By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced a two-week lockdown of Bimini yesterday after two new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on the island, bringing the total there to 13 and the country’s total to 96.
Though they concede drastic action may be needed to prevent further spread of COVID-19 on their island, some Bimini residents are concerned officials waited too long to comprehensively address their outbreak and fear provisions for the lockdown may be inadequate. They are also calling for widespread testing.
After Dr Minnis’ announcement yesterday, more than 200 people flocked to the Administrator’s Office on the island to get $100 food vouchers, highlighting the scale of needs in the community.
Dr Minnis said the lockdown is necessary and that it will begin at 9pm on Monday and end on May 30 at midnight. The Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and a clinic for emergency services will be allowed to operate during the lockdown. The island administrator will be permitted to distribute food or water, healthcare workers will be allowed to conduct home visits to provide medical or therapeutic care and a public healthcare worker may attend the clinic to treat patients in need of urgent medical care.
From April 29 to May 2 the surveillance team of the Ministry of Health visited Bimini to provide educational support for medical personnel, assist in finding contacts of confirmed cases, assess a quarantine facility, help enforce infection prevention, conduct testing and host a virtual town hall meeting, according to Dr Minnis. He said 102 people on Bimini have been swabbed for COVID-19 to date.
Kim Johnson-Rolle, a Bimini resident who visited Florida weeks before her death, was the first person in the country known to die from COVID-19. Almost all of the confirmed cases on the island are people who attended the same church she did, Gateways Ministries, which hosted a crowded funeral not long before she died.
After her death, her contacts, many close family members, were told to quarantine. However, it would be weeks before most of them were tested for the virus.
Brenda Edgecombe, Mrs Johnson-Rolle’s sister, tested positive for COVID-19 four weeks after her sister’s death and two weeks after her own initial quarantine period ended, despite showing no symptoms of the virus. Tomorrow will be 21 days since she has been in isolation for the second time.
Her experience has her questioning the logic of the two week lockdown announced yesterday. “I’m not sure what this will accomplish,” Ms Edgecombe said. “Where are we going after two weeks when you come out again? I think a better idea would be for them to just do more testing because it seems there are just a lot of asymptomatic people out there and they will still be around after two weeks.”
Anita Harris supports a two-week lockdown but said after Mrs Johnson-Rolle’s death, a group of residents wrote letters to government officials calling for greater testing and enforcement of quarantine measures on Bimini. Their pleas went unheeded, she said.
“This is a bit late. When they had the death on the 30th of March, they waited until weeks later to do testing. I strongly believe that had they acted when Kim died and sent people here to conduct comprehensive testing, this spread would not have been where it is now. Even people who were exposed, some were allowed to be in self-isolation at their home and I myself have seen them on the street.
“I went to the ATM machine to get some money and I saw a girl who is supposed to be in quarantine because her whole family tested positive for the virus, and she was in line with me at the ATM. I want to send a message to the government to get serious about Bimini because they are now trying to put a bandaid on the problem but they are too late,” Ms Harris said.
Yesterday, Dr Minnis said the central government is coordinating with Bimini officials to distribute food and water on the island.
“The National Food Committee and Department of Social Services are making arrangements to ensure that the food needs will be met before and during the lockdown,” he said. “I assure the residents of Bimini that there will be sufficient food and medicine for everyone on that island. Additional support, security and enforcement of the lockdown will be provided by the Royal Bahamas Police Force. Various measures are being taken to ensure the safety of various essential workers on the island, including the use of PPEs.”
A two-week lockdown, however, will be more than twice the length of any lockdown experienced anywhere in the country to date. In April, there was a five-day national lockdown and subsequent lockdowns each weekend.
Partrisa Saunders said the unprecedented nature of the lockdown makes it difficult to feel confident that people will have all the supplies they need by Monday. After Dr Minnis’ announcement, she said her street exploded with unusual traffic, the sounds of people getting ready for the lockdown. She said many of the people were headed to the Administrator’s Office to get food vouchers.
“Some persons cannot afford this two-week lockdown because they haven’t worked in about eight weeks,” she said. “A lot of people don’t have food and the government at the Administrator’s Office, I think are giving out $100 vouchers and that is not sufficient money because the cost of living is too high.
“We’ve never been in this position before so I can’t say we can take confidence in (what the prime minister said). What is the amount the government is going to give? Will it meet the needs of everyone, are they going to provide each home with food, or just a selected few? Is it going to be enough supplies for two weeks because two weeks is a long time. You have single mothers here with no help and no jobs. How will they know what each home needs what or how many people are in a home at a particular time?”
Bimini Administrator Cleola Pinder said there is no need for people to panic.
“Nobody needs to feel alone. Everyone will have some food in their homes,” she said. “People have grown accustomed to having three meals a day, now we have to cut back and just ration.”
Mrs Pinder said so many people showed up for vouchers yesterday that she grew concerned, saying: “I said we’re not practising social distancing.”
When she spoke to The Tribune shortly before 4.30pm, she said about 100 people had been given vouchers and another 100 were left to go. Stores on the island have about two to three weeks of supplies, she said, though the mail boat, which brings fresh produce and other key items, has been delayed because of bad weather.
“One challenge we’re having is since the economy has been impacted by the pandemic a number of families are living together,” she said. “You may have up to 13, 15 people in one home. Children have moved back home, bringing their children. We’re trying to help them out as best as we can.”