By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
INFECTIOUS disease expert Dr Nikkiah Forbes says The Bahamas could have already had more than 100 cases of COVID-19 in late March when only a few infections had been officially confirmed.
The Tribune reported yesterday how the true number of COVID-19 cases in The Bahamas is estimated to be many times higher than the confirmed tally, according to three international groups that have created epidemiological models of the virus.
The models of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), the Imperial College London (ICL) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) offer different estimates but reach the same conclusion: the number of COVID-19 cases in the Bahamas far exceeds the confirmed number of cases.
ICL and IHME researchers estimate that on March 22, a day when the country had confirmed just four cases of the virus, there were about 453 or 118 cases.
Asked if she believes the country could have had more than 100 cases by that time, Dr Forbes said cases “could have been that high”.
“I could certainly tell you that the number of diagnoses were less than the number of cases,” she said.
“If we accept that testing capacity was not what it is today, then if testing was more extensive we may have had more confirmed cases. The fact of the matter is confirmed COVID-19 cases everywhere, including in The Bahamas, are always lower than the actual number of cases, always. That could only be the case when you consider that some people are asymptomatic and may not have had a test. We have to look at it like that.”
Nonetheless, Dr Forbes said international models can offer flawed analysis for small countries.
“What we have to remember is that small populations, they’re not always the best fit for the models,” she said. “This is something we see with other diseases. But here is the thing. I absolutely agree, we have to remember that the testing capacity was not what it is today and that testing was prioritised for the sickest symptomatic people in March and so, without a doubt the numbers then would have to be an underestimate. Do the models fit? That remains to be seen. Models aren’t built for small populations usually.”
On Wednesday, Health Minister Renward Wells defended the country’s response to the health crisis, insisting that testing has increased “dramatically” in recent months.
“Mr Speaker, we went from being able to do some nearly 300 tests in the country in July to being able to do almost 1,000 tests a day in the country,” he stressed in Parliament on Wednesday. “As a matter of fact, about three days ago when we had 151 cases – that was as a result of 900 tests in one day. That’s on the testing side.”
More than 20,000 tests have been completed as of September 30. At the end of April, just over 1,200 tests had been completed, according to the Ministry of Health.