April 27th Press Conference Update
Today we joined in mourning with family and friends of those who have lost their lives to COVID-19. Yesterday’s news of the passing of a resident of Westmeath, is disheartening, and our prayers go out to the family and friends of the Bermudian whose life came to an end, yesterday, to become Bermuda’s sixth victim of COVID-19.
At our press conferences, we announce the numbers of cases, the numbers of hospitalized and the numbers recovered. But behind every number is a family, a family with hopes and dreams just like ours. And unfortunately, six families who weren’t ready to say goodbye to someone, they love.
We’re deeply sorry, and saddened by your loss and call on all of Bermuda to extend their prayers and best wishes to everyone who has been impacted and continues to be impacted by this virus.
It has been the Government’s position that enhanced testing capability is a necessity and a priority. We believe this because that would better position the Government to protect the health and safety of Bermuda, and make informed policy decisions about how we operate during this pandemic and allow us to open our economy.
With today’s new results that keep Bermuda, as a leading jurisdiction in the Caribbean, when it comes to tests, and also gives me the optimism that we will be able to start a very slow, and I repeat slow, rolling back of our economic restriction next week.
I am satisfied that the testing regime and criteria is reflective of the nature of this pandemic. And today, we have the testing capacity and the supplies that we need, and it is noted that we are also making sure logistically, we can handle this increased amount of tests. In fact, it is important to note that on Saturday and Sunday, 380 tests were performed through our new drive thru facility. This increase in testing has enabled us to provide many of our essential and critical workers with the reassurance that while they have been on the front lines they have not contracted COVID-19, and I’m grateful for that outcome and for their service and sacrifice.
Given the model that we have used for this testing, where we are running it through a government owned lab with 667 tests, which have already been processed, or in process at the government lab, this is saving the country money. If this was done via the traditional method, via doctor’s referrals and through insurance companies, the bill to the country for these tests would have been in excess of $200,000. But, with the model that we have chosen these tests to date, have cost the government less than $20,000, which is a great savings to the country, at a time when it is certainly needed. There is no denying the importance of testing, and this government will spare no effort to address this threat to our community with a rigorous approach to providing the invaluable knowledge, these results bring. And now for an update on today’s testing results, and additional matters for the Ministry of Health. I will turn it over to the Minister of Health, the Honorable Kim Wilson.
The Minister of Health Statement.
Today there were 388 test results received by the Ministry of Health; and 1 was positive for COVID-19.
Also, as confirmed by the Premier yesterday, and in my press release today, Bermuda has, regrettably, experienced another COVID-19-related death at the weekend. This now takes the total number of COVID-19 deaths to six.
On behalf of my entire team at the Ministry of Health, I want to extend my sincere condolences to the family and friends of this individual. We know you must be hurting deeply right now; and Bermuda grieves with you.
Bermuda now has 110 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows:
- there are 60 active cases, of which
- 47 persons are under active public health monitoring, and
- 13 persons are hospitalized;
- a total of 44 have now recovered, and
- the total deceased is now 6.
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 95 years. The age of persons hospitalized ranges between 57 and 89 years, and the average age is 75.
I can announce today that the Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit has begun collecting race data, and I can report preliminarily that 52% of cases have been Black, 39% were White and 9% were unknown. This reflects Bermuda’s demographics.
The Ministry reminds the public that in compiling and reporting this statistic, we must bear in mind that race is a question that should be asked of individuals and not assumed. Persons also have the right to refuse to answer the question.
We also must do our best to preserve privacy and confidentiality of persons diagnosed with coronavirus and therefore there must be enough aggregate information (i.e. a large number of cases) in order to provide information in a way that would not lead to an inadvertent identification of any individual.
On Saturday I issued a statement regarding Westmeath Residential and Nursing Home and I hope it managed to address many of the questions and concerns the community had regarding the timelines for testing at the care home.
One point which perhaps I didn’t make clear was that at the time of the first case, on April 10, we simply did not have enough testing swabs & VTM to be able to test all the residents and staff at Westmeath. Public health action took place immediately and the case was successfully isolated protecting other persons at the home – indeed, the subsequent cases found were unrelated to the first case. We had to choose between testing symptomatic individuals elsewhere and asymptomatic individuals at Westmeath.
Going forward, I can say this: Now that we have increased testing capacity; we are actively testing all staff and residents in all rest homes.
I can confirm that we have tested four care homes so far, starting with the homes where there had been cases. All residents have been tested and staff continue to be tested. There have been no additional residents found positive.
We continue our wider roll-out of testing to all care homes.
The issue of ‘Which homes we test first’ is a risk-based decision, based on fact…and is in no way random. We look at risk factors to guide these decisions – e.g. homes where a large proportion of staff worked in other places, or any homes with an epidemiological link to a case. This takes a careful exploration through contact tracing.
Whether testing occurs in a home or not – the action which is taken is the same whenever we have a case…the wearing of PPE, physical distancing, contact tracing and the isolating of ill individuals. Without implementing those steps, testing has limited use.
We also continue to test essential workers – we have performed approximately 229 tests to date for essential workers.
I want to also address the damaging allegations being circulated regarding the Government’s new laboratory and Dr. Carika Weldon. As I said previously, these unfounded claims of illegal or illegitimate testing are irresponsible and entirely false. They damage public confidence at a time that unity is paramount, and they risk causing wholly unjustified reputational damage to highly trained professionals trying to focus on fighting COVID-19. All testing done by the Government is utilizing valid real time PCR equipment that is FDA approved, and we will accept nothing less. They are being reported to our physicians, to the public, and to our international partners. The Government stands by the results of these tests and we’re pleased to have additional testing capacity.
In closing, I would like to remind the public that hospital beds are still needed by the country; they are needed by the people who fall seriously ill and need hospital care. Therefore, I would like to reissue my call to those members of the public with loved ones at the hospital who are medically fit to leave, to please work with KEMH to receive your family members…so that all possible beds are available if the need arises.
Thank you Minister Wilson. And now the Minister of National Security will give an update on matters relating to his ministry.
The Minister of National Security Statement.
The daily Community Advisory Points continue across the island supported by the Royal Bermuda Regiment (RBR) and Bermuda Police Service (BPS).
As we wind down this aspect of Shelter in Place it would be useful to share some of the numbers of stops that have been recorded. Since April 6th, roughly 184,000 stops have been recorded by the BPS and the RBR at the Community Advisory Points. This is includes stops over this past weekend which included 5,621 stops on Saturday and 4,426 on Sunday.
As a note, the upcoming summer Recruit Camp has been postponed until the fall. Anyone interested in joining the fall recruitment camp should call 238-1045 or visit www.bermudaregiment.bm/join-us. The Department of Immigration has had several inquiries from employers, agencies and individuals with respect to passports, land applications and work permits. But to be clear, regarding guest workers and work permit holders – I can advise is that we are not asking individuals who are permit holders to depart or leave Bermuda. In fact, we are working with all of our stakeholders to assist where we can. The public should be aware that each circumstance is different and our team remain readily available to work through any issues and concerns.
Switching to the Bermuda Fire & Rescue Service – their EMTs continue to provide a vital emergency service during this Shelter in Place period. Over the past three (3) weeks:
- The Fire Dispatch answered a total of 520 calls for service:
- 409 were EMS related
- 111 were Fire related
- The BFRS also supported the British Airways air-bridge flight with an ambulance and fire crews.
Turning to the Shelter in Place approvals for businesses to operate – on Friday, we announced that the legislated amendments would be expanded to allow additional specific businesses to operate. Altogether, the Ministry of National Security granted 105 businesses approval to operate. These businesses have very strict guidelines. The public can visit www.gov.bm to see what businesses have been granted permission to operate. Any business that opens contrary to the Emergency Powers (Shelter in Place) Regulations is liable to prosecution.
Lastly, I wish to extend my thanks to the Bermuda Red Cross who have been working in partnership with the Government to provide valuable assistance. I was informed by its Disaster Manager Ms. Diane Gordon that the Bermuda Red Cross has distributed 62,000 surgical masks to those on our frontlines and in our community.
So we are appreciative of the efforts of the Bermuda Red Cross. On the subject of masks and gloves – the Ministry of Public Works is issuing an advisory to the community about the proper disposal of protective face masks and gloves.
We want to ensure that we keep our island clean – so we are encouraging commuters to keep a small waste bag in their vehicle or under their bike seats so that they can easily dispose of these items – instead of littering the sides of our roads.
Finally, this week our Disaster Risk Reduction and Mitigation or DRRM Team will be hard at work laying out a plan for the resumption and reopening of services. We are working collaboratively with our private sector partners and our public sector colleagues in this effort.
Thank you very much Minister.
Shelter in Place is a health measure that was put in place to flatten the curve, which means reduce the number of persons who get the disease at any one time. It is effective in suppressing the spread of COVID-19 and it saves lives and prevents our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. So far this measure has succeeded and our test results today are showing that. But, we must continue to make sure that our actions do not increase the spread of this disease. However, it is unquestionable that Shelter in Place has impacted the emotional, psychological and economic well-being of many members of our community and this weighs heavily on the decisions that the Government makes.
To address an aspect of the economic impact and how the government has addressed it, Minister Foggo will provide an update on the COVID-19 Unemployment Benefit, which was put in place as a bridge, before financial assistance, and as the Minister of National Security has made clear, unlike financial assistance, it is made available to those persons who are non-Bermudian here on work permits, and who are unable to leave the country due to the restrictions that are in place.
Minister Foggo Statement.
Since last Monday, the Department of Workforce Development has received an additional 1,803 applications bringing the total to 11,001 as of this morning.
Since the launch of the fund on the 25th March 2020, some 5,008 have been paid the benefit totalling over $7.7 million. I am aware that some are still waiting for their benefit and need access to these funds as soon as possible. I am pleased to advise that approximately 2,500 applicants who have not yet received benefit will receive their benefit tomorrow. These payments will total approximately $2.3 million. This is quite an achievement and I must thank my colleague, the Minister of Finance, and his team for pulling out all stops to make this happen. Those who have already been paid and remain eligible for the benefit will receive their next payment on Friday May 1st.
Workforce Development started this project with a staff of 14 just over four weeks ago and now have a team of some 92 working on this project. They will continue to work diligently on this until the project and engage more resources as needed until it ends. I would like to thank them for their work and the dedication they have shown with staff working evenings and weekends to process the applications as quickly as possible. I am aware that many applicants have been frustrated in the delays of getting their benefit and equally frustrated with being unable to get through on the help lines.
If you have applied for the benefit on or before the 6th April and by Friday 1st May have not received any benefit, or been advised that you are ineligible, then you should contact the call centre for assistance.
We have updated the call center to ensure that calls are routed to the next available customer service representative. Please call the call center numbers 297-7714 and 297-7716 during normal business hours which have been upgraded to handle the volume of calls. The Unemployment Benefit Form can be found at www.gov.bm. Emails can also be sent to email@example.com for assistance.
Thank you very much Minister Foggo.
Just to reiterate what Minister Foggo said, those persons who qualify and have not been paid yet, the Government will process those payments tomorrow and the money will be in your account tomorrow or they may go into your account overnight and be there on Wednesday.
As I read this statement this evening, a number of committees are working on ideas and putting plans in place to rebuild our economy and to improve people’s lives. We have reached out to the public seeking for feedback and ideas. If you haven’t already submitted your ideas, please visit forum.gov.bm. Over 100 persons to date have submitted their ideas. I want persons to go there and join the conversation. Vote for the projects or the ideas which you think make the most sense, so that we can actually have a conversation in a place where the persons who are going to be making the decisions, on how we are going to move forward, will be able to see these items in one place.
Our Ministers have reached out to the Opposition seeking their feedback and ideas and earlier today I had a productive meeting with the Opposition Leader on how we can work together even better. We believe that no matter how talented, educated, or experienced we may be, during this unprecedented crisis, we are stronger working together, thinking together and planning together to make sure that collectively we can build that better future.
Tomorrow the Cabinet will meet and with the advice of the technical officers in the Ministry of Health we will determine the next steps post Shelter in Place. We have observed the lessons of countries that opened too far and too wide, too soon and, we will not make those mistakes. Our solution must fit Bermuda, fit the cases of COVID-19 on our shores and ensure that the health and safety of everyone is protected. That will always be at the forefront of all of the decisions we make.
We will be examining how far we are able to go to get people back to work and back to their regular lives without jeopardizing the health and safety of our community. Let me be clear, we will not return to life as we knew it before COVID-19 for the foreseeable future. We must maintain social distancing and balance that with the opening of our economy and our community.
The conversation in Cabinet tomorrow will not only be about how we will reopen our economy but also how we can transform it. How together we can shape a Bermuda that will work for everyone.
We do not have to be constrained by the limits of the past, and as is seen in the way that we are implementing testing, which is saving the Government a tremendous amount of money, we can do things differently and make sure that as we go forward, we take different approaches to our traditional problems.
There are many in the community who have donated to those who are in need, and there are those who continue to assist our vulnerable. We are indeed all our brothers’ keeper and our sisters’ keeper and I want to thank you each of you for your hard work and dedication.
We will emerge at 6am on Saturday May 2 into a different Bermuda. Yet, I am of the firm belief that if we work together, we will be able to survive and thrive in the post COVID-19 world.
I will end today on a personal note. This weekend we saw the passing of the former Speaker of the House, the Hon. Stanley Lowe, OBE. As I said in my tribute to him yesterday, he was a man for all seasons. I appreciated the time I spent with him, learning about his work and also the significant contributions he made to Bermuda. I extend the heartfelt condolence of the Government and people of Bermuda to his family.
COVID-19 has changed the way which we do everything, even how we say goodbye to our loved ones. Instead of the customary condolence book, which would have been at the Cabinet Building for Bermuda’s first black Speaker of the House, and the longest serving Progressive Labour Party member of the House of Assembly. We have created an online version. Those who wish to share fond memories and words of comfort for the family should go to www.remembr.com/stanleylowe.obe.jp, and I will make sure that that link is posted to the government website so you don’t have to write the long link you can just go to www.gov.bm.
Finally, I would just like to give a few thank yous this evening. I would like to thank, in addition to Dr. Weldon, I would like to thank Dr. Kyjuan Brown, Dr. Amne Osseyran-Foggo, and Dr. Cindy Morris. The Public Works team led by the Minister of Public Works, the Hon. Col. Burch and happy birthday Colonel Burch, the Permanent Secretary, Randy Rochester, and to all of the nurses, and students that have been working at the testing facility at Southside for the past four days.
They have put in long hours to make sure that Bermuda’s essential and critical workers were tested over the weekend. 600 tests in three days is an incredible feat, and I’ve just got a report that there’s been 240 additional samples, which have been collected today, thus far. You are showing that determined Bermudians, working together will get the job done and get it done successfully every time.
If you are an essential and critical worker, I encourage you to get tested, and the link can be found on the government website.
I would like to also express my appreciation to the team at Workforce Development. Minister Lovitta Foggo, the Permanent Secretary, the acting director, staff and all Public Officers across the Public Sservice, who stepped forward to form the Unemployment Benefit Project Team.
As I’ve said many times the government is not closed, the Department of Workforce Development does not have 97 employees, but there’s 97 members of the Public Service who have pitched in to that effort to make sure that it’s happened. It has been a project that we started from the very beginning, but we have been able to deliver this relief, which is going to be much needed for many of our families during this time.
What I will say is, while there is sadness in our community, we must also be able to celebrate our successes. The success of getting a program up like that running, the success of us moving forward so that we can have drive-through testing in this country, so we can continue to maintain our leadership, are successes and it’s showing that not just the government, but all sectors of the community are pulling together to work together to ensure that Bermuda can be successful. With that, I’m happy to take questions from members of the media.