18 May COVID-19 Update

Opening to Phase 2 –  COVID-19 Update

 

 

Good afternoon.

The gradual return of activity on our streets and the efforts of hardworking men and women in business to adapt to a rapidly changing model of customer service should have been seen by everyone. Slowly, there is growing economic activity in Bermuda and some people have been able to return to work. As we go about our daily lives, the same precautions must apply and we know what they are: frequent and proper hand washing; physical distancing and the proper wearing of masks. The ability of more of our families, friends and neighbours to return to work and to earn the living that provides for their families depends on our collective efforts to reduce the spread of this virus which if not done, can infect our most vulnerable and overwhelming our healthcare system.

Last week I signalled that Cabinet would meet on the weekend to discuss Bermuda’s move into Phase 2 of our multi-phased plan for reopening. Yesterday ministers considered input from our caucus colleagues, the latest public health guidance and weighed the benefits and risks of moving into this next phase. Your concern is our concern. The transition must be measured, emphasize safety of our people, and return as many people to work as safely as possible. We believe what we have determined achieves that goal, and that it is needed. It is indeed time to move Bermuda into Phase 2.

With effect from Thursday, May 21, these are the changes that you can expect:

  • Retail stores will be open for in-store customers, and they will be occupied by 20% of the buildings approved maximum fire occupancy inside at any one time, and will follow the same alphabetical shopping days in place for grocery stores and gas stations;
  • Beauty salons and barbers will open under strict public health requirements which the Minister of Health will expand on;
  • Restaurants, both standalone, and restaurants in hotels will be able to open for outdoor dining only;
  • Licensed bars with outdoor facilities will be permitted to open on the same criteria as restaurants. To ensure the safety of both workers and patrons, restaurants, and those licensed bars slated to open in this phase will only be permitted to do so with the approval of the Ministry of Health. The Environmental Health team will work with restaurant owners, and operators and bar proprietors who have outdoor facilities already to ensure that they are able to meet the strict standards required to begin serving patrons again. This means, if you do not have the requisite permissions, it will still be unlawful for you to open on Thursday.
  • Outdoor weddings and funerals will be permitted, with a maximum of 20 persons outdoors in attendance, subject to the proper wearing of masks and appropriate physical distancing. These two services are the only times where more than ten persons can be gathered. Apart from that, the restriction for gatherings of ten in public and or private remains.
  • Requirements for those boating to be from the same household, will be removed. But still, only a maximum of ten persons will be allowed on any boat, subject to appropriate physical distances. That means you cannot have ten persons on a 20 foot Boston Wailer. You must be responsible.
  • Following consultation with the Bermuda Pediatric Association, playgrounds will be open and licensed daycare centers can apply to the Minister of Health to again, open their doors for childcare. This is especially important for our essential service workers.
  • The use of outdoor gym equipment, in our public parks, which was prohibited will now be allowed. However, anyone using this equipment should sanitize this equipment, prior to public use.
  • Remote working and working from home will still be required, were reasonably practical.
  • All businesses permitted to operate will operate between 7am and 9pm, as the 10pm to 6am curfew will remain in effect.

The reopening of these services will mean an increased need for enforcement and compliance. We are focused on the health and security of people at all times, and this includes service providers as well as customers. The Bermuda Police Service and the Royal Bermuda Regiment will be checking for adherence to public health standards regularly.

The team at Environmental Health will provide training to these officers to assist them in monitoring physical distancing and public health standard compliance. It is our intention that these changes will be enforced into next month, and therefore on Friday I will table the revised regulations in the House of Assembly and invite the House and thereafter the Senate to approve their extension through to June 30. This extension to June 30 does not mean that there will be no more changes over the next six weeks, but it is required as the current regulations expire at the end of May. Collectively, if we do our part, we can advance to future phases, allowing more persons to return to work within the next few weeks.

With the expansion of services available in Phase 2, there will be parents reporting back to work and will need to have continued educational support for their children who attend our public schools. The Department of Education is organizing an educational support programme for children of parents who aren’t able to return to work during Phase 2. Parents who may be returning to work from Thursday should send information to the principal of the school that their children attend.

Please provide the names of your children and their grade level, and please submit this information, no later than Wednesday, May 20. This information is critical, so that the department can know in advance the number of children that they should plan for. The educational support programme will focus on students continuing their learnings, but in a different venue, other than home. The programme will be administered as a supervised controlled environment. To be absolutely clear, the programme will service the children of those parents who must physically return to work, resulting from changes in the regulations. The programme at this point will not be equipped to accept children with special needs.

Now, the Minister of Health will present today’s COVID-19 results and give more details regarding this move to Phase 2, Minister of Health.

THE MINISTER OF HEALTH STATEMENT

Between Sunday and today there were 532 test results received by the Ministry of Health; and 2 were positive for COVID-19.

Bermuda now has 125 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows:

  • there are 39 active cases, of which
  • 35 persons are under active public health monitoring, and
  • 4 persons are hospitalized; of which
  • 2 are in critical care;
  • a total of 77 have now recovered, and
  • the total deceased is 9.

The average age of all of our confirmed positive cases is 59 and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 18 to 101 years.

The average age of persons hospitalized is 74 and their age ranges from 70 to 78 years.

The average age of all deceased cases is 74 and the age range is 57 to 91 years.

The source of all local cases is as follows:

  • 39 are Imported
  • 74 are Local transmission, with known contact
  • 8 are Local transmission with an unknown contact, and
  • 4 are under investigation

Bermuda’s country status remains “Local Transmission – Cluster of Cases”.

As we move into Phase 2, the Ministry of Health will be creating clear guidance instructing what permitted businesses must do during this phase and what it means for certain sectors. This guidance will be posted on the Government website coronavirus.gov.bm.

One such guidance note that has been created for Phase 2 is Personal Services Guidance for the Consumer regarding the limited operation of beauty, hair and barber shops…and I stress the word ‘limited’.

Under Phase 2, hair services including hair cutting, styling, and barbering services will be permitted. Services requiring hair washing are permitted but clients should be encouraged to come with prewashed hair for express services unless chemical services are scheduled. Pedicures and manicures including gel and acrylic nails will also be permitted.

Not permitted under Phase 2 are beauty services requiring:

  • A client to disrobe (such as massages, body wraps or waxing);
  • Permanent makeup (eye or lip liner) or any tattoo-type services, electrolysis, or laser hair removal and;
  • Extensive touching of a client’s body (such as shoulder or back massages, pedicures and manicures with add-on massages or paraffin wax treatments).

The reason for these prohibitions is that they require excessively close contact and touching a client’s face and body. These activities dramatically increase the risk of spreading COVID-19, so are very high risk and cannot be permitted.

While it is true that in healthcare settings it is sometimes necessary to touch and get very close to a patient at times, this is done only when medically necessary and with appropriate PPE. Grooming and beauty treatments are not essential care that could justify the level of risk. So, ladies and gentlemen, in Phase 2 these treatment cannot be permitted.

In addition, mobile services or home visits are NOT permitted in Phase 2. Again, the reason for this prohibition is that it would increase the risk of spreading COVID-19. Performing these services underground, outside regulated premises will simply pose a health risk for the stylist, the client and their families. So do not attempt to undertake this activity. Mobile or home beauty services are just not allowed during Phase 2.

Salons operating during Phase 2 should take a number of steps to prepare to serve you safely during this period. These measures will help to protect you, the customer, and those providing the service. They include the following:

1. Signage

You should expect to see additional signage indicating that your salon has taken steps to prepare to serve you safely during this phase.

2. Physical Distancing Policies, Barriers and Shields

Your salon may have implemented physical barriers at service counters, between stations or you may notice that the salon serves less customers while you are there. These efforts are important for physical distancing.

3. Increased Hand washing and Use of Sanitizer

You should be asked to sanitize your hands immediately upon entering the premises. You should notice increased hand washing and cleaning from your stylist.

4. Questionnaires about your Health

To protect the stylist, you will be asked questions about your health. Do not attend if you are unwell, or if you have been around someone who has symptoms of COVID-19.

5. Recording of Client Contact details for Contact Tracing

Be prepared to provide more information. Public health officials may require additional information during an outbreak. Your salon should ask for detailed contact information for this purpose.

6. Increased Cleaning and Sanitizing of the Salon

Cleaning in between customers must occur for chairs, touch points, and work spaces. Be patient as salons complete this in between clients.

7. Use of Mask(s) and other PPE

Personnel in the salon must be wearing a mask and you must wear one while there. If you forget your mask, call ahead to see if your salon provides them.  I should note that businesses and patrons are responsible for providing their own PPE.

8. Increased Cleaning of Tools, Brushes and Implements

Your salon must always provide clean tools (clippers, guides, brushes and combs) and new disposable implements (nail files and buffers). If you are unsure, ask questions.

Further guidance will be posted over the coming days for other permitted businesses including retail and restaurants which will be open for outdoor dining only.

Lastly, the public will be aware the bus services are intended to resume with a 3 foot distancing requirement and mandated mask-wearing on buses. This reduced physical distancing has been permitted by public health on public transport ONLY as it is an essential activity for the resumption of work and economic life. Its necessity justifies the risk, and it is mitigated by the mandatory mask-wearing. The masks reduce the risk, but the physical distance should be as great as possible in all other settings. It is the combined measures of hand hygiene, physical distance and mask wearing that create protection.

Other jurisdictions are adopting similar measures in order for public transport to be able to operate.

For those relying on public transportation please be mindful of the following, in addition to the requirement for wearing a face mask:

  • keep a distance from fellow travellers to a minimum of 3 feet,
  • avoid rush hours is possible,
  • try as much as possible to face away from other travellers,
  • avoid physical contact and
  • cover your face when coughing or sneezing.

The key thing is to not be too close to other people for more than a short amount of time, as much as you can. The risk of infection increases the closer you are to another person with the virus and the amount of time you spend in close contact: you are very unlikely to be infected from just walking past another person to take  up your seat, 3 feet away.

I end by reminding us all that if we do not adhere to public health requirements we will see increased cases of COVID, increased hospitalizations and increased deaths.

As we transit through the reopening phases, it is not to return life to normal – it will never be normal again while there is no vaccine or cure for COVID. The phases aim to allow time for cultural and behavioural change, so that, together, we can prevent having to Shelter in Place again in the future.

The new normal is all about hand-hygiene, physical distancing and mask-wearing for all of us. We must to integrate this into our daily lives to ensure safe passage through Phase 2.

You can stay up to date and informed on the latest developments about COVID-19 by visiting coronavirus.gov.bm.

Thank you very much Minister of Health. Now we will have an update from the Minister of National Security who will give an overview of the policing plan for Phase 2 and also talk about the third sector support and donations received. Minister.

THE MINISTER OF NATIONAL SECURITY STATEMENT

Last week Friday we welcomed back returning residents on the Delta Airlines charter flight. One of the challenges that we had noticed from prior arrangements at the quarantine facility was that individuals were confined to their rooms for 24-hours a day. In an effort to make their stay more balanced and holistic the Ministry of National Security implemented a twice a week physical activity routine for the residents in the facility.

Activities such as walking, high intensity training, yoga and meditation classes will now be available for those housed in the facility. They will adhere to physical distancing guidelines as outlined by the Ministry of Health, and we are thankful to be able to collaborate with members of our wellness community who have donated their time to ensure the wellbeing of our residents during their time in quarantine.

As the Premier indicated, we will be moving into Phase 2 on Thursday, and the Bermuda Police Service (BPS) and the Royal Bermuda Regiment (RBR) will maintain their community engagement to ensure that the regulations are followed.

A comprehensive operational plan is now in place controlled by the Gold Commander of the Bermuda Police Service, Assistant Commissioner Martin Weekes working in partnership with the Commanding Officer of the Royal Bermuda regiment, Major Ben Beasley.

Extensive Police and Regiment resources will be visible across the island to ensure that businesses permitted to open fully comply with all regulations.

Visits will be made to business premises to check:

  • physical distancing measures.
  • the use of PPE masks where mandated.
  • required health regulation compliance in regards to cleanliness and sensitization.
  • the appropriate number of persons within the premises.
  • the enforcement of any other guidance set by the Ministry of Health.

Advice will be given in regards to minor breaches. Serious breaches or repeated breaches will result in:

  • Immediate closure of the business premise.
  • Law enforcement action toward the proprietors.

Additionally, outside dining areas will be visited to ensure physical distance compliance and again that health measures are being adhered to. Other points to note for permitted businesses and the public include:

  • Businesses are expected to publish the relevant guidance to patrons in prominent places within their establishment.
  • Road side sobriety checks will be in place to enforce against alcohol use on the roads.
  • The Coastguard will be active to ensure regulations compliance on the water.
  • Police and Regiment officers will be present to ensure patrons leave establishments open during the night time economy promptly at 9.00 pm.
  • The Curfew regulations will be in force from 10pm – 6am, and any breaches will be subject to law enforcement and/or arrest.
  • Police and Regiment will also continue to be visible in public parks and other areas to ensure regulation compliance by the public.
  • A new fixed penalty framework is being developed to address regulation breaches which will result in on the spot fine for individuals and businesses. Non-payment will result in court action.
  • Any member of the public that sees a breach by a person or a business can report the breach to the police in one of the following methods:
  • Report on the web portal https://portal.police.bm.
  • Dialling 211

With businesses preparing to reopen I cannot stress enough how critical it is that all establishments have the appropriate PPE supplies available for their staff and for their customers.

To be clear, procurement of these items is the responsibility of the business.

I am encouraging the public and our businesses to please be mindful and responsible when engaging in these expanded services. There are health protocols and restrictions in place. If the guidelines are not adhered to in accordance with the Emergency Powers Regulations, this could result in a business being closed.

Over the weekend, the Bermuda Weather Service provided an update on Tropical Storm Arthur. We expect this to become a subtropical storm when it passes Bermuda later this week.

This is a timely reminder that hurricane season starts on June 1st and now would be a good time for residents to assess their emergency plans and storm supplies. Even as we navigate Covid-19, from a Government standpoint, I can assure Bermuda that all steps are being taken to ensure that we are ready for the season.

Finally, I wish to take this opportunity to extend my thanks appreciation to the combined efforts of our charitable organisations. To date, the Third Sector has received $1.84 million into the Bermuda Emergency Fund for food and supplies for our most vulnerable. Through their work, they have on average on a daily basis provided 10,000 meals to individuals in need.

Also over the course of this crisis they have provided the following:

  • Conducted 8,400 quarantine check-up calls and returning resident screenings.
  • Fielded 200 mental health calls on average for support from people in distress: feeling isolated, anxious or depressed.
  • Provided support for women and their children fleeing violent situations and requiring safe housing for 8 weeks.
  • Facilitated for 10 people to receive support for sober living.
  • Served an average of 28 unsheltered persons at the  Salvation Army per night (24/7 with shelter in place including people in transition).
  • Provided transport for Covid – 19 testing and requisite ambulance decontamination and;
  • Provided transport for seniors for medical appointments, dialysis, wound care and other health support.

I wish to thank Myra Virgil and the full collective of charitable organisations who make up the Third Sector Emergency team. They have our gratitude for ensuring that those in need have food, shelter and support.

Thank you very much Minister.

Before I go to questions, I think it is important for us to collectively take stock of where we are and where we are going. The success of the country isn’t my success or the Cabinet’s success. It is the success of all of us and we should collectively be proud in our efforts.

As a country, to date:

  • We have managed to successfully contained the virus on our shores and we’ve never moved to wide spread “Community Transmission”. This is due to not only our decisive action as a Government, but the continued cooperation of all of you.
  • With the support of the Ministry of Health and the aid of young Bermudian Dr. Carika Weldon, numerous volunteers and local community physicians, we created a government testing lab that enabled the island’s testing capacity to expand dramatically with Bermuda among the leaders in the world for per capita testing.
  • We ensured that widespread testing is conducted at no cost to people being tested.
  • We quickly identified facilities that could be used to quarantine arriving passengers for two weeks and then arranged for all to be tested prior to being released to their homes. This policy prevented further spread of the virus and is one of the reasons why we didn’t move to community transmission.
  • While the hospitalization rate is falling, the Ministry of Health and the Bermuda Hospitals Board have successfully added 48 additional beds to our stock of hospital beds to enhance the hospital’s ability to care for patients with COVID-19 if needed; and
  • Through public and private sector efforts we’ve expanded the number of ventilators available at the hospital with other measures to improve the ability of our hospital to respond to any future outbreak.
  • We provided new and unprecedented support for our people economically displaced by COVID-19 with over $20 million paid out in support to those who were unable to work, and over $12 million being made available to small and medium sized businesses.
  • We’ve worked together as a community to support our most vulnerable members of our society. The third sector, churches, community groups and citizens ensure that our seniors, vulnerable, and our homeless population were supported during this time; and
  • We set aside petty political bickering and worked together across the political, philosophical and ideological chasm that so often holds back our island’s progress.

We have done well as a country. I am grateful to everyone within the Government, the Legislature, the community, the unions, private sector and third sector who have helped to get Bermuda to where we are today.

Though we have done well, we have not been perfect and there are things we could have handled differently.  We concede that we could have:

•   moved faster to test all in our seniors’ homes; and

•   been quicker to provide payment of unemployment benefits to those who qualified but didn’t get them in a timely manner.

However, despite those setbacks – as a country we have done well and we all should be proud.

We have adjusted quickly to changing circumstances, moved swiftly to correct missteps and followed examples set by countries that are successfully managing COVID-19.  We are grateful and humbled by the support, trust and gratitude we have received from the community and for everyone’s patience as we continue to work together to overcome this virus.

From here, as we get ready to move into a new phase, we must remain vigilant and continue to push forward with solutions that protect the health and safety of our community. At the same time, we must put our people back to work safely.  With the right tools and with your cooperation we can have the courage to give our people the freedom to once again earn a living and provide for their families.

We are in a position today to give Bermudians more choices and more freedom.  But with more choices and more freedom comes greater responsibility. We cannot become lax and move away from the work, which we are all doing to keep us safe; wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing, washing our hands, and making sure that we do not hug, kiss and embracing when we see persons while greeting. As the Minister of Health said, these actions could cause another outbreak and can force us to go back to where we came from, where I’m sure none of us want to go.

We have not defeated this virus completely, but it is important to us as a country that we cannot let this virus defeat us. We have increased our capacity to take care of our citizens who may be covered afflicted with this virus. We have increased our capacity to test and detect, to trace and to isolate persons who may become infected with this virus, and collectively as a leader of this government, I have confidence that we can deal with what the future may bring. The truth is, however, that we must continue to be safe. We must continue to be kind, and we must continue to be patient. As more and more businesses open, we will see many changes in how we interact with each other at retail stores, restaurants, at our parks, and even at our beaches.

We must remember that everything we are experiencing is new and unusual, but it is necessary to make sure that we can get more of our people back to work, while making sure we keep our country safe.

The days ahead, and the economic challenges ahead will be tough. Our economy has been weaker, and there may be businesses that will not survive in the current economic climate. Our people and our institutions will feel economic pain. What this experience has taught us is that fear, cannot stop us differences of opinion will not paralyze us, but kindness and compassion for each other, will take us further and faster. The opportunity before all of us as your government and the opportunity before us, as a community, is this. Rebuilding our economy, less than the image of the past, while successful, it did not always include everyone.

We must build a new economy, one that is based on equity, genuine cooperation and genuine collaboration for the benefit of all. On Thursday, more of us will be able to return back to work, and that is a start.

But we still have a long way to go. We’ve come far together. Let us continue to work together for each other, and remain focused on the goal at hand. And I have no doubt if we continue to add to the upcoming months, as we have in the past two, Bermuda’s success will be that we have successfully managed this virus, while getting our people back to work.