BERMUDA GOVERNMENT PRESS CONFERENCE COVID-19 UPDATE OCTOBER 27, 2020

Premier Burt COVID-19 Press Conference Remarks

Tuesday, October 27th, 2020

Good afternoon Bermuda, and welcome to members of the media who have joined us.

Today, I am joined today by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson, who will be providing an update to the public on the latest regarding the coronavirus and other matters within the Ministry of Health. Following that I will give an update on matters related to the violence that took place over the weekend in our community, I will touch on education and the technology that will be used to help to reduce the incidence of COVID in our community.

First, there will be the Minister of Health.

Good Afternoon,

Yesterday, there were 764 test results received by the Ministry of Health, and one was positive for COVID-19. The most recent case is classified as imported having arrived on BA 2233 from London on 22nd October 2020. The case, a resident, was asymptomatic and received a positive test result on their Day 4 test. Case isolation and contact tracing has begun.

Bermuda now has 194 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows:

  • there are 10 active cases, who are
  • all under public health monitoring, and
  • none are hospitalized or in critical care;
  • a total of 175 have recovered, and
  • the total deceased remains 9.

The average age of all of our confirmed positive cases is 55 and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 7 to 101 years.

Overall, 49% of cases were Black, 43% White and 8% other/unknown.

The source of all local cases is as follows:

  • 83 are Imported
  • 90 are Local transmission, with known contact
  • 21 are Local transmission with an unknown contact, and
  • none are under investigation

Bermuda’s country status is “Sporadic Cases”. The seven-day average of our real time reproduction number is less than 1.

I would like to encourage returning travelers to take particular care and follow enhanced precautions during the time between having their pre-departure test and boarding their flight back to Bermuda. Consider everyone you come into contact with a potential carrier of COVID-19. Wear your mask. Be extra vigilant in avoiding those who seem unwell. Keep at least a six foot distance between yourself and others. Wash your hands often. Carry a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer and use it frequently. Avoid crowds and any situations where you are unmasked with others in a poorly-ventilated space.

As you will have all hopefully heard by now, the CDC has reclassified Bermuda from Travel Health Notice Level 2 to Travel Health Notice Level 0. Level 0 means a ‘Travel Health Notice’ does not apply or, in other words, that Bermuda’s rating has been revised to the lowest level possible.

This extremely welcome change comes as a result of negotiations led by the Ministry of Health with the assistance of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and Government House; and is a testament to Bermuda’s strict testing regime and public health protocols.

Our team has been working hard to keep the island safe from COVID-19 and our efforts continue to be recognized internationally. This change in our status with the United States CDC, will hopefully encourage more visitors to come to our shores and continue showcasing our strong and resilient island home.

Previously, Bermuda was listed at an Alert Level 2, and the CDC recommended people at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 avoid nonessential travel to the island, and practice enhanced precautions.

More recently, the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, required a 14 day self-quarantine when travellers return to the state of New York from any level 2 country.This led to difficulties for persons hoping to visit Bermuda and if not rectified could have put flight capacity to the island at risk.

An investigation by the Ministry determined that countries rated Level 0 or 1 were exempt from the quarantine requirement of New York State.

Again, I want to congratulate all involved who worked with the CDC via CARPHA and other channels to secure Bermuda’s reclassification.

One topic which I now want to touch on briefly is workplace guidance in a COVID-19 world – specifically offices. I have heard several questions raised recently about mask-wearing, meetings, physical distancing requirements and remote working.

There is an abundance of workplace-specific guidance on the Government website coronavirus.gov.bm but I will provide you with a few key points now as it relates to office environments:

  • Employees should work remotely if possible;
  • Consider using team ‘bubbles’ for office staff. (I.e. one week half of the staff are in the office; the next week the other half are in);
  • Encourage employees to stay home if unwell;
  • Encourage employees to wash hands or use hand sanitizer often;
  • Employees should work six feet from others or three feet if wearing masks;
  • Staff should hold virtual meetings when possible. Where remote meetings are not possible, staff must be six feet from others and no more than 10 persons in a meeting;
  • Employers should review options for increasing ventilation – consider air purifiers, for example;
  • Employers should also review how persons enter and leave the work space. How can you reduce the overlap of employees and increase disinfection?
  • Where located in a multi-office building, identify designated entry and exit points to minimize worker contact while moving through the worksite;
  • Employees should wear a mask whenever moving around the office;
  • And, finally, consult the Return to Work Recommendations for Businesses at coronavirus.gov.bm. There is special guidance for returning to work after travel.

As a reminder, the remaining October Flu Express location is the Clock Tower, Dockyard on Wednesday 28th October from 10am until 2pm.

During the month of November the flu vaccine will be available at the Hamilton Health Centre in an outdoor setting using a pop up tent from 2pm until 4pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The flu vaccine is a safe and highly effective method of preventing most cases of flu.

Before I conclude my remarks tonight, I would like to remind people not to go to the hospital or health centres if they are self-isolating, quarantining or symptomatic without first calling ahead.

Stay safe, Bermuda, and, remember, I wear a mask to protect you; you wear a mask to protect me.

Thank you Minister and I would like to publicly thank your team at the Ministry of Health for working to revise our rating in the United States by the CDC. As the Minister responsible for tourism, it is certainly welcome news and just like you I’m grateful for all the agencies who assisted us in that regard, from Government House to the US Consul General, to CARPHA and all the persons who have gotten us to a place where we are recognized for being incredibly low risk.

As we transition to what I will speak about today, I just want to touch on the fact that many stories of countries who had COVID under control, no longer have this virus under control. There are many countries who bragged they are COVID-free and are now dealing with community transmission of this virus.

We do not want this to be us. I know I sound like a broken record, every Tuesday, all the social media posts and everything else. The fact is that though pandemic fatigue is real, pandemic fatigue is precisely the thing that will lead us to a place where we can see our economy being damaged again because of restrictions which may be necessary to protect life inside of this country.

Bermuda is another world but Bermuda is not immune. This can happen to us if we are not careful. We do have an incredible testing regime. We are able to host events in Bermuda. We do have the capacity to do things that other countries do not do. All of this could fall aside if just a few people act reckless. Persons do not obey quarantine regulations, persons find themselves slipping up and we can have one to two to four to 16 and so on and so forth. That is not where we want to go. So it is vital that we continue to follow the public health guidelines. By way of example, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of National Security have worked with Bermuda Football Association so that we can have up to 800 spectators at tomorrow night’s football game.

However, there are specific requirements there. Those requirements are social distancing and mask wearing to make sure we can protect all persons. I want people to remember, these are not rules and regulations that are put in place because we feel like putting them in. They are not rules and regulations put in place because we like walking around a football game and wearing a mask. They are rules and regulations that are put there to ensure that we can have football games in front of 800 spectators and that we can carry on our lives in a different and better place than many places in the world. So that is what we would like to do and I must leave that with members of the public that it is vitally important that you maintain the public health restrictions, follow the public health guidelines and do the very simple thing that the Minister of Health will continue to remind all persons to do.

I would like to offer condolences to the family who lost their loved one over the weekend, and must now bury a father, a son, a brother,  uncle, cousin or friend who is the latest victim to lose his life to violence. As a country we struggle to comprehend the loss of another Bermudian life, while at the same time concerned about two others who find themselves recovering from the injuries sustained on Friday night from a gun incident.

To provide support to those who live closest to where these violent incidents took place and to help family and friends come to terms with the loss of a loved one, the Gang Violence Reduction Team along with the Community Support Team, worked all weekend in Pembroke and Sandys to speak to those who were directly impacted, and to help to restore the sense of community that binds us together.

The Government is committed to continue its work to ensure that education, employment, community bonds, and a good quality of life helps young men see a future. A future where fathers don’t become fatalities and sons don’t become statistics. The pandemic will not cease this work, as it is necessary to address the root causes of which the violence is just a symptom.

Economic inequality, inequality of opportunity are the root causes of the violence which is mostly confined to one segment of Bermuda. The Black community. Though enforcement is not a matter for the elected government, that is the responsibility of the United Kingdom government represented here by the Governor.

Tomorrow there will be a meeting of the Governor’s Council to discuss matters related to the police and the ministers present will make sure that we signify the views and thoughts we have to the need to have effective enforcement not only working with the police but also with the judiciary to ensure when the police do their work, the judiciary holds up their end of the bargain as well.

I will spend a few minutes talking about education and the reform process which has started.

In 2017, the Government made a commitment to transform our public education system. This commitment, wasn’t ours alone, but reflected aspirations of our community.  We know that we have good schools and many great educators, but what we do not yet have is a universally excellent education system that meets the needs of all students and provides an education which is required for the future.

Our promise – the promise that our community asked for was to do better for young people and their families.  This means moving away from what we know is a traditional education that in too many ways, resembles what education may have looked like decades ago.  While it has worked for some, it has not worked for all, as many parents and alumni can tell you.

To that end, in March 2020 the Ministry of Education contracted with Innovation Unit, following an RFP process who have extensive experience in the methodology of school system transformation to help carry out the transformative work needed for the execution of the Government’s desired school reform.

It is important to note, as there have been a few people who have contacted me asking why we have contracted with an external body that has experience in this area to help design Bermuda’s school system. That is not the case.

Bermudians are designing our future school system. But what is necessary in an environment where you are dealing with change and complex change is that you need people who are experienced in change management which is an actual discipline. And that is the reason why Innovation Unit has been brought on board.

The work which is being put together regarding following the Government’s view on school reform has been led and driven by the Board of Education, consisting of person who are affiliated with the school system, teachers, principals, former teachers, parents, many different working groups that have come together to make sure the school reform that we are engaged in, is something that encompasses a broad cross section of persons. It is not something that is going to come from overseas. It is something that is going to be born right here in Bermuda.

As we are all currently experiencing so acutely, the world is certainly in flux.  We must not only respond to change, we must create change for Bermuda.  We can and we will develop the kind of public school education system that the community demanded through that significant community engagement and public consultation.

Innovation Unit along with the Ministry’s Governance Team comprising our local technical officers, they have implemented a series of training sessions.

I was here two weeks ago and I asked those people to go on the website and apply to be a part of the school design teams and many of you answered the call and did go online and sign up to be a part of those teams. They held training all last week and I visited the training session held on Saturday morning and was very pleased to see the wide cross section of participants who are willingly sacrificing their time to become the change agents needed for the transformation of our public school system. They are the first of many who will be equipped with the additional tools and skills in this change management process to reform public education and to keep the pledge that was endorsed by the voters for a second time, to phase out middle schools while introducing schools at the secondary level.

The Minister of Education, the Hon. Diallo Rabain, will host a press conference tomorrow at 1pm to provide the details on the work of the Innovation Unit and what parents, educators and the public can expect in the coming weeks. The press conference can be seen on Government’s Facebook page and will be replayed on CITV.

Switching to Tourism. Last week I announced the appointment of MP Wayne Caines as Chairman of the Bermuda Tourism Authority board of directors. I was grateful that MP Caines accepted my invitation. He has proven leadership in the private and public sectors and has extensive board experience which I know will serve him well as he chairs that very important board.

Mr. Caines, with his talent and knowledge will bring a dynamic approach which is necessary as the board must guide the Bermuda Tourism Authority to capitalize on this critical period in our country’s history, while they also look to fill key vacancies in the Bermuda Tourism Authority.

Additionally, Mr. Kim Swan also accepted my invitation to join the Bermuda Tourism Authority Board of Directors. Surely there can be no greater on-island ambassador for Bermudian golfers and the impact of Sports Tourism than MP Kim Swan. Anyone who has a conversation with MP Swan will know that he promotes and recounts Bermuda’s history in an oral tradition.

While on the subject of Tourism, Bermudians will have heard that the Bermuda Tourism Authority and OpenClear (a New York-based COVID-19 screening entity) announced a collaboration that offers tourists travelling to Bermuda access to an expedited screening service that follows Bermuda’s health protocols. The service launched today, and appointments were made to take the test starting today.

This is just the latest service to balance the need to be open to the world, with our solemn obligation to keep Bermudians safe; and we are especially grateful to Delta Airlines who also assisted in promoting the service by listing the service on its website.

Once again, for persons who are traveling to Bermuda and for residents who may want to travel back to Bermuda to make sure they have a pretest they can avail themselves of the service at the Bermuda Tourism Authority offices.

As we work tirelessly to safely boost the economy and welcome more tourists and as that effort picks up steam, we must be vigilant and ensure that we remain on the frontlines of the battle against the spread of the coronavirus. To that end, and I’ve spoken about it before about the technology tools which will be needed as we move into a period when we are seeing more cases worldwide and sadly a few more imported cases here.

To that end, the Government has partnered with WeHealth, a body formed from the research efforts of University of Waterloo in Canada and Stanford University, who created Covid Watch, an app designed to track and trace COVID-19 exposures.

Government’s Information and Digital Technology Department has been running internal pilot programmes to test the effectiveness of the WeHealth App. We are pleased with the early results. Bermuda has been fortunate to work with the developers to create WeHealth Bermuda, an app specifically designed for the island. We will be running public pilot programmes as early as next week, after both the Apple and Google App stores approve its release to their platforms.

Launching the app is one part of the solution, as it is only as effective as the users make it; it is the Government’s hope that Bermudians will download use the app so its data is accurate and timely. Additional information will be provided in the coming weeks.

One of the things that is certainly a consideration is to possibly add qualifications for the attendance at large events, persons will be required to have this app on and activated, which will certainly help in contact tracing efforts for the government if in the case there is an outbreak.

As I said, pilots will launch next week, and in the coming weeks I’ll be happy to update members of the public on what we are doing there. But it is certainly something the Department of Information and Digital Technology has been working on and we are pleased we are now at the point where Bermuda will be able to launch an app which is specifically, not one of the early rushed apps which did not necessarily work, but one that is specifically on the Google and Apple protocol which meets all privacy requirements which ensures that your data stays private but can ensure we can tackle any outbreak which may happen in Bermuda. It’s just another example of the Government making sure that we are taking our time, working with the persons who have experience in this area, so we can deploy solutions that can certainly serve this country well and we continue to battle the coronavirus.

So with that is the conclusion of my remarks and I will take questions from the media.