'Like Dragging An Even Heavier Weight.' Bahamas Fights COVID-19 After Hurricane Dorian
The Bahamas held a snap election last week to face its COVID-19 crisis — while community leaders like Father Stephen Grant still struggle with Hurricane Dorian.
In September 2019, just after Hurricane Dorian demolished the northern Bahamas, WLRN’s Tim Padgett spoke with Father Stephen Grant, the pastor at St. Jude's Anglican Church in Freeport on Grand Bahama Island.
WLRN followed Grant as he delivered food and water to families devastated by Dorian — and listened to his insightful observations about the big new hardships small Caribbean islands like the Bahamas face as global warming makes hurricanes stronger.
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Now, the Bahamas and the Caribbean face another disastrous challenge: COVID-19. The pandemic has gotten so bad in the Bahamas that last week the country held a snap general election in order to regroup to face the crisis.
So Padgett reconnected with Father Grant, by phone, for a better understanding of what the Bahamas is confronting.
Here are excerpts from their conversation, edited for clarity.
WLRN: The Bahamas is still recovering very slowly from Hurricane Dorian, two years later. How badly has the COVID pandemic delayed that recovery?
GRANT: Oh, my goodness, that goes without saying. Because of the pandemic the price of materials is going up tremendously in the Bahamas, especially places like Sweetings Cay. That's a small island in between Abaco and Grand Bahama. Only five houses so far have been rebuilt there out of 110.
The pandemic is like dragging an even heavier weight now. We lost quite a bit of people to Dorian in Sweetings Cay. Persons that we never found. They were washed away. Friends and relatives. I knew all of them personally.
But we lost more to COVID. There was one very helpful young man there named Bradley Tate. They depended upon him to move materials like lumber from the mainland over to Sweetings Cay. And he did that a lot of times without [charging]. About six months ago, we lost him to COVID.
We're very near the U.S., especially Florida. The social media fairy tales there about vaccination have been no help to the Bahamas.
The pandemic was the big issue in last week's general election in the Bahamas. Prime Minister Hubert Minnis and his Free National Movement party lost badly to Philip Brave Davis and the Progressive Liberal Party. Why, do you think?
I voted for Mr. Minnis. You know, he's a doctor. He was very focused on the pandemic. But they say he wasn't paying sufficient attention to the economy.
The bottom line is the economy. It was already down from Dorian and COVID came and made it worse. Unemployment has gone sky high. We have like 35 percent unemployment right here on Grand Bahama. We depend on tourism. A good shot in the arm would be the cruise ships. They are looking for a hub now here in the Bahamas because of the situation in Florida.
Right. Unlike the Florida state government, the Bahamas supports the cruise lines requiring cruise ship passengers to be vaccinated.
'LIKE THE BIBLE'
But only 17 percent of the Bahamas population is fully vaccinated so far.
Years ago here we had typhoid fever. And people were glad to participate, to be vaccinated. But now we have the vaccine for COVID here, and we have sufficient vaccine for everybody — but there are still persons who would prefer to listen to fairy tale stories about vaccination. And social media in the U.S. is no help to that. We’re very near whatever's happening in the U.S., especially in Florida. If they're not doing something we think we should be a part of them, so we're not doing that either.
The U.S. admittedly has not been the best pandemic example to the world. But isn't it also up to Bahamian leaders to fight that kind of misinformation?
Yes. We need more education. But I get a good response in my congregation. It's almost like the Bible — that this, it’s what you have to do, get vaccinated, do the things that are necessary for you to survive.
Father, you're a pastor, and I'm curious to know the role you feel faith has played in getting the Bahamas through the double gut punch of Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19.
Everyone is born for a time like this. Dorian destroyed the eastern part of Grand Bahama, but there are persons who are willing to go back home there and trust God for when the next situation comes. The faith of our people is very strong as a family island people. We’ll pull together to overcome Dorian and COVID as well.