts have set testing targets that places should aim for to make reliable decisions about reopening.
The government of the United Kingdom set a goal of 100,000 tests per day by the end of April, a figure it has failed to reach. In the United States, Texas set a goal of 30,000 tests per day and Illinois set a benchmark of 10,000. In Ontario, Canada, officials have targeted 16,000.
The basis of targets varies but the figures reflect population sizes and known facts about the penetration of COVID-19 in communities. Some experts say testing at least at targeted rates gives a reliable picture of the virus’ spread.
The Bahamas is currently testing about 34 people per day and up to May 9, had conducted 1,587 tests overall.
Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, coordinator of the COVID-19 response, did not reveal whether her team has a daily testing goal when asked during a press conference about the matter last week but said the country’s current testing rate is adequate.
“The 1,539 tests to date certainly gives us comfort,” she said on Thursday. “We’ve also interacted with the lab and they are able to conduct 100 tests on a daily basis if they run for 24-hours so I think we are in a good place in terms of our capacity to respond and should there be more cases we are in a good position at this time, but we continually monitor the situation.”
However, Dr Darville, the co-chair of the Progressive Liberal Party’s COVID-19 task force, disagrees.
“We have already outlined the necessity for more testing,” he said yesterday. “Based on the rate of the testing we feel it is not moving fast enough and we need to start moving at a more rapid pace so we can reach a sampling of one percent of the population, hopefully reaching 10 percent of our population for us to understand how the virus is impacting us and where it is in our communities and the necessary protocols we have to put in place as we begin to open up the economy.”
In the last two weeks, the Bahamas has seen a drop in confirmed COVID-19 cases, but absent more testing, Dr Darville said it is unclear how much confidence people should take from the decline even as the country gradually relaxes COVID-19 restrictions.
To date, the Bahamas has conducted about four tests per 1,000 people, more than a number of countries in the Caribbean region.
However other islands have tested even more. The Cayman Islands, which bought 200,000 PCR test kits from South Korea last month, has tested about 48 per 1,000 people and Barbados, which bought tests from the Cayman Islands, has tested about nine per 1,000 people.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Delon Brennen said last week the Bahamas had arranged to get tests from the Cayman Islands, though he could not say how many. Last month Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said tests remain limited in the country.