COVID-19 Update 23 March 2021
Good Evening Bermuda,
I am here with you tonight as both the Premier and a fellow Bermudian who understands the frustration that we are all currently experiencing due to this latest outbreak. I see the stress and the angst that so many of you are going through. I am no different from you. Yesterday morning I was crushed by the sight of my daughter crying wondering why she had to quarantine and why she couldn’t hug her daddy like she does many times a day.
It is important that I express to you, that I and the Government that serves you are not disconnected from the difficulties that this pandemic has brought to our shores. All of us individually have had to endure personal difficulties during this time, and the impact of this pandemic is not lost on those in leadership.
We recognise this situation, and that is why we are working hard to make the right decisions and strike the right balance for the entire country. Those decisions are never easy, in leadership they never are, but I want all persons to know that your Cabinet, your members of the legislature, and Bermuda’s public service are dedicated to continuing to work for all segments of Bermuda – so that we emerge from this Pandemic in a stronger position. You may not agree with all of our decisions, but please note that we are making the decisions that we feel are in the best collective interest of this country we call home.
For tonight’s press conference I am joined by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson, who will provide an update on the latest testing results, vaccination statistics, and other matters from her Ministry.
We are also joined by the Minister of Education, the Hon. Diallo Rabain who will provide an update regarding our public schools.
Following the presentations from the ministers, I will be discussing the recent rollback of regulations and what is needed from all of us to ensure this outbreak is not as bad as the last one.
We are happy to have the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ayo Oyinloye, to answer any medical or technical questions from the media…
First, we will hear from the Minister of Health…
The Ministry of Health received 866 test results since the last update, and ten were positive for COVID-19. One of the new cases is classified as imported by a resident who arrived on Delta Airlines DL617 from New York on 7 March 2021 and tested positive on their Day 14 test. Six of the new cases are classified as local transmission with known contact as they are associated with known cases.
The additional three new cases are classified as under investigation. These cases are among residents with no currently identified link to other known cases or history of travel in the past 14 days.
Additionally, since the last update, there were three (3) recoveries.
There are currently 113 active cases, of which;
- 113 are under public health monitoring and;
- None are in the hospital, and none are in critical care.
Since March 2020, Bermuda has recorded 840 total confirmed cases of COVID-19; out of those, 715 persons have recovered, and 12 persons have sadly succumbed to COVID-19.
The mean age of all confirmed positive cases is 42 years (median: 39 years), and the ages range from less than one (1) year to greater than 100 years.
The mean age of all currently active cases is 30 years (median: 30 years), and the ages range from less than 10 years (age group: 0-9 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:
- 228 are imported
- 590 are classified as local transmission of which:
- 498 are local transmission with known contact/source and
- 92 are local transmission with an unknown contact/source
- 22 are under investigation
As investigations proceed, transmission categories may change.
Of the over 180,000 test results reported, the mean age of all persons tested is 43 years (median: 42 years), and the ages range from less than one (1) year to greater than 100 years.
The seven-day average of our real-time reproduction number is above one (1), and Bermuda’s current country status remains “Sporadic Cases”.
I will now provide an update on our vaccine programme.
We have completed the tenth full week of vaccinations operating six days a week. For the ten-week period from January 11 to March 20, 2021, Bermuda has administered a total of 33,498 vaccinations – a figure that rises to 34,204 if you include yesterday’s vaccinations as well! – all of which is very good news.
Of the 33,498 vaccinations administered for the period we are reporting on, which ends March 20th;
- 54% are women, and,
- 46% are men.
Bermuda’s goal of “herd immunity” will be achieved when 70% of the population (64,054) has been immunised. To date, 32% of the population has been vaccinated (with 1 dose), and 20% of the population has been immunised (with 2 doses).
3,790 vaccinations were delivered during the week of March 14-20. The public has accessed these vaccines as follows:
- The Vaccination Centre at Bermuda College administered 20,156 or 60% of vaccinations,
- 12,363 or 37% were administered at the Bermuda Hospitals Board Vaccination Centre,
- 817 or 2% were administered at rest homes and long term care facilities, and
- 162 or <1% were administered at Other Vaccination Sites.
Significant progress has been made in vaccinating our most vulnerable. 62% of all residents over the age of 65 years have had at least one vaccination with 20% being fully immunised. 46% of individuals between 50 and 64 years of age have received at least one vaccination with 24% being fully immunised. Only 13% of residents less than 50 years of age have been vaccinated which is what we would expect as this group falls into Phase 3 which is just opening up now.
These are excellent results so far, and I would like to thank all those who have taken the step to get their vaccination to protect themselves, their families and our community.
I want to remind residents that we have entered Phase 3 of Bermuda’s COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Strategy. Phase 3 is for residents who are 16 years or older. Priority will continue to be given to our more vulnerable populations, including seniors and those with medical conditions. If you have not already registered, please do so by completing the registration form at forms.gov.bm/covid.
If you were eligible for the vaccine in Phase 1A, 1B or 2 group and have not registered yet, please do so today.
Registration numbers continue to rise, with more than 1500 online registrations received since the move to Phase 3 was announced on Saturday. To the week ending March 20, 23,502 persons have registered their interest in getting vaccinated. The breakdown is as follows:
- 7,109 Black
- 11,438 White
- 3,323 Mixed or Other, and,
- 1,632 Prefer not to say or Not Specified.
Please remember that you will not be vaccinated if you have travelled in the last 14 days. You MUST Have a day 14 negative test result to get either your first or second dose.
Also, if you are in quarantine, please do not attend your vaccination appointment. Please let the Vaccine Programme know that you are in quarantine and will miss your appointment. The appointment can be rescheduled, and if it is your second appointment, it can be rescheduled up to 12 weeks from the first appointment.
Every dose of the vaccine is extremely important, so if you are unavailable to make your appointment, please call the Hotline at 444-2498 (Option #2) or email email@example.com.
I want to take this opportunity to remind people about being vaccinated. Getting vaccinated is recognised globally as one of the single most important measures that individuals can take to protect themselves, their loved ones and their community.
We need as many people as possible to get vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccination will help protect you by creating an antibody response without having to experience more than mild side-effects such as a headache. Thousands of people have been given a COVID-19 vaccine so far, and very few serious side effects or complications have been reported.
All vaccinations are administered by trained medical staff who will monitor each person for 15 minutes after the vaccine is given. For complete reliable information on vaccines, please visit gov.bm/vaccines.
We are seeing many emerging cases of COVID-19, and this outbreak is significantly impacting children, including very young children. In fact, a full third of the current active cases are school-aged children. Parents, please do not ignore symptoms and assume that sniffling, coughing etc. is a cold or allergies. If you or your children have flu-like symptoms, fevers, chills, nasal congestion, runny nose or coughing, stay at home, do not send your children to school as it puts all students and staff at risk of contracting COVID-19. Just as we ask you not to send symptomatic children to school, you, as a parent or guardian, should not go to work if you or someone in your household has symptoms.
In these situations, everyone in your household should remain at home. Do not have your children in extra-curricular activities outside their school bubble either. Speak to your doctor right away and get tested.
Regarding testing, please know there is a difference between the diagnostic testing carried out by the Ministry of Health using the nasal swabs and the saliva screening carried out on behalf of the Ministry of Education by the MDL lab.
If you have exposure to the virus or have symptoms, the Ministry will require a nasopharyngeal PCR test to be done, not a saliva screening. The saliva screening serves the useful purpose of providing a preliminary indication of the presence of the virus in the overall population of Bermuda. Confirmation is provided by the nasopharyngeal test.
I would also like to remind people who have been told to quarantine to take it seriously. The Ministry of Health’s Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (ESU) will contact you if you are identified as having a risk of exposure. If you are identified as a close contact and asked to quarantine, you will be advised by the Ministry of Health’s Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit. You will be told when and how to quarantine and the testing protocol to follow.
Your tests will be different from that of the traveller testing guidance because the risks are different. Please only follow the quarantine and testing advice given to you by the ESU.
And it is essential to note that when it comes to households with multiple siblings if you are able to quarantine the affected sibling away from the other sibling(s) and parent, the non-affected sibling may still attend school.
The other parent can go to work. If you are NOT able to keep the household members apart because you all share the same bathroom or eat together in the kitchen or watch TV in the same room, then both siblings should quarantine, and the parents should not attend work. You can find detailed quarantine information on gov.bm/coronavirus.
If you are immunised and receive notification that your child must quarantine, the main caregiver, whether immunised or not, must also quarantine with the child. This is because peer-reviewed studies have not yet confirmed whether or not an immunised person – who can still test positive! – can transmit the disease.
Please note that just because persons have been quarantined – this doesn’t mean they are carrying the virus. The person may have had a potential exposure to someone who is confirmed as having tested positive for the virus that causes COVID disease. They may or may not go on to test positive themselves.
It is important, too, for employers to have as much flexibility as possible in these situations. Parents who are required to quarantine are not all able to work from home. It is very stressful, on top of coping with a potential COVID-19 exposure, to worry about your employment.
In closing, I will remind everyone that from the very start, this Government put measures in place to reduce the spread of this virus, flatten the curve and not overwhelm our healthcare system.
Yes, some of the restrictions were strict, but they worked. We had a strategy that achieved good results, and we were able to reduce the spread, re-open businesses, go back to school and re-open our borders to give our economy a much-needed boost.
Then, last November, we had a second wave, and again we introduced restrictions intended to prevent the spread of the virus, keep people well, save lives, and protect our already fragile economy.
The restrictions that were put in place, and people following the guidance we provided, worked, and we were able to, once again, ease the restrictions.
However, just as we thought we were turning the corner in our fight against COVID-19, we find ourselves rolling back the relaxations to protect the health and well-being of our community from another outbreak.
We will get through this current challenge, and I am grateful to all of those dedicated healthcare professionals who are working tirelessly to fight this pandemic and keep us all safe.
This last year has not been easy, and we have learned some important lessons along the way. Three points I want to make this evening.
- We must follow the guidance and obey the restrictions that are in place – this current variant spreads easily and quickly.
- We must be patient – this pandemic is not over.
- The more people vaccinated, the better chance we have of reducing the spread and get our lives back to some semblance of normal.
I know people are frustrated with the restrictions, especially the curfew.
However, we have empirical evidence that the curfew is working. Having people stay at home, and having controls that prevent socialising outside of your household helps control the spread.
Socialising outside of the household you live in and having people socialise in your home (outside of the members of your household) has presented the problems we are now seeing. We urge everyone to reduce the bubble of people they socialise with to just their household. That will help to stop the spread.
Please remember that the Government’s actions are designed to protect our residents’ safety and well-being, to ensure that our healthcare system does not get overwhelmed and to protect our economy.
Thank you, Minister.
Thank you and your team who are again at the forefront leading and guiding us in how we contain this outbreak. I know how exhausted you and the team are – and Bermuda is grateful the long hours, weekends, and holidays that you have given to this fight against the Pandemic. Bermuda is fortunate to have such dedicated officers working – despite the senseless actions of people who should know better.
The number of active cases is alarming and it is essential that we all take responsibility for our everyday actions to ensure that we can bring these numbers down rather than see them continue to increase. This is especially important in our public schools where the outbreak has affected many families, including my own.
We will now hear from the Minister of Education who will provide an update on our public schools…
Good Evening Bermuda.
As a parent with a child in the Bermuda Public School System, I am well aware of the anxiety our parents are facing. It was very difficult for me to explain to my daughter how the nasal pharyngeal test works as she and all of her school mates of Whitney Institute was tested recently. Thankfully she and all that were tested on that day were negative. The decision made today was a very difficult one, as I truly believe that our children deserve to be inside our school buildings.
However, this afternoon I issued a media statement addressing the proactive measures underway to ensure the health and safety of our Bermuda Public School teachers, students, parents, and the larger community.
Bermuda, the Ministry, the Department of Education understands the anxiety and alarm is heightened due to the recent positive cases. I can assure you that it is of paramount importance to the Ministry of Education that we are transparent with the COVID-19 Protocols we have in place. Any decision that impacts our ability to educate our children is one that is taken lightly. However, in light of the recent rise in positive COVID-19 cases on the island, the Ministry of Education will implement the following:
Easter Break 2021
Easter Break 2021 will commence on Monday, March 29, instead of Thursday, April 1. The last day of school for students will be Friday, March 26. Students will return to schools as normal on Monday, April 12. We acknowledge that the rise in positive cases has disrupted our staffing levels as a result of teachers being ordered to quarantine during contact tracing. With this in mind, and out of caution, we have decided to move forward proactively. Schools will be asked to send out learning packets for students to work on during the four days next week. We also will hold discussions with our Union partners about the possibilities of making up those four days.
Senior Schools Remote Learning
Effective Wednesday, March 24, our two senior schools will be allowed to transition to remote learning, while senior school teachers will be allowed to report to school and conduct classes virtually.
The previously scheduled Professional Development workshops for teachers will still take place on Thursday, April 1. I have also been made aware of Professional Development scheduled for this week being unable to go forward for various reasons. Hopefully, these can still take place next week.
In the press statement issued on Sunday, the Government informed the public that additional information would be released about Schools once further details were known. I can report that the following updates:
The entire school, except those ordered to quarantine, was tested on March 19, and out of the 102 tests performed, two returned positive. The DOH determined the movements of one or more positive individuals within multiple school bubbles made it possible for wider exposure in the school on or before March 19.Out of an abundance of caution, the decision was made to transition to remote learning while students and staff are required to quarantine until April 2.
The entire school, except those ordered to quarantine, was tested on March 20, and out of the 138 saliva samples taken, there were zero positive cases. However, when the initial exposure case’s close contacts were tested, four additional positive cases were identified. The Department of Health has determined that the movements of one of these positive cases within multiple bubbles at the school made it possible that wider exposure may have happened in the school on or before March 16. Therefore, the decision was made to transition to remote learning while students and staff must quarantine until March 30.
Elliot Primary School:
This past weekend, the Chief Medical Officer had directed that all students and associated teachers one P4 class must be quarantined. Students and the teachers in the P4 class were tested on March 22 and will be re-tested using Nasopharyngealswabs again on or after Day 14, which falls on March 31 2021. The entire school (99 casual contacts) was tested on Monday, March 22, as per the new testing protocol announced last week using Saliva Testing.
This past weekend, as with Elliot Primary, the Chief Medical Officer had directed that all students and associated teachers the P6 classes must be quarantined. Students and the teachers in the P6 class were tested today, March 23 and will be re-tested using Nasopharyngeal swabs again on or after Day 14, which falls on April 1, 2021. The entire school (117 casual contacts) was tested today, March 23, as per the new testing protocol announced last week using Saliva Testing.
As a summary and in addition to the above, we also have classes currently quarantining from Devonshire Pre-school, Whitney Institute and Paget Primary, with Dellwood moving to remote learning.
Given the data that we have received, the Ministry is taking a proactive approach to balance what is best for our student’s learning and our island’s health and safety.
Bermuda, I remind you that the vulnerable must be protected. That means we must all be considerate of how exposure to COVID-19 affects students, schools, teachers, parents, and the larger community. While we have seen our bubbles work very effectively, I want to remind parents to check with their doctor if their child is experiencing any signs of sickness and do not send them to school.
The additional time over the Easter Break will be used to further refine our COVID-19 Protocols within our School Buildings. We intend to return after the Easter Break with a renewed vigour to ensure our children are served as they should.
We ask everyone who has children, family, or friends associated with the school system to use caution and strictly adhere to the Government’s safety measures to help us contain this latest community outbreak and reduce the transmission of COVID-19. We must all work together – wear your mask correctly, wash your hands regularly, maintain physical distance and get immunised when you can.
Before I close, I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Department of Health and the Bermuda Government Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory for their dedication and commitment to ensure the safety of our schools.
Thank you, Minister.
Thank you and your team for your rigorous work, especially over the last few weeks to keep our schools open and students, teachers, and parents safe. The decision to ask students, teachers, and staff to quarantine is never taken lightly, and the decision to begin the Easter break early is not preferable, but I understand the circumstances. I am gratified that the new protocols implemented and the communication coming from the Ministry of Education have kept our parents, students, and teachers better informed. I thank the Chief Medical Officer for revising the protocols which have allowed schools to remain open.
The majority of our schools are not impacted but we are making sure to take precautionary measures with the new saliva screening method. This is to ensure that students, parents and teachers have peace of mind.
On Saturday, the Cabinet met to discuss how the Government should respond to this current outbreak. Due to the increasing numbers, and the reality that we are dealing with the highly contagious U.K variant, it was decided to roll back the regulations to how they were in December 2020.
Like so many of you, I am disappointed that we must take these steps after making so much great progress together. However, we must act immediately and purposefully to prevent this current outbreak from getting worse.
The restrictions that we put in place worked in December, they will work this time, and we have implemented them quicker than the last time. On December 11th, we had 149 active cases, of which 45 were under investigation, at the time of implementing the measures that were put in place in December. At the time of implementing these most recent measures we had 91 active cases, with 12 ‘Under Investigation’ which was on Sunday.
Quicker implementation of restrictions leads to shorter times that those restrictions must remain in place. The purpose of restrictions is to ensure that our healthcare system does not get overrun.
There are persons who say, if there is no one in hospital, why do we have these restrictions in place, if the objective is not to overwhelm the healthcare system. I have two answers to this. The first answer is that we do not wait for the ICU to fill up to start putting restrictions in place. At that point, you would be far too late. The second answer is that we must remember, the healthcare system is not just our hospital.
Our healthcare system is our public health infrastructure, the nurses, the doctors, the swabbers, persons administering vaccines, contact tracers and all of those who support them. If they get overwhelmed, then our public health efforts and the work we are doing to vaccinate our population, falls down. I don’t want the focus to be purely on the number of people being hospitalised. Our healthcare system is not just persons being hospitalised, it is all of the teams involved in our healthcare apparatus. It is important that we protect them, especially as they have been battling this pandemic for a year.
As a reminder, the public health regulations recommended by the Ministry of Health, and agreed by the Cabinet, which came into effect at 6am Sunday, March 21st, are as follows:
- Curfew now begins at 11pm and will continue to end at 5am.
- Clubs and bars are prohibited from serving patrons indoors, and outdoor service is for table service only.
- Restaurants, bars, and clubs are permitted a maximum of 6 persons per table.
- All personal services including spas, beauty salons, and barbershops, staff, and customers are required to wear a mask at all times.
- Gyms must ensure that patrons remain at least 10 feet apart. If they are not a part of the same household.
- The maximum size for gatherings is reduced to 10 persons.
- Indoor church services and ceremonies are limited to 20% of the venue’s capacity.
- Outdoor funerals are permitted to be attended by up to 20 persons.
- Boat curfew remains at 8pm
- The Government also recommends that staff who can work from home should do so.
The Government is again committed to supporting workers and businesses affected by the revised and necessary regulations. The Ministry of Finance has renewed the unemployment benefit support for individual workers, and payments up to a maximum of $500 per week. The aim is to speed the payments so that persons eligible receive $1500 for the full 3 week closure as soon as possible. Applications can be filed starting tomorrow at uba.gov.bm.
Businesses that are affected will again be eligible for grants to cover expenses and overhead through the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) as they were in December. If you are a small business you can apply for the COVID-19 Emergency Grant Funding online by going to bedc.bm.
These restrictions will remain in place for at least three weeks and will be reviewed by the Cabinet in hopes that we can begin to safely ease them again when our active case numbers have decreased. We never implement such measures lightly, and this time is no different. We understand that this has been a long and tiring battle for all of us, it has been difficult. It has been a strain on our personal and mental health.
However we are making progress, and are not where we were in December. Thirty-nine percent (39%) of our eligible population have received at least one shot of the vaccine. We have maintained and expanded our testing capacity to respond to outbreaks.
Yes, this outbreak like the previous, was the result of the selfish actions of a few. However, I continue to applaud the overwhelming majority of Bermudians who are quite simply, doing the right thing. So many of you have continued to abide by the rules, follow the guidelines and do all you can to assist the country.
The current laws and enforcement in place to deal with offenses of COVID-19 regulations are substantial. However, as with all offenses, the judicial process can take time. Any perceived delay in persons being brought before the court is not uncommon. However, Assistant Commissioner of Police Martin Weeks did acknowledge two weeks ago that there is a backlog of cases to be sent over to the DPP, and a backlog within the courts. That does not mean persons are not being held accountable.
Bermuda’s courts are still hearing cases for other serious offenses and COVID-19 breaches are now a part of those to be heard. Persons who break the law will be brought before the courts, as some have already.
The Government has previously advised that Fixed Penalties were being considered. I can advise that today the Cabinet agreed to those Fixed Penalties, which will now be brought to the House of Assembly to be considered. However, the change doesn’t mean that penalties do not exist – they currently do. The Public Health COVID-19 Emergency Power Regulations state that for people who violate the regulations as a first offence are eligible for a fine of up to $6,000. For a second or subsequent offence, a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months.
It is not correct to say there are no penalties in place, they are in place. Fixed penalties will make it more quick and efficient like a speeding ticket, but that does not mean that people will not appear before the courts (as they have already) for breaking the rules.
Our vaccination programme is our most effective weapon in ultimately defeating this virus. I am delighted that we have moved to Phase 3, which enables all persons 16 and over to register their interest in getting vaccinated. I encourage all persons over the age of 16 to register.
As a country, we set an aggressive target of administering 38,000 doses by the end of this month. At our current rate, we will meet that target that was set and I want to commend the entire vaccination team for their efforts.
As mentioned by the Minister of Health we have administered 34,204 doses of the vaccine thus far. Bermuda maintains its place among the top countries in the world for vaccinations administered relative to population size.
The Government also projects that at our current rate of vaccinations being administered, and with the commencement of Phase 3, we will see approximately 50% of the eligible population received both doses of the vaccine by May 1st. In addition to that, we project that 70% of the eligible population in Bermuda will have received both doses by June 1st.
Having the majority of our population vaccinated gives the virus nowhere to go, and reduces transmission. It is at that point that we hope we can truly begin our return to normal and significantly reduce restrictions. However, we must give ourselves the time we need to reach our goals by containing the spread, and continuing to follow all guidelines and regulations.
Many of the people involved in the contact tracing and case management are the same individuals involved in the vaccination programme. Whenever there is an outbreak, the staff at the Ministry of Health, who are already stretched and stressed are further pressed into service to help manage those people who have been confirmed positive.
This is why it is extremely important that everyone who is contacted by Contact Tracers give their full support by providing information quickly and promptly. You will be helping to identify others who are potentially exposed and possibly saving the lives of those in our society who are most vulnerable.
We have not only made progress in vaccinations but in how we respond to an outbreak. Thanks to effective contact tracing and the WeHealth app we can quickly isolate positive cases and known contacts.
The public can continue to help with this by ensuring you have downloaded the WeHealth App on your phone. These actions will contribute to our effort to shorten this outbreak and the effort to avoid future outbreaks.
This combined with fully cooperating with Contact Tracers is essential to get through this outbreak. The WeHealth app DOES NOT hold your personal details. If you are provided with a code to enter into the app due to testing positive, you must enter the code. Any information given to Contact Tracers is confidential, so please be open and honest with them.
Let us honor our frontline health professionals who have worked tirelessly over the past year, by playing our part to contain the spread of this new variant of coronavirus.
Please wear your masks, wash and sanitize your hands, maintain physical distance, and adhere to all regulations. We have shown time and time again that when we work together we can recover and move forward.
As I close, we know that many in our community may need extra emotional support. If you need someone to talk with, call the Emotional Wellbeing Hotline. The phone number is 543-1111. The line is operated Monday to Saturday, from 5pm – 9pm.
This help is available if you need someone to talk with, whether you are:
- feeling anxious;
- feeling isolated;
- caring for others; or
- if you are not feeling yourself.
Again, the phone number is 543-1111. Please call as help is available.