By FARRAH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
FORMER Health Minister Dr Duane Sands says while Princess Margaret Hospital is capable of handling the recent increase of COVID cases, the situation could potentially cause “implications and repercussions” for patients and staff of the medical facility.
With the total number of COVID-19 cases now exceeding the 10,000 mark, health officials say the country is now facing its third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
When The Tribune spoke to Dr Sands yesterday about the impact the most recent surge could have on the country’s public health facility, he admitted it was a “challenge for any health system to cope with the current issues of COVID,” but said he still believed PMH could handle the uptick in newly confirmed cases.
“Yes, it can handle it, but it will handle it with implications and repercussions,” he said. “So, there will probably be a reduction in non-emergency cases and there will probably be no room in the inn for certain types of cases.
“Bear in mind that The Bahamas suffers from a health demographic which is most unfortunate (with) a lot of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and we are the poster child for ill health. So, when you have a chronically ill society and you now add an additional challenge, the health system has difficulty meeting that challenge.”
For most of last week, the country recorded more than 50 new cases a day, which Dr Sands said is “unsustainable in terms of the impact”.
According to the latest information from the Ministry of Health, there were 49 cases in hospital. Of this figure, 15 were at PMH, 18 were at Doctors Hospital, six were at the South Beach Acute Care and Referral Centre, and 10 were at Grand Bahama Health Services.
Dr Sands said since those patients “have to be cared for”, it means the people treating them “are not available to take care of other people”.
When asked how close he believed the healthcare institution was to being overwhelmed, Dr Sands said that health officials were “starting from a baseline of a nursing shortage” due to nurses retiring and transferring out of the system.
“We have lost an incredible number of nurses over the last 12 months who have gone on to other posts in developed countries and that has exacerbated the nursing shortage in The Bahamas,” he said.
“And when you add to that nurses that have had to leave work because they are quarantined (and) physicians that have had to leave work because they’re quarantined, we’ve seen this movie before and I’m afraid we didn’t learn all that we ought to have learned from it.”
He said despite the increase of COVID cases, the public as a collective does not appear to be “as concerned as they needed to be” with curbing the spread of the virus since there were still many people violating the health and safety protocols.
“I just drove by several places and saw many, many people congregating without masks right up on top of each other, ‘tight up’ as we say, and the implications for that, particularly with a surge in COVID, will unfortunately be devastating and deadly... I hope and pray that (things) don’t get worse, but looking at the trend this is a horribly worrisome trend and I fear that things might indeed get worse before they get better and considerably worse.”
Dr Sands said in view of this fact, it was “critically important” for everyone to understand they needed to abide by the Emergency Orders by wearing their masks, sanitising their hands and practising social distancing in their interactions regardless of whether they received the vaccine or not.
He said it was also crucial to be mindful of the new strains of the virus since some of the COVID-19 variants recently discovered have “wreaked havoc around the world”.
“Just look at what’s happening in India, what happened in the UK, what’s happening in the United States and so any country that is looking at any surge in its COVID cases, has to be concerned about variants because the variants now may elude, to some degree, even the vaccinations that are available,” Dr Sands explained.
“While that is not an absolute phenomenon it’s a relative phenomenon and so we have to move very aggressively, we can’t’ let our guard down, we cannot take our eyes off the prize and that is that even though we may be tired of COVID, sick and tired of wearing masks, sick and tired of not being able to interact freely, this surge is not going anywhere and as a matter of fact, it’s back.”