Bermuda Government COVID-19 Press Conference January 19th

Bermuda Government Press Conference – COVID-19 Update January 19 2021

January 19, 2021

Good Evening Bermuda,

Last week the Government was pleased to announce the beginning of our vaccination programme, with the Ministry of Health beginning distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday, January 11 th to elderly residents 80 years and over, the clinically vulnerable, frontline healthcare workers and essential workers such as police officers, teachers, and others.

From my perspective, the first week has been extremely successful, and this success is thanks to the dedicated Department of Health staff’s efforts. I thank Dr Heather Armstrong, the Government’s Senior Medical Officer, and her team for all their hard work in getting Bermuda’s Vaccination Centre established and running safely and efficiently.

Tonight, I am joined by The Minister of Health, the Hon Kim Wilson, who will give details of the vaccination programme, including the number of residents vaccinated so far and details on our changes to our travellers’ regime.

Following that, I will provide updates on additional vaccine shipments, changes to the current restrictions that will come into effect on Thursday morning, and the economic measures the Government is employing to stimulate the economy. First, we will begin with the Minister of Health.

Good afternoon.

There were 657 test results received by the Ministry of Health since the last update and 1 was positive for COVID-19.

The new case is classified as imported with details as follows:

  • 1 resident who arrived on AA 308 from Miami on 17 January 2021 and tested positive on their arrival test

There have also been 5 recoveries.

Bermuda now has 684 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows.

There are 69 active cases, of which

  • 63 are under public health monitoring and
  • 6 are in hospital with none in critical care;
  • a total of 603 have recovered, and
  • the total deceased remains at 12.

The mean age of all confirmed positive cases is 43 years (median: 40 years) and the ages range from less than 1 year to greater than 100 years.

The mean age of all currently active cases is 47 years (median: 47 years) and the ages range from less than 20 years (age group: 10-19 years) to greater than 80 years (age group: 80-100 years).

The mean age of all currently hospitalized cases is 61 years (median: 69 years) and the ages range from less than 30 years (age group: 20-29 years) to greater than 80 years (age group: 80-100 years).

The mean age of all deceased cases is 75 years (median: 77 years) and the ages range from less than 60 years (age group: 50-59 years) to greater than 80 years (age group: 80-100 years).

The source of all cases is as follows:

  • 195 are Imported
  • 472 are classified as local transmission of which:
  • 392 are Local transmission with known contact/source and
  • 80 are Local transmission with an unknown contact/source
  • 17 are Under Investigation

As investigations proceed, transmission categories may change.  Today’s update has 1 case moving from under investigation to local transmission with known contact/source.

Of the over 150,000 test results reported, the mean age of all persons tested is 43 years (median:  42 years) and the ages range from less than 1 year to greater than 100 years.

The seven-day average of our real time reproduction number is less than 1 (0.35) and Bermuda’s current country status is “Clusters of Cases”.

I will now provide an update on the COVID-19 vaccination programme. As the Premier mentioned, the ministry started the distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday 11 January. For the week of 11 January – 16 January, there have been a total of 1,665 vaccines administered.

738 of these vaccines were administered by the Bermuda Hospitals Board during their first vaccination clinic held at the King Edward Memorial Hospital. The individuals vaccinated were part of Phase 1(A) priority group as outlined in the ministry’s Vaccine Allocation Strategy and included both frontline healthcare workers and residents in the Hospital’s long term care facility.

Of the remaining 927 vaccines, 40 were administered to the elderly, extremely clinically vulnerable, and clinically vulnerable at nursing care facilities and 887 were given to the elderly and frontline healthcare and essential service workers at the Vaccination Centre at the Police Recreation Club.

More particularly, of the vaccines administered so far, the breakdown is as follows:

  • 58% female, and,
  • 42% male, and of this
  • 32% were essential service workers,
  • 27% were health workers,
  • 22% were not categorized by occupation (elderly)
  • 19% were ‘Other’, as in retired, unemployed or caregivers.

As has been reported, when we initially opened the Vaccination Hotline, we were overwhelmed with the number of residents calling to express their interest to be vaccinated. As a result, we increased the number of staff to answer the calls and revamped the infrastructure for these staff.

We also implemented an online form which allows residents to register their interest easily, efficiently and conveniently. I am happy to report that the number of residents who have registered their interest to date is 7,729. The ministry would like to thank those residents who have already registered and remind residents that registering your interest does not guarantee you an appointment, as all submissions will be prioritised based on an assessment by our medical personnel.

The breakdown of those registering their interest is as follows:

  • 51% female
  • 49% male, further broken down as
  • 63% White
  • 14% Black
  • 9% Mixed/Other
  • 14% Race not stated (as the initial online form did not have the field)

For those residents who haven’t registered as of yet but would like to, we recommend using the online registration form which can be found at https://forms.gov.bm/covidvaccineAs I have said before, when you submit your registration form, you will receive an auto-generated submission receipt. Your submission will be kept on file, and you will be contacted as appointments become available. Every submission will be replied to, and there is no need for you to re-submit. We ask that people who registered, whether via the online form or by email, to please be patient as we work through all submissions and allocate the appointments.

The process for the medical risk assessment is a manual one done by the medical team – and this takes time. At present, eligibility is a combination of age, medical history and occupation. We are focused on those who are in Priority Groups 1(A) and 1(B) but recognize that people can be in multiple categories and have medical vulnerabilities which are not evident to the naked eye.

Following our initial allocation strategy, Group 1(A) includes people who are 80 years or older, care home residents, frontline health care and frontline essential workers. Group 1(B) includes people who are 65 years or older and people who are extremely vulnerable, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or with severe asthma or COPD.

During the first week, there were many healthcare workers and frontline essential service workers who received the vaccine at the Vaccination Centre. These were workers who were largely registered as a ‘bloc’ through their place of employment – for example, the police, firefighters and ports of entry staff. As we tackle the backlog of registrations received online or those emails which remain, we are moving our focus this week to increase the number of high risk and elderly persons receiving the vaccine.

As the vaccine has strict quality control standards and must be administered within a specific time period, we must closely monitor the doses administered throughout the day. So that you know, once it is thawed, a vaccine batch must be used within five days; and a vial, which holds five doses, must be fully used once opened and mixed. Our mandate is to ensure we do not waste a single dose

On the question of some persons receiving the vaccine before others, as I said before, this decision is based on a risk assessment done by the medical team and in accordance with the information provided by the resident.

Bermuda does not yet have a registry that provides information on the persons with medical conditions that would help validate all of the information received. This means that we have to rely on self-reporting in cases where there is no doctor’s note.

As we get to the end of each day’s vaccination session, we only have a limited time to administer the remaining doses. That is when we contact persons who are eligible for vaccination in Phase 1 and who can attend the Vaccination Centre in a few minutes. That is how we avoid wastage.

In the coming days and weeks, the ministry will continue to distribute vaccine doses to the rest homes and long term care facilities. We will continue administering vaccines at the Vaccination Centre to those who match Group 1(A) and Group 1(B) profiles who have registered their interest.

We are also in the process of identifying added opportunities to administer more vaccinations before the arrival of the next batch of vaccines. This will involve additional locations and or additional shifts.

In short, we are seeking to dramatically increase the number of vaccines we can administer daily and provide residents with more options to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. This increase in our capacity will also see us moving into Phase 2 (persons 50 and older, vulnerable people, essential travellers and specific groups such as unsheltered persons) and, eventually, Phase 3, when we can offer the vaccine to everyone.

The aim is to ensure anyone who wants a vaccine can get one.

I also have an update for travellers…

Starting on the 25th of January, travellers in different traveller continuum stages will be changing their wristbands’ colours. So every traveller arriving will receive a red wristband upon arrival. On day four testing, the red wristband will be changed to orange, and on day eight testing the orange wristband will be changed to a yellow. These changes in colour are related to activities that persons should or should not do as they advance through their testing regime and incubation period.

Travellers are reminded that there are very specific things they cannot do until they are further into their testing regime.  For example, no one should be visiting a bar or playing a contact sport until after their day eight negative test.

Examples of the different activities are provided on the “Travellers’ First 14 Days in Bermuda – Guidance for Residents and Visitors” document at https://www.gov.bm/coronavirus-travellers.

We hope the series of coloured wristbands will help travellers know what they can and cannot do during their first 14 days in Bermuda.

Finally… We are at the beginning of our vaccine journey, and it is a journey… so continue to stay safe, Bermuda, and, remember, I wear a mask to protect you; you wear a mask to protect me.

Thank you Minister…

On behalf of the people of Bermuda, I thank you and your team for all of the hard work that you continue to put in on the front line of this pandemic.

In the first six days of vaccination (last week Monday to Saturday), 1,665 doses of the vaccines were administered, in addition to the 197 doses that were administered yesterday at the vaccinate centre. Over 7,700 people have registered their interest in taking the vaccine. I am thankful to all of those who have expressed their interest and have taken the necessary steps to protect themselves and our community. Please do not submit your registration for the vaccine if you are not in group 1.

As a country, we have a very ambitious goal. Our goal in Bermuda is to have 19,000 residents administered two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of March which equates to 36% of the population who are eligible to be administered the vaccine at this time (16 & over). That means that we will work to deliver 36,000 doses in the next 70 days. It is a massive undertaking, but I know without question that as a country, we can do it.

You may ask how we are able to make such bold claims and set such aggressive targets? That is because last week the UK Government informed the Government that additional 29,250 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would be made available to Bermuda with 19,500 doses expected to arrive on Island next week.

Earlier today the Minister of Health briefed the Cabinet on the plans to expand the Vaccination programme to meet this very aggressive target. I am confident that we will meet this target and look forward to working with all sectors to make this a reality.

I will now provide you with an update on the restrictions currently in place and what changes we will implement going forward:

Today, in line with the Ministry of Health recommendations, and with the support of the COVID Cabinet Committee, the Cabinet has also agreed to the following changes to restrictions:

  • Group gatherings of persons in a private or public setting will increase from a maximum of 10 to a maximum of 25 people – this will also apply to outdoor funerals.
  • Indoor bars and nightclubs can re-open but will only be permitted to operate as table service only, with a maximum of 6 at a table. No bar service will be permitted.
  • The curfew will remain in place between the hours of midnight – 5 am, with businesses closing at 11 pm.

These changes will come into effect on Thursday, January 21st, at 6 am. And as per usual, the restrictions will be reviewed every two weeks.

There will be no Large Group exemptions approved at this time. However, exemptions may be submitted to the Minister of National Security, for events taking place after February 1st.

It is through our collective efforts as a community and country that we can relax some of these restrictions. However, it is essential that we continue to remain vigilant. Please observe the guidance, get tested and obey the laws intended to keep us all safe, keep our economy flowing and the vaccine programme efficient and effective.

I know that the extension of curfew may not be welcomed news to many, and without question, it was a difficult decision. However, we must keep our long-term goals in mind as a country. To expand our vaccination programme we must continue to protect our healthcare system, not only the hospital but also the Ministry of Health team who 3 manage outbreaks and vaccination, and ensure that they are not overwhelmed by minimising the risk of future outbreaks. This will allow healthcare workers to continue to assist the Government in getting the vaccine to those who wish to receive it.

Bermuda, we have shown that we can work together to successfully manage this Covid outbreak. However, we must not let our defences down and become complacent (again). This includes wearing masks. I remind everyone that masks are still mandatory when in public, so please wear your mask. A further outbreak due to complacency would delay vaccination efforts and could lead to health and economic challenges for our country.

As I have stated in the past, we will use technology to help us stop the spread of the virus. If you haven’t already done so, please download the WeHealth Bermuda app today. Right now. It is easy. Go to the app store or Google Play, in the search field type in WeHealth Bermuda, and you can download the app.

Last week I was asked several questions about the WeHealth Bermuda app.

The app was officially launched on December 11, 2020.

The first code was issued on December 22, 2020. I was asked by Ms Palacio of Media Maya at last week’s press conference how many codes have been given out compared to the number of people who tested positive.

There have been 29 codes given to individuals who were confirmed positive since the first codes were administered. In that time, there have been 84 confirmed cases which were not imported cases. This means that 34.5% of confirmed positive cases were able to have a code issued since December 22nd.

Additionally, Mr Lindsay of TNN asked how many people have received notification that they had been near someone who tested positive.

We cannot get that data from the WeHealth app developers as the app is designed to provide notifications about a positive case anonymously.

When asked for the number of people who received exposure notifications, the app developers stated there is no way to know who gets notified of exposures. This is intentional and is a key part of how the privacy model works. When an individual receives an Exposure Notification, they are the only person in the world who knows they got notified.

The app is free, and once you download and install it 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.

If you already have the app, encourage your friends, family and coworkers to download the app, too.

If you have questions, visit www.gov.bm/wehealth.

I will now discuss the Government’s economic measures to help us continue stimulating Bermuda’s economy.

On November 16th, following the Throne Speech, the Minister of Public Works, the Hon Lt Col. David Burch announced a short-term economic stimulus programme in partnership with the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation (BEDC). The aim of this programme is to provide jobs for Bermudian owned businesses and to also provide for much-needed upgrades and improvements to the island’s infrastructure.

This is in keeping with the Government’s commitment to support small to medium-sized businesses through these challenging financial times, and our commitment to invest in capital development projects.

The Economic Stimulus Programme will initially consist of over 40 projects, where the Government intends to use as many local businesses, tradespersons, and contractors as possible. The Ministry of Public Works will ensure the allocation of funding and opportunity for work is spread across the various businesses within the programme. We strongly encourage Bermudian owned businesses to apply, particularly small to medium-sized enterprises.

The Government understands that there will be small local businesses who are not familiar with these processes. We want these businesses to have the opportunity to participate and not be deterred by the process and documentation required. The BEDC will provide assistance to small and medium-sized enterprises to ensure that they can confidently submit their application, and be involved in the stimulus programme.

This is not about large construction companies. We are looking for local businesses that provide various services related to the construction industry, from large projects to water heater repair, plumbers, AC installation plumbing, painting, dock maintenance, tiling installers, painting (just to name a few).

If you or a friend have a business such as bathroom remodelling, roof & tank cleaning, or even landscaping, we want you to apply and be involved.

The deadline to sign up is February 15th, 2021. Go to the BEDC website www.bedc.bm to learn more and register for the virtual info sessions.

In closing, we are taking another step forward in our fight against COVID-19 with the expansion of our vaccination programme, and the second batch of vaccines on the way.

Public schools are open, and we are implementing a programme to help boost our economy, get Bermudians back to work, and begin to rebuild for the future.

There is much work underway, and much more work to be done. But, I am hopeful that if we continue to work together, make responsible decisions, adhere to the guidance, and get vaccinated when possible, we will continue to progress as a country.

Bermuda with the rest of the world has been living with the coronavirus for almost a year now. This has brought unusually high levels of stress for many. Some have lost loved ones; some have supported family members and friends who were confirmed positive for the virus. Many have lost their jobs, due to no fault of their own.

We know that many in our community may need extra support emotionally. If you need someone to talk with, the Bermuda Psychology Association continue to support the Emotional Wellbeing Hotline. The phone number is 543-1111. I’ll repeat it … 543 1111. The line will be operated every Monday to Saturday, from 5 pm – 9 pm.

This help is available if you need someone to talk with, whether you are:

  • feeling anxious;
  • caregivers caring and coping with family members with Dementia;
  • seniors who may feel isolated;
  • or if you are not feeling yourself.

The phone number again is 543-1111.

To get accurate, reliable information sign up for the Government’s WhatsApp service. Add the phone number 504 6045 to your contacts and send us a simple message saying ‘hi’, and you will receive Whatsapp updates from the government.

Before I take questions from the media, I am asking the members of the media to be patient. The Government’s #1 priority is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible. I have asked the health team to focus on the work needed to accelerate this effort rather than parsing the various statistics requests which are being received. In the coming weeks, we will establish a website where all statistics will be able to be seen, but until then, they will be reported once weekly at this weekly press conference. I am now happy to take questions from the media.