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Acting CMO defends mask mandate for classrooms

Acting Chief Medical Officer Phillip Swann yesterday defended the Ministry of Heath’s decision to keep the mask mandate in place for students in the classroom.

“There are no other settings where individuals are in such close proximity for multiple fixed periods of time, 60 to 90 minutes a day,” he said during the weekly press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister.

“The vaccination levels among school aged children are among the lowest, I would say sub-optimal, they are just the lowest. The same can be said for the groups that work with them.

“There are some challenges with parents adhering to protocols with taking children for testing when they present with symptoms of an influenza like illness.”

Swann noted that students are not required to wear masks outside the classroom.

“There still remains a pathway for schools to access an exception to the mask mandate as outlined in the Health Services Rules,” he noted.

On Saturday, the mask mandate will be lifted except in the classrooms, healthcare centers and facilities for the elderly.

“It has been widely planned and shared that the adherence to the mask mandate is less than acceptable with the Royal Bahamas Police Force not being able to enforce it uniformly or equitably across the various sectors,” he said.

“Despite this, we note that there have been no increase in COVID-19 reported and hospitalizations also remain low and vaccination campaigns have not had the expected result, despite the funds expended, the research and human behavior undertaken and the varying approaches to increase uptake.

“The determination was taken to relax the wearing of masks in some settings with the understanding that if there is a need to reinstitute the measure the recommendations to do so will return.”

As of September 27, there have been 37,290 reported cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Twenty-eight people were in hospital and there were 138 active cases.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness reported a total of 833 COVID deaths.

As of September 24, a total of 172,598 people were fully vaccinated in the country.

“We do remain concerned about the rate of vaccination …,” Swann said.

He said the numbers of newly vaccinated individuals are trending between 150 and 200 over the past three reporting periods.

“The public is reminded that though the number of reported cases are not alarming, we are still in a declared pandemic,” he said.

“People are still contracting COVID-19 infections and in some cases dying from it. Those who are hospitalized and die tend to be in the main unvaccinated.”