With Hurricane Isaias making its way through the Bahamas chain, residents who may not feel safe in their flood-prone homes are being advised to first seek shelter with host families and only go to a shelter if they need to.
"If you find there is nobody to host you then you need to report to one of the shelters so that you and your family can be safe," Lillian Quant-Forbes, the director of social services, said Friday.
The advice comes as the country is experiencing a surge in coronavirus infections.
During a joint press conference Friday with health and emergency management officials, newly appointed Health Minister Renward Wells confirmed that the country is experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 infections, which has now spread beyond the island of New Providence, where the capital of Nassau is located, to several of the family islands.
"The statistics confirm that the Bahamas is in a surge," Wells said. "The COVID-19 surge has put a significant strain on resources, including the bed capacity of our health system."
He said beds were being reconfigured at the country's public hospitals to accommodate patients and "every effort is being made to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within our institutions."
"This rate of increase is worrisome and puts pressure on our health system capacity," Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearl McMillan said. "If allowed to go unchecked our health system could collapse. Our economy will undergo undue stress and our society will have unwelcome social chaos."
Of the 574 registered cases in the nation, 275 are active cases on the island of Grand Bahama, where they can be traced back to recent U.S. travel, parties and a recent funeral that drew people from three different islands that later saw spikes. The health ministry also said that there were hundreds of people in quarantine, many of them on Grand Bahama. The island is seeing record-breaking increases after two months of no cases and is among the islands expected to be slammed by Isaias' heavy rains and gusty winds.
Asked during the press conference how managers at the country's 115 shelters planned to manage individuals who may be in quarantine, Quant-Forbes said they are aware such a scenario may happen.
"We've indicated that at each shelter we will try our best to identify safe zones for those persons," she said. "If we can quadrant off a space in the place or identify rooms specifically for those persons to be in than that is what we will do."