By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
THE positivity rate of COVID-19 on Cat Island is staggeringly high and residents there say a government mishap with test results is proving to be a costly mistake, one that setting the local economy back just as things were starting to improve.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced a lockdown of the island on Sunday along with a lockdown of Andros. The lockdown took effect at 8pm yesterday.
Government officials have not explained the origins of the latest outbreak on Cat Island, but residents are certain it stems from an incident in which several people were told they tested negative for COVID-19 and were allowed out of quarantine only to later find that they had tested positive.
Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip “Brave” Davis referenced the incident in a statement last week.
“They drop the ball when they made the mistake of sending persons in the community who were positive out of quarantine then coming back and saying something different,” said Melanie Rahming, a restaurant owner on the island, yesterday. “Had they kept those people under quarantine we would’ve kept this under control. Now I honestly don’t know what to expect. We were doing good before this.”
Margaret Cleare, 70, owner of the Orange Creek Inn, the Orange Creek Food Store and the Orange Creek LP Gas on Cat Island, said the outbreak started when several residents returned from Harbour Island some weeks ago.
“I have a friend, she was on lockdown because she was exposed to somebody,” she said yesterday. “These people went out there to Harbour Island on a charter for a party. Just about all of them that went out tested positive, at least three or four of them.”
Mrs Cleare recalled a conversation with the island’s doctor. She said he doubted the initial negative test result that the people received.
“The doctor was at my shop and told me something was wrong with those results,” she said. “From then we’ve been flying out people. I think that was a tragedy. How many labs are testing these people that they could get these results mixed up? Are these people overworked or short-staffed? What’s going on?”
Mrs Cleare said despite the mishap, the two-week lockdown Dr Minnis announced on Sunday is necessary.
The lockdown comes after Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, special advisor to Dr Minnis, noted that Cat Island has a COVID-19 positivity rate of 58 percent, far above the global directive to keep the rate below five percent.
“It’s necessary,” Mrs Cleare said of the lockdown. “We had seven or eight people flown out of here on an emergency flight. I’m in Orange Creek. In Arthur’s Town, we have about 20 people in quarantine. I don’t know the exact numbers how many tested positive but I know at least four that have test positive and within a community like this, we have no proper medical facilities. We got one doctor and I know you have some idea of how long this island is. When this doctor has to be called to Orange Creek and then to Old Bight Clinic, you know what that’s doing to that gentleman? No one’s taking that into consideration. Then these people on top of that have parties. Right now I am listening for this thing to get worse because you are looking for what, two-week lockdown? Yesterday would have been one week since this big party they threw in Arthur’s Town.”
Mrs Cleare said the party in question had free food and rum. Residents like her are now bracing for an even greater increase in COVID-19 cases because the party was well-attended.
“You have BPL, BPL’s staff is highly challenged,” she said. “They have about four to five persons, one of them is in hospital in Doctors Hospital, one had to be airlifted to Doctors.”
A BPL official said yesterday that in cases where COVID-19 impacts staff on Family Islands, employees are sent from other islands to ensure continuity of operations.
Mrs Cleare said some residents have not been quarantining like they are supposed to, making the lockdown necessary.
As for her businesses, she said the lockdown will hurt.
“I had a gentleman in the hotel who left this morning because that’s the last flight out,” she said. “I had people coming Thursday, now it’s lockdown they aren’t coming in. I have a food store but because it’s a holiday, the boat won’t land until Thursday. By the time I get my stuff, I’m not going to get much sales on Thursday. When other stores open on Saturday, I’m closed because I’m an Adventist. I asked for permission to open on Sunday and I was told no. Lots of revenue will be lost over the next two weeks.”
For his part, Mr Davis, in a statement, accused the government of not testing enough to control outbreaks across the country. He said the lockdown for Cat Island and Andros will cause hardship to residents.
“The lockdowns are a response to outbreaks that began earlier this month—outbreaks that could have and should have been stopped with testing, contact tracing and the isolation of positive cases,” Mr Davis said.
He also said: “They have had 17 months to grasp how crucial a tool testing is in controlling the spread of the virus and may months of warning about the more transmissible variants that are not in circulation.”
Mr Davis, who represents Cat Island, said his party offered free testing for residents before the lockdown began and will turn the results over to the Ministry of Health.
According to the 2010 Census, Cat Island has a population of about 1,500 people.