April 14th Press Conference

14 April COVID-19 Update

Click on image below for the watch the press conference

Good afternoon, to the residents of Bermuda who are watching this press conference this evening.

I want to start this press conference with an apology. It has certainly been a very long day with a Cabinet meeting and also the Minister of Health, trying to make sure that we can keep the public as up to date as possible with the latest results that are coming in, and it is certainly a challenge, and we want to not come here without information because I know that members of the public look forward to receiving information from the government.

This coming Saturday will mark the 14 days of Shelter in Place for Bermuda. We have been guided by lessons that have been learned in other countries, and also the advice of our own public health experts. The imposition of the restrictions has been targeted, aimed at reducing the risk of community spread of the virus, and most of all, making sure that we save lives.

It is regrettable that the nature of this disease is such that it can end in the death of those of our most vulnerable demographics. Our mission therefore must be unchanged. We must protect all of our residents, especially our most vulnerable.

Therefore, following the unanimous recommendation of the Public Health Emergency Response Team, the Cabinet today determined that the current shelter in place regulations should be extended for an additional two weeks, through to 2 May.

I’m keenly aware of the impact that this extension will have on how we work, and live, and play.

There is an emotional and psychological effect on all of us as we seek to manage our response to this global pandemic. But, guided by the needs to save lives, we must continue the adjustment to our routines, and encourage our families and friends to comply with the new normal of social distancing and heightened personal hygiene.

The decision to extend this Shelter in Place was not taken lightly. But recognizing the financial hardship that it is imposing on many families and businesses, we understand the extreme stress, and I empathize with the extreme stress that many Bermudians are facing with the uncertainty that this is impacting us, and also the uncertainty, with the world.

We all long for and want for our lives to go back to the way they were before, but it is for the preservation of lives, the protection for health and safety our community that the Cabinet, upon the advice of our public health experts has made this decision.

I have spoken with the Leader of the Opposition to inform him of the decision of the Cabinet. The Leader of the Opposition I are trying to keep in close contact, as it is very important that these particular matters are handled in a bipartisan basis.

I’ve also informed his Excellency the Governor, and I will have my regular meeting with the Governor tomorrow morning at 9am to discuss this and I’ll be able to give some further details about what may change over the next two weeks later in this press conference.

Today, I’m joined by the Minister of Health, Kim Wilson; the Minister of National Security, Wayne Caines; the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Cheryl Peek Ball; and the Chief of Staff of the Bermuda Hospitals Board, Dr. Michael Richmond. The Minister of Health, we’ll start with an update from the Ministry of Health, and then we will go on to Chief Medical Officer, the Head of the hospital and the Minister of National Security.

Minister of Health remarks.

Thank you, Premier.

I want to open today by reminding us all that, as we have seen around the world, COVID-19 is a rapidly-evolving situation.

The disease was only discovered in late December and in less than four months, it’s ravaging the world. Just when we think we understand how it works, it throws us a curveball:

  • Until recently, asymptomatic individuals were not thought to be contagious… but now it has been found that persons without symptoms can transmit the disease
  • Until last week evidence indicated that you could not get it twice… and now the evidence is still being gathered as to what may be happening in this regard.

I think the take away from all of this is that the evidence is growing as the disease spreads. Guidance changes daily. No country has it completely under control. But, with your help, we think Bermuda has a strong chance of faring better than many.

And now, today’s testing results update.

Today, there were 38 test results received, however they were received at 5pm so are still being processed and the individuals have to be informed. Luckily, there were no additional hospitalizations, and there were no reported deaths today.

Test results were received late today, so the full report is not yet available, but will be posted online as soon as possible.

As we can see from the numbers I have just read, while COVID-19 is a mild condition in 80% of people, it can make some vulnerable persons seriously ill. Seniors and persons with prior chronic conditions are at a higher risk and need to take extra steps to avoid becoming unwell – this is called ‘Shielding’, which I mentioned briefly yesterday and want to touch on more now.

Vulnerable persons are persons who are at a high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to an underlying health condition, and may require an admission to hospital.

Vulnerable persons are those who have one or more of the following conditions or circumstances:

  • Solid organ transplant recipients
  • Individuals with specific cancers
  • Women who are pregnant, especially those with significant congenital or acquired heart disease
  • Individuals currently taking immunosuppression therapies that will significantly increase the risk of infections
  • Those with severe respiratory conditions including cystic fibrosis, severe asthma or severe COPD
  • HIV-positive persons not managed by HIV treatment or those who have a low CD4 cell count
  • Individuals with severe combined immunodeficiency
  • And those with severe obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher….or those with poorly controlled chronic conditions, especially related to heart disease, respiratory illness, or diabetes.

Shielding is a measure to protect the extremely vulnerable population by minimizing interaction between those who are vulnerable and others.

The shielding measures that must be taken are:

  • Stay home at all times. This means no trips to the grocery store or pharmacy… Ask a friend, neighbour or family member to bring supplies where possible or use delivery services if you can. Most pharmacies on island are offering a delivery service, so you can contact your local pharmacy to inquire.
  • Minimize all non-essential contact with other members of your household.
  • Avoid any face-to-face contact.
  • Strictly avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus, which include high temperature and new or continuous cough.
  • Do not attend any gatherings.

Visits from those who provide essential support to you should continue, however, caregiver and healthcare professionals should stay away if they have any symptoms of COVID-19.

All people coming into your home should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds on arrival to your home and often while they remain in your home.

All of this advice can be found at coronavirus.gov.bm.

But the main thing we can all do now to protect our vulnerable is to follow the current Shelter in Place directive.  A risk to one is a risk to all.

Did you know that there are 2,243 people in Bermuda with uncontrolled diabetes? Or 1,357 individuals with an immune deficiency diagnosis? Or that there are 8,625 people over 65 receiving complex care? I’m sure we all know a vulnerable person in our community…

It is along this thought that the Ministry of Health is today launching its “Who Are You Protecting?” campaign.

We are asking members of the community to submit a short clip (no more than 15 seconds) about who they are protecting by sheltering in place. For example, “By staying inside, I am protecting my grandmother who turns 85 next week.” “I am protecting my sister who has chronic asthma.” “I am protecting my neighbour who has cancer.” etc.

If you do not live with that individual, hold up a photo of them… or have your child draw a picture of them…The more creative, the better.

Don’t wait! Take time to submit one tonight.

People can send them in to the Ministry of Health via email to moh@gov.bm with the subject line Who Am I Protecting? or by Whatsapp to 504-6045.

The deadline for submissions is Monday April 20th. They will be posted across social media and YouTube next week.

Under Shelter in Place, there are several requirements of businesses that are still allowed to operate. I want to share that the Government has published directives for safe operations by permitted businesses under the Emergency Powers (Covid-19 Shelter in Place) Regulations 2020.

This advice includes the following:

  • Limit the number of people in your establishment at any given time to maintain social distancing two metres (six feet) between customers while shopping and during checkout. This can be achieved with pre-measured markers throughout the store and at checkout lanes.
  • Encourage customers to use cards and avoid cash transactions as much as possible.
  • Encourage customers to use a delivery option if possible, to reduce congestion at your establishment. Social distancing should be maintained even during delivery and deliveries can only be carried out by an authorized person.
  • Encourage and facilitate hand washing and hand sanitising for customers before they enter your store and, where practical, place sanitising stations throughout the store, particularly at checkout.
  • Regularly clean and sanitise frequently touched areas within the store
  • And, finally, a cloth face covering must be worn by all persons working onsite during their shift to slow the spread of the virus and avoid transmitting it to others. In addition to wearing a cloth face mask, employees should practice regular and frequent hand hygiene, avoid touching the face and maintain social distancing.

Further details on the above can be found at coronavirus.gov.bm.

Echoing my earlier statement at the weekend, I want to thank St. John Ambulance, who has been helping the Ministry of Health and, indeed, the entire island, throughout this pandemic.

I can also announce that this week a $20,000 grant was provided to them from the Emergency Fund for providing transport for persons in the community with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and for whom urgent transport via Emergency Medical Service services is not required. Specifically, this refers to either persons without means to safely transport from their residence or the quarantine station to the COVID-19 testing center; or persons requiring transport from their residence to a quarantine station for isolation.

This $20,000 will cover approximately 40 trips and can be boosted as needed.

I also want to give thanks to the Bermuda Hospitals Board who has been working hard to increase capacity to cope with seriously ill patients with COVID-19…and to allocate more beds for potential future COVID-19 patients.

But we need more beds.

This means that anyone who is medically fit for discharge must go home, so that all possible beds are available.  I understand that some families are resisting taking their loved ones home, but this is not a choice anymore. The country needs these beds in case more people fall seriously ill with COVID-19.

We have seen the pressure that hospitals can be under in other countries when they run out of beds. Everything we are doing in the community is to prevent this by reducing the spread of the infection, but the facts are right now we don’t know how high the numbers are going to go.

This means you need to be part of the solution by taking your loved ones home when they are medically fit to leave hospital.  These beds are needed by the country; they are needed to help healthcare workers so they are not over-stretched; and they are needed by the people who may fall seriously ill and need care. Please work with the hospital to receive your family members, and help our hospital prepare to care for all our community.

Ultimately, the majority of cases will remain in the community. So it is important for everyone to understand a little more about contact tracing: why it’s done, how it works and what it means to you. The Chief Medical Officer will share more information on this today.

Thank you

Dr. Peek Ball remarks.

Thank you very much Dr. Peek-Ball.  The Chief Medical Officer has been doing fantastic work, her and her team. There are certainly good days and bad days, as we manage this particular pandemic. And today, I saw the Chief Medical Officer upstairs and she asked me how I was doing, and I said well today is a better day than others because we got some good news on the supplies front. So, from our perspective, we’re continuing to chug along but I am grateful for the work and energy of the Chief Medical Officer and her entire staff and the dedication which they have to their craft because I’m sure that in the twilight of her career, she never thought that she would be dealing with a once in a century pandemic but that’s what we have. And she’s done an incredible job. I would like to now ask Dr. Richmond, the Chief of Staff of the Bermuda Hospital’s Board who will discuss the recent preparations made by the hospital to handle the number of COVID-19 cases that are currently in the hospital and future cases.

Dr. Richmond’s remarks

Thank you very much, Dr. Richmond.

Dr. Richmond, I’d like to echo, your comments in giving thanks, certainly, to all of the staff, and doctors and nurses, and everyone else at the Bermuda Hospitals Board for all of the work which they have been doing over the last few months. I’m grateful. I managed to be in the hospital a few days ago, and I actually saw some of the work that is being done to convert existing space, and to make sure that there can be additional capacity in case that capacity is needed.  I’m certain that our hospital is well prepared for any possible surge that may come, but our job is to make sure that that capacity is planned in the worst case scenario but never has to be actually used.

Thank you very much. I will now move on to the Minister of National Security, Minister Caines, who will give an update from the Ministry of National Security.

Minister of National Security’s remarks

Earlier today, you would have heard Police Commissioner Steven Corbishley address the  incident of an impaired driver who coughed on Police – the impaired driver said that he had COVID-19. The BPS Officers managing the incident exercised professionalism and enacted their protocols. And they should be commended. Regrettably these officers are now quarantined to ensure their safety. Bermuda, this type of behaviour cannot and must not be tolerated. This is considered a serious assault and will be dealt with accordingly in the courts.

The Royal Bermuda Regiment continue their deployment across the island providing support in a variety of capacities. In partnership with the BPS the Community Advisory Points recorded a total of 13,633 stops on Monday, April 13. To provide some added context, the total stops over the last 6 (six) days was 44,600. I should note however that the majority of stops were exempted persons.

Yesterday (April 13), Community Advisory Points were conducted at 21 locations across the island – and 107 soldiers were directly involved in this operation.

In conjunction with the BPS marine officers, soldiers of the Bermuda Coast Guard continue to maintain a daily presence on Bermuda waters to both ensure that the COVID-19 Emergency Order is enforced, and to ensure 24-hour search and rescue capability.

Some of yesterday’s Coast Guard activity included towing a boat with three persons on board in the North Shore area. They were subsequently met by the BPS at a local area dock. Members of the Coast Guard also participated in training exercises with the RFA Argus’ Wildcat and Merlin helicopters. The aircraft were also working in conjunction with the RBR in identifying potential landing sites if required after a major hurricane.  To be clear, there was no contact between the crews of the boats and helicopters.

Additionally, our RBR soldiers accompanied DPT drivers who are operating a special bus service for the Bermuda Hospitals Board’s healthcare workers.

Our Emergency Medical Technicians from the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service continue to provide critical response for all medical related incidents within the community. Since April 1, the BFRS Dispatch Center has processed a total of 172 medical calls. The BFRS Dispatch Center has heightened its questioning at the receipt of 9-11 EMS calls to identify any at-risk population.

The Dispatch Center has taken guidance from our local health professionals as they field a number of COVID related queries. The leadership at the BFRS continue to do their due diligence of keeping the frontline staff informed and updated on the latest information and recommendations regarding response during this challenging time.

Our Customs Department’s essential operational units continue to function. The Commercial Operations / also known as the Longroom – continue with electronic submissions. We continue to closely asses our seaport operations to ensure that we manage any potential container processing backlog. And our team at our ports of entry continue to assess arriving vessels such as yachts to ensure that they are adhering to Bermuda’s Emergency Order guidelines and protocols in place.

Overall, the staff continue to provide a service with the resources they have. They are working on a rotational basis and are performing remote tasks from home where and whenever possible. Over at the Department of Immigration, the Chief Immigration Officer and her team continues working to meet the needs of its stakeholders in these challenging times. The Department will exercise flexibility with employers, agencies, visitors, and the general public, in light of the current circumstances.

Non-operational staff continue to work remotely. Staffing levels have not been impacted and Corrections staff continue to carry out their duties professionally despite the challenges.

Also I am pleased to highlight a project that is having favourable feedback both within and outside of our facilities. With the assistance of Corrections staff, inmates are working on the “Mask Task” project which involves designing and sewing masks for both the inmates and staff. The intent is to issue the homemade masks in the very near future once they have been completed. In lieu of regular face to face visits, the department will be introducing virtual visit for the inmates at all facilities this week.

We recognize that our Corrections staff and inmates alike are concerned about the potential implications of COVID-19 in our facilities as well as the impact on the island in general.

However the department continues to ensure that every effort is taken to mitigate any risks of the disease affecting our staff and/or inmates. Thank you.

Thank you Minister Caines. I echo your thanks to not only our Uniformed Services, but our stevedores who are working on the docks to make sure that Bermuda remains supplied.

As plans are being put in place to extend the Shelter in Place Order, a Cabinet subcommittee has been created to address a number of community concerns, including the need for laundromats to open and access to business supplies to make the best use of time at home for repairs to our own homes or upgrades, while we have to remain at our homes. The committee will make recommendations on how to address legitimate concerns raised during the initial Shelter in Place Order, under the simple condition that households continue to not mingle with other households, and to maintain social distance.

The committee will make recommendations and the determinations will be announced on Thursday to give persons, time to plan for the next two weeks.

The extension of the Shelter in Place will not be easy for many of us. I know that this is without question a challenge, and all of us want to get back to our regular lives and routines. Yet, as a people we must make this sacrifice, a sacrifice which is based on compassion for those of us who will die if they contract COVID-19. Compassion for our healthcare workers who will be overwhelmed and have their lives further put at risk, if we do not limit, and contain the spread of this virus.

However, while we sacrifice, we cannot let the economic effects of this pandemic be worse than the health effects of this pandemic. As an entrepreneur, I understand the incredible strain that this closure has caused many small and medium sized businesses. While we have announced relief for employees, many businesses also require said relief.  Tomorrow we will be announcing our small and medium sized business relief package with the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation. In addition to the Minister of Finance, who will go over general matters to the economy and work which we’re doing to ensure that our economic recovery can happen once we come out of this period of challenge.

I do want to say, on another note, dealing with small and medium sized businesses before I move on to the rest of my comments. To the email address premier@gov.bm last night, I received a number of messages from persons who run daycare centers who are upset at the comments I made last night. I’m a big enough man that I can apologize and I can say I’m sorry if I offended anyone due to the tone and nature of my comments. I did not try to loop everyone inside of the same group, and I recognize that there are different circumstances for different persons. I do understand that many daycare services are actually providing some formal learning and support, and I do recognize that others are taking care of their employees. As you have been closed down by the government, just like many other businesses, the relief package which will be announced tomorrow, will also be there to assist you during this difficult time.

Each of us must seek new ways to find this time for ourselves. We do have the opportunity to learn and grow during this Shelter in Place. We can take advantage of the free learning opportunities that are offered online or through the Department of Workforce Development and the FinTech business unit.

During the next two and a half weeks, I’m going to ask persons to take responsibility for their actions because unfortunately we are still hearing stories of people participating in activities which are at this point in time, unlawful, done in the full knowledge of increased cases and deaths that are occurring on our island.

The stories that I’m hearing or the breaches are taking place across racial and economic and social boundaries. And we have to remember that this disease does not see race, employment status, or nationality, and neither does the selfish reckless stupidity, that has revealed itself within our community. And yes I have said that, because in some cases people are being selfish, people are being reckless, and they are not acting with the basis of common sense.

Understand, every single point in time, that you mix and mingle with persons who are not a part of your household; whether they are still allowing children to go over to other person’s houses for playdates, neighbors standing together and communing not wearing masks, and actually not maintaining social distancing and talking, you risk spreading this virus to your family. The reason why we are extending the Shelter in Place is the advice is for two complete incubation cycles, given the recent increase in cases which we’ve seen. If you do not follow it and observe these rules, you can put yourself and your family at risk.

The vast majority of Bermudians are following these rules and regulations and I implore you, if you are not, think about it. I do not want there to be a situation where there are more and more of our vulnerable persons who succumb to this illness. I know that this is not vital, but it is important to save lives.

As I close today, I’ll reiterate that the Shelter in Place order will be extended until the 2 May. The measures that have been in place last week and this week will largely remain. There will be some modifications as I can recognize the pain and challenge that this may cause people who do not have laundry facilities at home, or who need access to certain items which are not there. However, we are going to make sure that we maintain that families should not intermingle to make sure they reduce any possible transmission of this virus. I also have to remind everyone, if you are leaving home, please wear a mask or a homemade face cover.

During this time, my Cabinet colleagues and I have been encouraged by the warm emails, phone calls and messages of support. I’m also encouraged by those persons who contact me to say, and make recommendations and suggestions on things we might want to consider doing differently. The job of the government is to represent all people, and certainly in this particular case and instance, we are all in this together.

We thank you and we are humbled to represent you at this critical time in our island’s history. Our island and its people remain at the center of our thoughts, our decisions, and our actions. Thank you for what has been an extraordinary long press conference, but I also will now welcome any questions that you may have.