Bermuda Government Press Conference COVID December 1, 2020

COVID-19 Update – Premier’s Remarks for 1 December 2020

Tuesday, December 1st, 2020

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

I am joined, at our weekly press conference, by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson, who will be providing an update to the public on the latest from her Ministry including the latest test results and proposed changes to travel requirements. Following that I will give an update on matters related to education, steps we all must take to curtail the spread of the coronavirus and an update on the WeHealth app pilot. First we will go to the Minister of Health. Minister.

Good Afternoon,

I would like to begin today by recognizing World AIDS Day, which is marked annually on December 1st.

World AIDS Day is an opportunity for us all to show support for people living with HIV/AIDS, to remember those who have died from an AIDS-related illnesses and to thank those organizations who have provided crucial support services for those living with HIV/AIDS and their families.

It is also a chance to reflect on how far we have come and to focus on raising awareness and understanding of the disease and the importance of knowing one’s status.

HIV has not gone away, and the Department of Health continues to provide public education so that younger generations have an increased awareness of the risks, and are sensitive to the needs of those living with or effected by HIV. As of 30 November 2020, it is estimated that there are 301 persons known to be living with HIV infection in Bermuda

I would like to acknowledge our Communicable Disease Control team, public health nurses and nurse epidemiologist, who provide care and health counselling to persons living with HIV/AIDS. I personally value what you do tremendously, and it brings me great pride to be part of your dedicated and accomplished team.

Let’s continue to work towards an HIV free Bermuda.

Now, I will share the latest COVID-19 results…

There were 1060 test results received by the Ministry of Health yesterday (30 November 2020), and two were positive for COVID-19.

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

  • 1 resident who arrived on a private jet from the U.S. on 21 November 2020 and tested positive on their day 8 test, having had a negative pre-test and arrival test

The other new case is classified as local transmission with known contact with details as follows:

  • 1 resident who was under quarantine as a close contact (workplace) of a known case

Bermuda now has 262 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows:

    • there are 39 active cases, of which
    • 38 are under public health monitoring, and
    • One is hospitalized. None are in critical care;
    • a total of 214 have recovered, and
    • the total deceased remains 9.

The average age of all of our confirmed positive cases is 51 years and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 0 to 101 years.

To protect privacy and confidentiality, the age of the hospitalized case 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:

    • 122 are Imported
    • 112 are Local transmission, with known contact/source
    • 21 are Local transmission with an unknown contact/source, and
    • 7 are under investigation

The seven-day average of our real time reproduction number is greater than 1 (1.27) and Bermuda’s current country status is “Clusters of Cases”.

It is important to note that as investigations proceed, transmission categories may change. Also – to clarify something I was asked about at yesterday’s press conference – a case will stay under investigation for a maximum of 28 days and, if a known source is not found during that time, it will then move to “local transmission with an unknown contact”.

And now, a few updates:

We have amended our health regulations so that it is now an offence to not wear a mask in accordance with the guidelines. A person who fails to wear a mask when one is required commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to—

(a)   a fine of $500, in respect of a first offence;

(b)   a fine of $1,000, for a second or subsequent offence.

Also I can advise that as of today, December 1, the COVID-19 call centre will be extending its hours and will be open from 8am until 10pm (rather than 9am until 9pm as it was previously). This is to accommodate any travellers encountering Travel Authorization issues before their late night or early morning flights.

I would like to issue a reminder to travellers or potential travellers that as of this Friday, December 4th, a pre-arrival test must be taken within five days before arriving in Bermuda; not seven, as was previously the case. This will reduce the time period in which a traveler could have a potential exposure before boarding their flight to Bermuda.

As we enter the festive holiday period, the Ministry of Health is reminding all travellers – including returning students – that they are subject to mobile quarantine restrictions on their movements and activities, until they receive a negative Day 14 COVID-19 test result.

Therefore all travellers should:

  • Wear a mask at all times when in the company of others.
  • Avoid mixing in cramped, poorly-ventillated indoor spaces with non-travellers.
  • And not attend large family gatherings.

In particular, returning students should be careful of mixing with local students and family members while on island, prior to their negative Day 14 COVID-19 test result.

Similarly, those travelling for business should take the necessary precautions when returning and interacting with family and friends.

Also, while on the topic of businesses – I would ask that businesses hoping to hold celebratory Christmas lunches please keep your teams separate and your festive gatherings small and limited to work/team bubbles only. This is not the time to be holding big client lunches with those outside of your office. This will help to ensure that we do not get further spread and that your company can stay open.

No matter where you work or which industry you work in, the risk of spreading infections in the workplace is ever-present. It’s important that everyone knows the risks, how to stay safe, and keep themselves and everyone around them healthy. This is why I am encouraging all employees and management to complete the Ministry of Health’s infection control and prevention online training which covers the fundamentals of infection prevention and control for COVID-19 and similar type diseases. It can be found at www.gov.bm/infection-prevention-and-control-training.

In terms of general advice which the Ministry of Health is issuing to residents at this time please note the following tips:

  • Ensure your workplace is following COVID-19 protocols.
  • 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.
  • If the weather is good, ask your church to host outdoor services or to broadcast services online so you can still participate.
  • 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.

Please, everyone, just hang in there; we are so close to getting the vaccine. Please, please don’t let things get out of control at this point in the game. Yes, the holidays will look different this year, but we have to constantly consider what is at risk if we do not buckle down for the next little while.

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

I would like to remind members of the public to use Bermuda’s self-reporting website Healthiq.bm. HealthIQ helps us, as a community, to track symptoms based on COVID criteria. It also provides users with individualized information and follow-up by professionals based on various risk factors (such as being medically vulnerable), and track trends and gaps so that we can better identify places where partners like donors and the Third Sector can focus resources.  HealthIQ provides the island with more insight into where potential cases of COVID-19 may be and gives us a proactive way to address them, giving us tens of thousands of eyes so that we can all stay safe. We are asking that each household go to healthiq.bm and enter your information and update it often; it only takes a moment and is completely private. Give yourself and your community a better understanding of how we’re all doing.

Before I close, I would like to state that I am aware of a petition currently circulating which asks for an extension to the quarantine time for passengers arriving in Bermuda to eight days.

First of all, I want to say that I am extremely sympathetic to the plight of the parents of children who have had to keep them home from school and quarantine them in response to the latest cases.

However, I can confirm that Government is not looking to quarantine travellers until Day 8. This would be hugely detrimental to our already struggling tourism sector. Who would come to Bermuda if they had to quarantine for 8 days?

We must balance the need to protect public health with the need to keep our economy going.

However, I can say that we will be tightening up certain aspects of traveller protocols; the details of which I will share during my Ministerial Statement on Friday.

In closing, I would like to appeal to members of the public to please not circulate private details about positive cases. I know sometimes this is motivated by a desire to help or a desire to be best informed but please let the contact tracers at the Ministry of Health do their jobs. If you need to quarantine, they will let you know. If you need to stay home from work, they will let you know. Public health is our number one concern and I urge you to please follow their advice and instruction.

Another balance we must strike is the balance between a person’s right to privacy and the media’s need to report and inform.

We MUST protect people’s privacy – just as we do with other communicable disease such as HIV. Privacy is something we value beyond measure at the Ministry of Health…which is why I do not  always answer every detail of every case when I appear at press conferences each week; some details would identify an individual and we will never compromise public trust or individual confidentiality.

I appreciate and understand the need for transparency and relevant information to be provided to members of the public, and I must emphasis the word ‘relevant’. However this must and will be measured first and foremost against the backdrop of a person’s right to privacy.   I will not compromise this for the sake of the media’s insatiable desire to receive personal private details of an individual; details which could reveal their identity.  And I thank members of the press in advance for their understanding of my position.

When positive cases are flagged to the Ministry of Health they are given a number; and that is how they are known during internal case discussions.

Next week I will provide information on further testing opportunities for residents which are currently being finalized by my team.

Thank you.

Thank you, Minister Wilson for your update. I also want to again thank you and to commend your team for your work over the past week as we have dealt with this outbreak.

The Ministry of Health team, led by the Minister of Health, worked countless hours over the weekend, late into the night and they have been going at this for nine or ten months. They deserve all of our gratitude and the best thing we can do for them is to continue the work which we must all do which is to observe the guidance.

There is no need to sugar coat where we are. Having gone weeks without a single confirmed case, and then experiencing sporadic cases, we now have clusters of cases – and seven cases that are still under investigation. This means that people have caught the virus although they, nor anyone in their immediate circle, has any immediate links to travel; they were exposed to someone who was infected here, on-island – and we have not been able to determine the source, as yet.

Good news is through the good work being done by the team at the Ministry of Health, there are less cases under investigation today, than there were yesterday.

Since the pandemic began, our decisions and all of the restrictions that were imposed were put in place based on guidance from the Ministry of Health and best practices from other jurisdictions who were managing the pandemic well, with one goal in mind, to ensure our healthcare system was not overwhelmed and to ensure we do not see a large number of deaths on our shores.

Over the past few weeks there has been a great deal of attention placed on our schools. Decisions about the schools were not taken lightly. The Ministry of Education works closely with and follows the guidance of the Department of Health. Each school, each case, each circumstance is different.

This government will always keep the health and safety of our students, teachers and staff a priority. Going forward, to reduce anxiety and stress, if there is a confirmed positive case within a public school, I have recommended to the Minister of Education that in-person learning, at that school, be suspended immediately. It is important to note that this means a confirmed positive in the school, not a close contact, or not a student, staff or teacher who may be a close contact, which would only require selective quarantine, as we saw in the case of West End, Paget and St. Georges Prep. The Minister of Education has indicated that tomorrow morning he will be convening the inaugural Education Emergency Measures Committee (EEMC) to confirm the new policy which will bring clarity.  While in-person classes are suspended the following will take place:

  1. Students and teachers, in necessary, will be tested;
  2. The school will be deep cleaned; and
  3. The Department of Health will advise when the school is ready for reopening for in person classes following their assessment.

Health and Education will continue to work closely to ensure they provide timely, accurate information to the principals, teachers, staff, parents and students. Likewise ,I encourage all students and staff with the support of parents to follow the Bermuda public schools safety and health protocols.

This Government’s goal is to continue to strike the right balance so that we can continue to enjoy our ability to earn and our children have the ability to learn – while keeping our country safe.

Many have contacted me requesting that I immediately revert the country back into Shelter in Place; or asking the Government to close the airport to scheduled commercial flights; wondering when another curfew will be put in place; and unfortunately due to rumour people have started panic buying again.

Let me be clear…right now, we do not see a need to bring back Shelter in Place or even to revert to curfews; however circumstances can change quickly.

This Government made a choice. A choice to have some form of a tourism season in order to ensure that thousands were able to return back to work. Yes, there are some who feel that we should not have done this – but that is the decision that we took for the collective of the country.

Now is the time we all support our fellow Bermudians in the hospitality and tourism sectors, persons who are not salaried who rely on hourly wages and cannot work remotely. We must support them by all doing our part.

How we move forward will depend on the actions each of us take over the next two weeks. Between now and the middle of December will be critical in determining if we are able to continue to move around freely or go backwards and introduce further restrictions on activities. I know no one wants to go backwards, especially over our Christmas holidays.

Our students are returning from overseas where in many places record infections of the coronavirus are being experienced. It is important that all persons are disciplined and practice increased vigilance to ensure they are not a source of infections for their family or friends.

We are aware that some people are returning from overseas travel and not sticking to the quarantine requirements. As the Minister of Health alluded to, the Cabinet considered new measures today to deal with these challenges, and they will be announced by the Minister of Health in the House of Assembly on Friday morning via a Ministerial Statement. The Minster will consult with our Parliamentary colleagues, business and tourism groups prior to the announcement of these further actions.

Given the unfortunate nature of the situation overseas, it is likely that these may include further restrictions of persons who arrive in Bermuda from overseas. Our testing regime worked well when the situation overseas was more managed, where we were not seeing record infections and in some cases positivity rates exceeding 50%. But the recent spikes mean that we must take more actions to protect our country.

It is important that we all continue to adhere to public health guidance that is designed to keep us safe. I have received calls and messages to my office, detailing people at venues and social events not wearing masks.

As a reminder, if you see activities taking place that are in violation of the laws that are in place to keep up all safe, please call 211 and advise the Bermuda Police Service who will take appropriate measures. If the activity takes place within a local establishment, you are encouraged first to address the issue directly with the appropriate manager.

Some residents have expressed frustration that the 211 number has rung busy when they have called. As of tomorrow, the Bermuda Police Service will add additional resources to manage the volume of calls and to support us all doing our part to make sure that we remain safe.

As I have said repeatedly and as the Minister of Health has said repeatedly, this is not the time to relax. Unfortunately, many of the infections that we have seen over the last few weeks could be due to persons not following the rules and not following the guidance, especially workplace guidance. Quite simply, they were avoidable. These protocols will prevent the spread of the coronavirus and can save lives. As I stated last week, the virus only survives if we let it survive. If we follow the simple measures to mitigate virus spread, Bermuda will be OK.

There are people who have the coronavirus this week, who didn’t have it last week. This is a worrying, stressful, and frightening time for them and for their family members. We must hold them in our thoughts and prayers as they move towards recovery.

Many in our community, including our leaders, are feeling the stress of living in a pandemic era. We are reminded daily to wear a mask, to wash our hands, ensure that we stand six feet away from others. I have heard from many people who have expressed their frustration and are just tired of this. As the Minister of Health said, we do not have that much longer, as there is help that is on the way but we must continue to do what we have been doing better and to continue it to ensure that we can reduce this current outbreak.

We all remember what life was like last year this time. Many recall what we did to prepare for Christmas. Like every holiday and every celebration this year, Christmas will be different. Some families are considering eating outdoors. Those who would have traveled are investigating virtual gatherings. And yes, we all have to be creative. We must do everything we can to ensure that we do not contract the virus or create opportunities where it is spread in social and other settings.

To prevent the spread of the virus we must do the following:

·         Unless it is absolutely necessary, please do not travel over the Christmas and New Year holiday;

·         If you must travel, take extra precautions while abroad;

·         If you have returned from travel and even if you have had negative tests, we ask that you are careful. That means to ensure you do not attend large gatherings; do not use a gym; be sure to protect babies and seniors and persons with chronic conditions. Do not go near to those persons who may be vulnerable.

The key point to remember, in all of this that we are experiencing, is that the decisions that are made by the Government are based on comprehensive, scientific, and data-driven evidence. In turn, you should only make decisions that have been communicated through official Government channels by a Government official or a Public Health official. As the Minister of Health has said, it is not helpful if you are communicating methods directly or person’s information directly to others. The Department of Health has a team, that is expert in doing this, that is expert in managing our privacy and making sure that people’s privacy is protected.

Those of you who create and share voice notes and messages that create panic and increase anxiety are not helping. So, please, if it’s not official, I ask you not to forward it.

That much being said, the Government can and must do a better job with timely communication and in some instances over the last week, the communication has been slower than it needs to be.

I apologize for this, certainly and the anxiety this caused and I certainly pledge to work to do better. I am grateful, however to our dedicated and hardworking communications team here at the Department of Communications that has worked day and night, weekends and late nights to ensure that we can keep the public updated. I want to thank them for their dedicated work and their dedicated efforts.

Moving to the WeHealth app. Since I announced the WeHealth Bermuda pilot during last week’s press conference, over 2,000 persons have downloaded the app. WeHealth Bermuda, is a free smartphone application that provides completely anonymous COVID-19 exposure notifications.

The Bermuda pilot is going well and as planned. If you haven’t already downloaded the app, visit the Apple App store or Google Play and download it today. Just type in WeHealth Bermuda. Visit gov.bm/wehealthpilot for more information.

The Department of Health, in collaboration with IDT Digital Services and WeHealth, are continuing to thoroughly test the app. Recently, simulations designed to recreate real-life dining scenarios were conducted at a local restaurant. These tests went as expected.

Those who have downloaded the app may see a message that says, “This region is currently not fully supported by the app”. That message is intentional, as the pilot region is being utilized for continued tests. Once we fully exit the pilot and launch the app for the Bermuda-wide roll out, that message will be changed.

Thank you to everyone who has provided feedback on their WeHealth Bermuda experience so far. If you would like to provide additional feedback, send an email to covidapps@gov.bm.

Although we are still in the final stages of testing the app, we welcome all Bermudians and visitors to download the app ahead of the full launch from Apple’s App Store or Google Play. Once you download and install the app on your smartphone, there is nothing else to do. No registration. No need to enter your phone number, email address, etc. As I said, it is completely anonymous.

Encourage your friends, family and coworkers to download the app ahead of the full launch, too.

As a reminder, WeHealth Bermuda will run on iPhone models 6S and above. Android users can use the app if their phone supports Bluetooth Low Energy and Android Version 6 or above.

And a reminder, the application is completely anonymous.

I will close as I always do with a reminder for those who are experiencing anxiety, stress, depression or other challenges, there is help available. You can get help and you do not have to suffer in silence. Please. If you need to speak to someone, contact the Emotional Wellbeing Hotline. The phone number is 543 1111. I’ll repeat that, 543 1111. It is important that we pay attention to our mental health as well as our physical health. I want to thank the persons who continue to monitor the emotional wellbeing hotline, for the work they’re doing for our community.

That concludes my remarks this evening and I’m happy to take questions from members of the media.