Bermuda Government COVID-19 Press Conference December 8, 2020

Bermuda Government COVID-19 Update December 8, 2020

December 8, 2020

Good Afternoon Bermuda, and welcome members of the media.

I am joined today by the Minister of Health who will be providing an update to the public on the latest from her Ministry. Following that I will give an update on decisions made this afternoon around Bermuda’s Public Schools, matters related to containing the spread, increasing our testing capacity and the WeHealth app launch this Friday. Additionally, I will detail support that will be given for persons who’ve been displaced due to the latest actions taken by the Government.

 

First we will start with the Minister of Health:

There were 929 test results received by the Ministry of Health yesterday (7 December 2020), and 24 were positive for COVID-19.

One of the new cases is classified as imported with details as follows:

  • 1 resident who arrived on DL 617 from New York on 28 November 2020 and tested positive on their day 8 test, having had a negative pre-arrival test and a negative arrival test.

16 of the new cases are classified as local transmission with known contact/source with details as follows:

  • 4 residents who were under quarantine as close contacts (2 household, 2 workplace) of known cases
  • 12 residents who are associated with known clusters

The remaining 7 new cases are classified as under investigation. These cases are among residents with no history of travel or any currently identified links to other known cases or clusters

Bermuda now has 330 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows:

  • there are 98 active cases, of which
  • 96 are under public health monitoring and
  • 2 are hospitalized with 1 in critical care;
  • a total of 223 have recovered, and
  • the total deceased remains 9.

The average age of all confirmed positive cases is 48 years and the age range is 0 to 101 years.

To protect privacy and confidentiality, the average age and age range of the hospitalized cases will not be provided.

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

The source of all cases is as follows:

  • 129 are Imported
  • 156 are Local transmission, with known contact/source
  • 21 are Local transmission with an unknown contact/source, and
  • 24 are under investigation

It should be noted that as investigations proceed, transmission categories may change.

The seven-day average of our real time reproduction number is greater than 1 (1.26).

Bermuda’s country status is under review but is currently “Clusters of Cases”.  The determination of the country status is done in collaboration with the Pan-American Health Organization which reviews country data on a daily basis.

As you can see, today’s results are not good: 24 new cases to report in just one day. We must do better at curbing risky behaviours that lead to further spread of COVID-19. We must do the following:

  • Reduce your bubble sizes – choose only one or two other households to socialise with for the next few weeks.
  • When you meet others, meet outdoors and wear masks and observe physical distancing.
  • Wear your mask properly! Wearing a mask with your nose is exposed is like not wearing a mask at all!
  • Consider postponing events until it’s safer.
  • Avoid indoor spaces, crowded places and close contacts.
  • And ensure your workplace is following COVID-19 protocols.

The Ministry’s contact tracing investigations strongly suggest that it is social mixing or gatherings of people that are most likely to produce local transmission and positive cases…as is currently happening now. Many cases are asymptomatic. So just because your friends and coworkers don’t seem sick, doesn’t mean they do not have COVID-19…And they might be unwittingly passing it on to you.

One glimmer of positivity in this week’s statistics is that our current cases seem to be, for the most part, linked to well-defined clusters. This doesn’t mean that there is necessarily a link to imported cases but it is good news (from a contact tracing perspective) that they can be linked to common exposure events and locations.

But if people ignore public health measures, we will see more and more cases and head down the path to community transmission.

‘Community transmission’, as defined by the World Health Organization, means when you have so many clusters and so many unidentified incidences of COVID-19 that it’s impossible to find links between cases. Fortunately, we are not at that point as yet but, as I said, we must each play our part to ensure it stays that way.

One thing that helps protect our community is obeying quarantine instructions…

If the Ministry of Health has contacted you to tell you that you or your child is a close contact of a case and must be quarantined, this means remaining home from school, work and other activities for 14 days. In the case of children, this means not attending birthday parties, sporting events, social and extra-curricular activities. I now want to say a few words on that last point…regarding extracurricular activities…

From reports I am hearing, there seems to be a discrepancy between the school environment and children’s extra-curricular activities in terms of ensuring protective health measures are followed.  In school, children are kept in their year group and class bubbles; something which the schools and teachers have worked extremely hard to maintain. But in sports clubs and during other extracurricular activities, I am hearing that children from many schools are meeting and interacting socially.  This is making the bubbles that are created at school much less useful in preventing spread.  Therefore I am appealing to parents and organizations that run these activities to please be mindful of this and act in accordance with the health guidelines posted on coronavirus.gov.bm.

As it relates to the parents who are watching their children partake in these activities, I want to remind you that if you are not able to physically distance, you must wear a mask. Yes, even if you are outside.

I will now provide information on further testing opportunities for residents….

First of all, I would like to thank all of those GPs who assist us with testing; your help is crucial to building up Bermuda’s testing capacity.

Our new testing schedule, which is operative as of December 14, will provide testing continuity for our residents as it will not change month by month; it will be a fixed schedule.

Also, we have added more testing slots. The new locations create more capacity for community and group testing…as well as symptomatic testing.

Furthermore, our new locations provide us with shelter from the elements as they can be converted from a drive-through functionality to indoor locations. Currently if it rains, pop-ups have to close; these new locations give us certainty that testing can proceed – rain blow or shine, regardless of the weather.

The new schedule will be as follows:

  • Testing on Mondays will take place at Bull’s Head Car Park from 10am until 2pm for non-symptomatic persons and 2pm to 4pm for symptomatic persons.
  • On Tuesdays, testing will take place at the Star of India in Dockyard from 11am until 3pm for non-symptomatic persons and 3pm to 5pm for symptomatic persons.
  • On Wednesdays, it will take place at Pennos’ Wharf in St. George’s from 11am until 3pm for non-symptomatic persons and 3pm to 5pm for symptomatic persons.
  • On Thursdays testing will take place at the Star of India from 11am until 3pm for non-symptomatic persons and 3pm to 5pm for symptomatic persons.
  • On Fridays testing will be at Bull’s Head from 10am until 2pm for non-symptomatic persons and 2pm to 4pm for symptomatic persons.
  • On Saturday testing will take place at Bull’s Head from 9am until 2pm for non-symptomatic persons and 2pm to 4pm for symptomatic persons.
  • And on Sundays testing will take place at Penno’s Wharf from 11am to 5pm for travellers and non-symptomatic persons.

Persons can go online this evening to book appointments.

Additional community testing was being arranged at Perot Post Office between 10am and 2pm, with the aim of starting tomorrow. Unfortunately, as a result of the increased number of positive cases, we must focus most immediately on the testing needs that arise from the contact tracing investigations. These are the priority cases, and regrettably we cannot accommodate walk-ins at this time.

To be clear, for those who have appointments at the pop-ups, we will be moving the appointments made for December 14 and after to the new sites; we will send out email correspondence directly to persons with new locations and times for testing.

Going forward, there will be no more pop-ups at the MarketPlace. The Ministry of Health would like to deeply thank the MarketPlace for being such a gracious and accommodating partner for the past few months. This partnership has been crucial in the success of our rigorous testing regime.

I want to remind the public that effective today, 8th December 2020 all residents and visitors to Bermuda are required to wear a Traveller Wristband for the first 14 days of their stay. The Wristbands serve to remind travellers to be careful of their movements and follow the “First 14 Days” guidance in order to help us minimize COVID spread. The Wristbands also remind the public of the additional precautions for travellers during those first 14 days.

However, I want to remind everyone that Bermuda’s borders are open and we continue to welcome visitors and our returning residents home. The increased number of COVID-19 cases has made it necessary to step up a number of precautions across many sectors, in order to avoid more stringent measures. But Bermuda is known for our hospitality and friendliness, and the Wristbands should serve as a reminder to locals to extend a warm welcome to the wearer and show our traditional warm, Bermudian hospitality. While we have to maintain our physical distance, we can and must show even greater kindness and cordiality to all incoming travelers.

I should note that removal of the wristband is not permitted and can result in a fine of $500 and home quarantine with an electronic monitoring bracelet. Persons who do not wish to wear the Traveller Wristband will quarantine at their accommodation for 14 days.

On Saturday the Ministry of Health advised members of the public that an individual who attended the funeral of Charles Henry Eugene Eberly on Saturday, 28 November 2020 at Malabar has since tested positive for COVID-19.

We advised any member of the public who attended this event to call the COVID-19 hotline to arrange COVID-19 testing. So far, we are aware of nine positives associated with this funeral.

But we only know the status of those who have tested; and therefore we are urging everyone who went to the funeral to get tested. It is vital in ensuring we halt further spread.

On that same topic of getting necessary information, last night Government issued a release asking for members of the public who had attended three particular venues at certain times during the weekend of November 28/29 to contact the Ministry of Health to arrange COVID-19 testing as there had been a potential COVID-19 exposure at each venue. This advisory was issued because our contact tracers had not received adequate contact tracing information from these locations and the advisory was the most expedient way to contact all those individuals who may have attended these events. One site which was mentioned was FryDay’s Trampoline Park on 28th November between 11am and 9pm.  We can confirm that FryDays has provided us with the required information, so those who need to be contacted will be contacted. Regrettably, we received this information several hours after we requested it. As is the case with many investigations, the first 24 hrs are vital in establishing the close contacts. I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise the importance of supplying the contact tracing information as soon as possible when it is requested. This is absolutely critical.

And now a quick update regarding the COVID-19 vaccine:

I want to reassure members of the public that vaccine selection is a carefully considered process prior to its distribution. The Ministry of Health will monitor the vaccine’s rollout in the United Kingdom and ensure the cold chain requirements and any safety concerns before distribution in Bermuda.

When we are independently satisfied that we are going the right way with the right vaccine for our population, then we will start vaccinating our residents, and not before.

We will start with vaccinating people who are medically vulnerable, seniors, healthcare workers and the essential workers.

In the coming weeks, we will be organizing series of interactive sessions to encourage the public to ask questions and get direct answers from medical professionals

In closing, I would like to ask persons who are contacted by our contact tracers to please be forthcoming with information as it pertains to your close contacts. We need this to be able to trace the potential spread… The confidential information you provide to the contact tracers may help to may save a life.

Thank you.

Thank you, Minister Wilson. As I say very often, I want to thank you for your tireless work and efforts in leading the Ministry of Health.

And certainly, your team for the excellent work they continue to do. I know that the last couple of weeks has been tremendously stressful for them. I know that your teams and you have worked incredibly long hours. I know that this is not easy with everyone questioning decisions of which are being made based on the public health advice and science that that the Ministry follows. But I want to thank you on behalf of the country for the work which you’ve been doing, because it is certainly appreciated by myself, and I know appreciated by a great many residents of this country.

Let me start with an update from the Ministry of Education, and we are joined here by the Minister of Education in case any members of the media have any questions for him. Following a meeting of the Education Emergency Measures Committee, the Minister of Education, the Hon. Diallo Rabain, has made the decision to suspend in-class learning and transition to remote learning in all of Bermuda’s Public Schools – pre-school, primary, middle and senior schools.

The Department of Education, through the principals, have contacted all parents and students to provide them with the details for their respective schools.

All students will work on digital and non-digital learning packets on December 9th and 10th to allow staff to prepare for online education.  All schools will convert to online teaching and service from December 11th – 16th, when the school year was scheduled to end.

The Government is aware of the impact of transitioning to remote learning in our public schools. We have parents, especially parents who are unable to work from home. The Department of Youth & Sport will be contacted to seek their support to care for children during the next six days of the school term of those parents who must report to work.

This decision was made, similarly to the decision at The Berkeley Institute today, as there were challenges with delivering quality education for our students given the large number of persons under precautionary quarantine. It should be noted that outside of the schools announced already that have been closed due to a positive case, only one more was added to that list.

There have not been any more confirmed cases reported in any schools, and the results received thus far today, which will be reported tomorrow do not have any students testing positive.

This decision does not apply to private schools, nurseries or other activities. If you are able to follow the rules and are maintaining protocols those activities may continue.  However, for the public school system, it was important to transition to remote learning to ensure that we can deliver quality instruction, while also reducing the stress on our healthcare teams with large quarantines and a significant amount of additional persons to be tested, just on the basis of a single positive case.

Bermuda, I cannot stress how important the next two weeks are for our country; not just for how we spend Christmas or how we end the year, but our actions over the next two weeks will greatly impact what 2021 looks like.

By now I am sure that all Bermuda is aware that we are in the midst of a large outbreak of the coronavirus here on our shores. The scale and scope of the number of positive cases is alarming and proves that we are not exempt from the realities of this global pandemic.

Although our rate of hospitalizations remains comparatively low, this does not decrease the concern I share with Ministry of Health officials of the potential for this outbreak to adversely impact our healthcare system.

Let me clear, I do not subscribe to any of the growing rationalisations around COVID-19 generally or this outbreak in particular. Mild symptoms or no symptoms at all should comfort no-one in this community. The nature of this virus is such that this is not an individual experience, it is a collective danger that is posed and against which we must fight.

Thankfully, we know much more than we did in March when the global pandemic was first declared. The public health advice has been ingrained into us and outbreaks occur in communities where there has been a lapse in following that advice; by persons or groups. Regulations and harsher penalties alone will not do enough to address the dangers posed by what we are now seeing. This is a matter of personal responsibility as well.

The Government will do its part by setting out clearly, those activities that must now be prohibited or modified to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. The existing clusters of cases demonstrate that large groups in social settings or settings where there is little physical distancing and lax mask wearing are the principal source of transmission.

Make no mistake, we are at a crossroad in the Island’s pandemic story. We have successfully traded on our ability to meet a global challenge with local talent and ingenuity. That has not and will not be allowed to change. We intend to bring to bear the same leadership and critical decision making that saw us through the days when we had far less testing capacity, when we were not even sure how transmission occurred and when we were forced to shut our borders and shelter in place.

The key to all of this is our renewed sense of community and responsibility. We must recognize that there is nothing to be gained by devising ways to circumvent the public health regulations so that we can carry on as normal. The next two weeks must be anything but normal. The life that is put at risk may not be your own but it may very well be that of someone you love.

We have an opportunity to once again re-engage in the same careful conduct that saw us emerge better than expected when we knew less. Now that we know more we can act more confidently and comply with public health advice in the knowledge that that compliance saves lives.

I am concerned. I am disappointed. Disappointed that after our success we find ourselves here.

But I draw confidence from the fact that we have the testing and tracing capability to identify positive cases and those at risk of exposure. I know that our hospital is prepared and properly equipped should the need arise.

I received reports today that persons went to be tested and due to the large amount of persons that showed up, some were turned away. This is a challenge but I want all to know that while we have expanded our testing resources we are also testing more people including all contacts of positive cases. It is essential that those persons are tested first. The government is putting additional measures in place to further increase our testing capacity. The Ministry of Health’s goal is to be able to test 1,000 people every day, and with the resources being brought to bear I am sure we will exceed this number. The number of testing facilities will increase and we will also work with doctors’ offices to further enhance their testing ability – so that we can get people tested. I am grateful for the doctors who have stepped up, and I look forward more doctors coming on line to assist in this testing effort.

To support our plan to increase testing, and following conversations with Government House, the Royal Bermuda Regiment will provide 20 soldiers.

·         12 officers to assist with quarantine monitoring

·         6 officers to assist at the testing stations

·         2 officers to assist with testing

These essential resources will help to make a difference for Bermuda. The more people we test the greater our ability to detect new cases. The more tests, the more you know, and we are testing a great many persons at this time. It’s important to note that many of the persons that we are testing are already in protected quarantine.

If you have questions about getting tested contact the COVID-19 Helpline at 444 2498.

444 2498. They are open 8am – 10pm to answer any questions that you may have about getting tested.

Also, if you have questions regarding the coronavirus generally, you can always go to the website, coronavirus.gov.bm.

We each have a role to play in how we will spend Christmas this year. If we limit our interactions as we move about the island. If we keep our bubbles small and we follow all of the public health guidance we can contain this outbreak.

Unfortunately, the activities in the actions taken by the government will have a negative impact on some in this country, specifically those who work in bars and clubs.

All persons put out of work will be eligible for assistance, and the Minister of Finance has indicated that the temporary unemployment benefit will be made available, again, persons who have been put out of work in bars and clubs will be eligible for up to $1,000 which will be paid, electronically.

Additionally, support for businesses such as restaurants, who have seen a decline in business, in addition to bars and clubs, who have been ordered to close, especially at this time of year, which is some of the business that will need support. The Bermuda Economic Development Corporation will provide grant support during this difficult two week period.

The details on the grant support that will be provided by the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation is not fully complete, but will be announced before the end of the week, so that businesses can avail themselves of support, which they need for their overheads at a time when they are not going to be able to make any income. So we will support the employees who have been put out of work for these two weeks, and we will support the businesses to make sure that the overheads and expenses which they have to meet can be met during this time.

I will now talk about the WeHealth app. Two weeks ago, we announced the pilot test of WeHealth Bermuda app, a free smartphone application that provides anonymous COVID-19 exposure notifications.

This week, I’m pleased to report that the pilot was a success, and the app will launch Bermuda-wide this Friday, December 11, 2020. Over 3,000 Bermudians have already downloaded the app. If you haven’t already done so, download it today. The app can be downloaded from the app store on your phone. Type in WeHealth Bermuda.

WeHealth Bermuda is designed to help slow the spread of COVID-19 by notifying app users of potential exposure to the coronavirus. It is one of the most sophisticated apps available anywhere in the world for helping to control and minimize the spread of the coronavirus

When smartphones that have WeHealth Bermuda installed are near each other, the app uses anonymous Bluetooth signals to determine how close together the devices were, and for how long.

If someone receives a positive diagnosis, they will receive their positive test result and a randomized verification code from The Ministry of Health. Once the verification code is entered into the app, WeHealth Bermuda will automatically and anonymously notify other app users that an infected person was within close proximity, even if they don’t know that person. Because WeHealth Bermuda does not use or collect personal information, these notifications will be completely anonymous.

The app is free, and will run on iPhone and Android phones. Once you download and install the app on your smartphone, there’s nothing else you need to do. The app will run in the background and alert you to any exposure risks.

Our families, neighbours, and communities depend on us to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Pairing WeHealth Bermuda exposure notifications with manual contact tracing and other preventative measures, like wearing a mask, physical distancing, and frequent hand washing means better protection for us all.

As an example of how this app can be effective, can be found when it was used at the University of Arizona this year. Using the WeHealth app, combined with other conventional techniques such as contact tracing, the University of Arizona reduced the rate of infection from a daily average of 160 to under five in only a few weeks. This was achieved by employing targeted quarantine of individuals at high risk of infection, rather than mass quarantines, or a complete lockdown, with on-site classes continuing.

They were able to reduce infections by 97%, without the need for a lockdown just by using this app. I cannot express how critical this is to our reopening efforts, and how essential it is that persons participate with this app.

Starting on Friday you will start seeing social media graphics and information on how to download the app. Let me repeat, you don’t have to wait until Friday. Take the time, less than a minute and download it right now. It is important and critical that you install the app and leave it running on your phone, especially if you are going to go out in a situation whether it be a restaurant or to some other activity. This is essential, especially if you will be around people who you may not know. Your action will help to make a difference for your family, your neighbourhood, and the island.  Encourage your friends, family and coworkers to download the app, as well.

We achieved great results once we were able to learn about the virus and apply science. I am certain it was the discipline of Bermudians, the extensive testing, the rules for arriving passengers, protocols surrounding our activities in the country, the technology that has been unveiled to assist the fight, and our maintaining social distance and wearing masks that has allowed us to reset Bermuda.

When communicating about the coronavirus, we use words like confirmed cases, infections, hospitalizations, etc. but I wish to be clear…these words are about humanity – they are about people:

COVID-19 cases are PEOPLE infected with a virus that can cause serious illness or death.

Hospitalizations are PEOPLE being treated knowing that their lives may be in danger.

Business Closures are not about profits, or employees losing money; they are about PEOPLE not having the dignity, pride, and satisfaction that comes from earning a living.

Nine coronavirus related deaths are nine Bermudians families who lost a loved one.

We cannot lose sight of why we have implemented restrictions … we are preserving life and trying to ensure a decent quality of life for all Bermudians once we come through this.

Make no mistake, lessons have been learned, and in the next few weeks we will continue to refine our protocols for arriving travelers to ensure that we tighten up anywhere needed to better protect against any future outbreak.

I have no doubt that if the keep our unity, our sense of community, be our brothers and sisters keepers, we will be okay. As the leader of this country, it is important that I share with you my optimism, as I am certain that we have the tools to get through this. Our teams have risen to the occasion. And it fills me with pride to see how they have responded and mobilized the community, to ensure this massive testing effort and identification and contact tracing effort that we’ve seen over the past weeks. Our health teams, our testing teams, our communications teams have all done an amazing job. And our teachers are the amazing unsung heroes of this pandemic. We must all as a country rise to the occasion, in the same way.

As I close, I will again recognize that this is not an easy time for many in our community. There are those who are feeling the stresses and the impacts of the decisions that we have made.

There are many in our community who are struggling economically. Some are caring for ill and aging family members, and many are feeling overwhelmed and depressed, as I say every week, you do not have to suffer in silence. There is help available. You can receive support. Contact the emotional wellbeing hotline at 543 1111. Someone will answer the phone and provide you with support. 543 1111.

Also, if you would like to receive regular updates from the government of Bermuda via WhatsApp, please send ‘Hi’, to 504 6045, and we will add you to our distribution list. Again, that phone number is 504 6045. We’ve continued to send out notifications, but there’s been some persons who said they’re not receiving them. If you are not, just send ‘Hi’ to 504 6045.

I have said many times in the past, we are our brothers and sisters keeper. We are here together. We will work together. We will emerge from this pandemic together. I am confident that if we all do what we are supposed to – wear a mask, wash our hands and practice physically distancing, we can stop the spread of the coronavirus.

As I have said, I’m confident that over the next few weeks, we’ll be able to constrain this outbreak. It is going to require all of us to work together. With that, I’m happy to take any questions that members of the media may have.