June 18th COVID-19 Update

Bermuda Government COVID-19 Update

Good evening Bermuda.

During today’s briefing, we will have an update from the Minister of Health on COVID-19, the latest test results and other matters from the Ministry of Health.  The Minister of National Security, Min. Wayne Caines is here to answer questions which may come from the media.

Earlier today, a release went out from my office outlining the changes that had been made for Phase 3B. As signaled in Tuesday’s press conference, the release confirmed that additional personal services would be permitted starting today. Our continued testing regime and the low numbers of positive results have provided the opportunity to implement a Phase 3B and reintroduce some personal services.

Facial grooming of beards and eyebrows as well as waxing and massages can now be provided.

Operators are obliged to follow public health guidelines that state the frequency of coronavirus testing that should be followed for the providers of these high risk services. The close contact involved in these services requires greater mitigation of the risk of transmission and service providers must act responsibly and customers must be vigilant for their own safety.

The amended regulations were signed by the Governor earlier today, and are now published online. Other changes include permitting additional capacity for charter vessels, based on the size of the boat, and the adherence to physical distancing rules. Spas are now permitted to open, and the resumption of full personal services also includes therapeutic massage and tattooing.

The high level of compliance we’ve seen from our community is critical to the progress we are making in reopening Bermuda. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of testing for those who wants to continue to offer these services, and the continued use of masks, and all of the physical distancing protocols which are effectively keeping us safe.

Later this evening, the Minister of Public Works, Col Burch, will issue guidelines reminding the public about using public parks and nature reserves while maintaining physical distancing.

As we move about this summer, enjoying Bermuda’s beaches and parks, we must do so with care. We are still in the midst of a pandemic which we have navigated well, so far.  We must always remember the public health and physical distancing guidelines that are in place are there to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. If we do not all collectively do our part, we will go backwards.

It is a good thing to be in Phase 3B, as you can see I look a little bit different than I’ve looked for the past three months, and I’m grateful for the work that the Minister of Health has been doing and getting the pop up testing working around the island, so many of our service providers were able to be tested over the past week.

Now, the Minister of Health will give us the latest update from our ministry. Minister.

MINISTER OF HEALTH READS STATEMENT

Today there were 123 test results received by the Ministry of Health; and none were positive for COVID-19.

Bermuda continues to have 144 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows:

  • there are 7 active cases, of which
  • all are under active public health monitoring, and
  • none are hospitalized or in critical care.
  • A total of 128 have recovered, and
  • the total deceased remains 9.

The average age of all of our confirmed positive cases is 61 and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 18 to 101 years.

Overall, 56% of all cases are Black, 41% are white and 3% are other or unknown.

The source of all local cases is as follows:

  • 41 are Imported
  • 85 are Local transmission, with known contact
  • 12 are Local transmission with an unknown contact, and
  • 6 are under investigation

Bermuda’s country status remains “Local Transmission – Cluster of Cases”. The seven-day average of our real time reproduction number is below 1.

Our reopening scorecard is updated today, and we are extremely pleased that HealthIQ now has over 7,700 users, which is excellent progress. Please register so we can get to 10,000 and get a green light on this indicator. If you have already signed up, please encourage your friends and contacts to join too.

On the down side, I have to highlight that mask wearing and physical distancing have deteriorated. The Bermuda Health Council is working with HealthIQ to monitor reports and we can see that while overall mask wearing has increased, over the past week it has definitely deteriorated. We need to get better and more consistent about this.

With respect to physical distancing, the reports show that our collective behaviour is deteriorating, and we are not even hitting 75% compliance, which is too low to get us to a green light on this indicator.

Physical distancing is extremely important. If you are not wearing a mask stay 6 feet apart. If you have to be closer than 6 feet wear a mask and try to stay at least 3 feet apart.

We can also see from HealthIQ that a higher number of persons are reporting potential symptoms. I’m very encouraged that people are availing themselves of our testing capability through the pop-ups, the drive-through and the mobile testing. This gives us assurance that we don’t have persons unknowingly spreading COVID in the community.

As we enter the new phases of re-opening during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our private healthcare colleagues (GPs, dentists, hygienists, dental assistants and nurses) will no longer be available to volunteer alongside the Department of Health as they have been over the past few months.
Without them volunteering their time and services, the Department of Health would not have been able to cover the ground that we did, and in such a short space of time. For this, we are eternally grateful. Therefore I would like to acknowledge them today for their willingness to serve our community without compensation. This was a huge task and their contribution was very much appreciated.

I’d like to call out by name the following individuals (alphabetically):

  • Dr. Chris Allington
  • Dr. Kyjuan Brown
  • Dr. Gordon Campbell
  • Dr. Helen Christopher
  • Dr. Richard Fulton
  • Dr. David Galloway
  • Dr. Stanley James
  • Dr. Shaina Kelly
  • Ms Catherine Kempe
  • Dr. Stephen Kenny
  • Dr. Ben Lau
  • Dr. Christine McFeely
  • Dr. Laura Murphy
  • Dr. Amne Osseyran
  • Dr. Hamish Reid
  • Dr. Constance Richards
  • Dr. Fiona Ross
  • Dr. Joanna Sherratt-Wyer
  • Dr. Danielle Simons
  • Dr. Nicola Terceira
  • Dr. Wilbert Warner
  • and Dr. Len Wedlich

I would like us all to raise a banner of thanks to these generous and caring professionals.   Thank you, truly, for all that you have done.

I now want to draw your attention to some of our Phase 3 Guidance and Directions which have been recently created and posted to the Government website: coronavirus.gov.bm.

In particular, I want to go over some of the points from the Directions for Gyms, Exercise Facilities, Health Clubs and Dance Studios; namely the information for patrons.

As a patron, specific instructions should be given to you before you even enter the facility so you’re aware of its expectations and requirements.

It’s highly likely that you will have to pre-book visits and that these are time-limited. You may be asked to sign a declaration saying that you have read and understood their obligations.

You should be screened for illness prior to entry. This may include temperature checks and questions about your health.

It should be noted that even with physical distancing, during exercise droplets containing COVID-19 may travel longer distances and a gym workout is a high risk activity. Therefore all patrons must ensure they maintain 6 feet (2 metres) distance between themselves.

Masks should not be worn during gym activities of high exertion. However, for lower intensity activities, patrons may wear a mask as long as it can be tolerated. If a patron is struggling to breathe, feeling faint or dizzy or experiencing chest pain or other discomfort they should remove the mask.

As a reminder children younger than 2-years-old must not wear masks at all.

Gym patrons must always wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (or use hand sanitizer) on entering the building, at regular intervals and after using equipment.

If it is necessary to cough or sneeze, you should to do this into a clean tissue which is safely discarded, or into your elbow.

Please note that personal towels should not be used to wipe equipment – single-use paper towels or wipes should be provided to you by the gym, which can then be properly disposed.

There will be limitations on Group Classes. Group exercise classes should be conducted outdoors, limited, or canceled to the greatest extent possible.

In the event group exercise classes are held, such classes may only take place if they can be completed in accordance with the following:

· More than 6 feet (2 metres) of distance maintained between participants at all times;

· no shared equipment during the class, unless sanitized between users;

· and sufficiently adjusted class schedules to allow for deep cleaning between classes.

Martial arts and other contact activities should be completed without any person-to-person contact.

Limitations on group sizes should be adhered to (the current maximum is 20 persons). Please do not arrive more than 10 minutes prior to class and no close-contact socializing with your fellow gym-goers. Keep your masks on and 6 feet apart.

Also, sweat-absorbing equipment such as yoga or exercise-mats should not be communal. Customers should bring their own if required for their exercise.

Water fountains (unless hands-free bottle filling) are not allowed; therefore patrons should bring pre-filled drinks/water bottles.

Gyms should consider closing off showers, locker rooms, and lockers (although access to restrooms should be provided).

Clients should come to the facility in their gym or dance clothes and shower at home afterwards. If showers are used, they should be disinfected after each use. If towels are provided, they should be stored in covered sanitized containers, clearly marked: “clean and used” and hot temperatures should be used when laundering these items.

And, finally, gym staff should be encouraged to take the Infection Prevention and Control Training located on the Government website.

I would like to commend those businesses that have had their employees complete the Infection Prevention and Control Training. More than 3,500 individuals have completed the training from a wide cross-section of businesses.

Infection Prevention and Control Training is incredibly important. 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 online training covers the fundamentals of infection prevention and control for COVID-19 and similar type diseases. It takes approximately 50 minutes and is for all employees and management.

I would like to encourage those who have not yet done the training to do so by going to coronavirus.gov.bm and look under the ‘Workplace Guidance’ link.

As closing, I want to remind the public of the COVID-19 pop-up testing taking place around the island this weekend:

  • Friday – Anglican Cathedral – 9am to 1pm , 3pm – 7pm & Shelly Bay MarketPlace 3pm – 7pm
  • Saturday- Somerset MarketPlace 3pm to 7pm
  • Sunday – Shelly Bay MarketPlace- 12pm – 5pm

In order to ensure that wait times at pop-up testing venues are as minimal as possible, I would encourage residents wishing to get tested, to please ideally book an appointment. This makes it a faster, more convenient experience for you.

You can book online via the government website coronavirus.gov.bm or call the COVID-19 hotline 444-2498 between 9am and 9pm and one of our helpful telephone operators will be happy to make a reservation for you. A full schedule of testing days and times has been posted to the Government website.

For more information about pop-up testing, you can call 444-2498.

Thank You, Bermuda, and, please, wear your mask and keep six feet apart if you are not wearing one.

Thank you Minister.

Today, the substance of my remarks will be in reference to recent demonstrations and calls to embrace the CURB (Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda) Racial Justice Platform and to engage in groundbreaking legal reform to address the imbalances in our criminal justice system.

To those who have been following the words and deeds of the government over the past few years, we have demonstrated in word and deed our commitment to establishing a measure of racial justice in our country.  In fact, it was not so long ago that we were marching alongside so many of you and risking arrest or physical harm alongside many persons, to make Bermuda a better and fairer place.

There are some in Bermuda that needed to see the outpouring of anger over the murder of George Floyd by a policeman. There were some that needed to hear the pain in their black countrymen’s voices as they told their stories; stories of being denied, stories of being disrespected, and stories of being treated less than, in their own country.

The recent demonstrations helped to open many more eyes and revealed to many that sweeping changes is wanted and necessary for us to unite as one people.

I’m grateful to the organizers and promoters the recent demonstrations in Bermuda, and to CURB for the work they have done in many ways to make the objectives and agenda of this government, not only more understandable, but also, while we are working so hard and so long to make the our vision for a better and fairer Bermuda, a reality.

In Opposition, we understood that Bermuda for all its wealth, all its success, and all the achievements made by some, far too many of us were being left out of the Bermuda success story.  We understood that there were two Bermudas separated by opportunity, separated by outcomes and separated by race.

We were elected on a platform based around breaking down the two Bermudas and seeking to write more Bermudians into the Bermuda success story.

As government we have sought to take on the forces that keep wages low, prices high and opportunities restricted. While we have had some success in this area, it is clear that tearing down hundreds of years of systemic racism, privilege and selfishness will not be as fast as we as any of us desire.

As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without struggle, it never has and it never will.”

My office has reviewed the CURB Racial Justice Platform previously and I am pleased to say that there are many points of agreement, and many points that we have already implemented.

I will review a few of those points:

  • Support for a Truth and Reconciliation Process – This was announced by Minister Lovitta Foggo and continues to be led by Minister Lovitta Foggo, and there is current consultation which is taking place online on forum.gov.bm.
  • Guaranteed College Scholarships – Since taking office we have dramatically increased funding for scholarships and expanded access to scholarships for more Bermudians. Additionally, within our first 100 days we ensured that no Bermudian was denied from accessing Bermuda College, whether that be for Associate’s Degree programmes, Bachelor’s Degree programmes or further training programs, due to a lack of finances, which is certainly required to address inequality in our economy.
  • CURB also called for national healthcare and listeners will recall that last year, Minister of Health, Kim Wilson began a dialogue on reducing the cost of healthcare for Bermuda families. It is our intention to drive down the cost of healthcare, expand access to a wider range of healthcare options for Bermudians, and to create a fairer healthcare system for the better of all.
  • Pensions and the inequality that exists – CURB had previously called for the elimination of the loophole where employers did not have to pay in to the national pension scheme for their expatriate workers which essentially made foreign workers cheaper than Bermudian workers.  We supported this position, included it in our 2017 Platform and recently passed legislation to close that loophole.
  • Public Procurement Policy – early in our administration we launched a new policy when it came to government contracts with a greater emphasis on expanding opportunity to people who have been denied opportunities in the past and making the playing field more level for black, female or persons with disabilities who owned businesses.  Furthermore, the BEDC was tasked with providing guidance to small and medium sized businesses on the process for bidding on government contracts and have hosted a number of seminars for construction companies around this. I can tell you from the Cabinet contracts that have been awarded, we are certainly making progress in this area.
  • Review of the Criminal Justice System – everyone in Bermuda knows the statistics regarding incarceration in Bermuda.  While black Bermudians make up around 60 percent of the population, we comprise over 90% of the people in the country currently behind bars.  And while over the years much has been done by successive administrations starting with the Alternative to Incarceration agenda implemented under Premier Jennifer Smith, much work remains to address this continued imbalance.  Last year, the Attorney-General and Minister for Legal Affairs, Kathy Lynn Simmons, launched the Law Reform Commission and has selected, MP Michael Scott to chair that particular commission, and we are waiting the approval of His Excellency the Governor to proceed.
  • Living Wage – another initiative advocated by CURB that has been advanced. Legislation was passed to establish in law, a living wage in Bermuda, and the new Minister of Labour  is looking to establish the actual living wage rate before the end of this year.
  • Immigration Reform – in 2017 we committed to Comprehensive Immigration Reform and to creating a system that recognizes the small size of Bermuda, the history of immigration policies being weaponized, discrimination against Bermudians in hiring and the need for local and international businesses to be able to acquire the talent they may be unable to find in our workforce.  The bipartisan immigration committee was formed and laws were changed for mixed status families, and most significantly for Bermudians born overseas to Bermudian parents.
  • Workforce Equity – Another thing inside of CURB’s racial justice platform. I’m pleased to report that the Attorney-General is reviewing legislation to enshrine the legality of disparate treatment of different classes of workers in Bermuda.
  • Legalization of Cannabis – The government, in an initiative being spearheaded by the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, is currently engaged in a consultative process surrounding the creation of a regulated cannabis market in Bermuda. Earlier in our term, we decriminalized cannabis possession under 7 grams in an effort to end the unnecessary criminalization of predominantly black Bermudian males and the devastating knock on effect it has on so many, when it comes to future opportunities. The Attorney-General is also developing the legislative agenda, around the expunging of previous convictions for cannabis possession.
  • Another thing called for was a memorial to Mary Prince – In 2019, Minister Lovitta Foggo in her role as Minister for Labour, Community Affairs and Sports, announced plans for a tribute to this iconic Bermudian trailblazer in the struggle against the enslavement of Africans and has already identified a location for a statue in her honour.
  • There was a call for the change to the Emancipation and Mary Prince Day, or what was at that time, Somers Day.  MP Chris Famous began to lobby the government in 2018 to decouple Bermuda’s emancipation celebration from Sir George Somers.  MP Famous reasoned that it was inappropriate for Bermuda to pair the anniversary of ending of slavery with the celebration of a colonizer.  The government found merit in his arguments and changed Bermuda’s laws to make Mary Prince Day a reality. That will happen for the first time this year.

This Government believes that Black Lives Matter and there is much work to be done to break down the two Bermudas to build a better and fairer Bermuda.  What is clear, is that by our record we have demonstrated that it did not take thousands of Bermudians marching in the streets for the matters at the forefront of Bermudian minds today, to become priorities for the government.

We recognize that talk is cheap but actions speak volumes. Today I have outlined area where we are in agreement with CURB and where we have implemented aspects of their social justice platform and are making progress.

Yet more remains to be done on the road to a better and fairer Bermuda, and I am certain that Bermuda can change, and we are committed to changing Bermuda, for the better. And I want to thank all of those who are either taken the streets, or are using their voices because I want you to encourage you to continue to share your stories and speak about these issues because it is the only way that Bermuda will put in the past our very painful, racist history. And I want to thank all those who have been participating thus far.

Tomorrow, in the House of Assembly, we will meet to consider five bills, which will be advanced:

  • The first will be the temporary suspension, for one year, of social insurance payments;
  • The second will be the temporary suspension or one year suspension, of payments into the National Pension Scheme;
  • The third will be Amendments of Public Health Act. These were amendments that will enable us to enact public health measures outside of the declaration of a State of Emergency;
  • There will be further amendments to the Bermuda Bar Act. These are things to make sure that we can have registered associates around the world, which will assist Bermuda in attracting more business to our shores; and
  • Finally, I willl be piloting through the Cost of Living Amendment Act, through the House of Assembly. This particular Act seeks to allow the minister responsible for Consumer Affairs to mandate grocery stores to share pricing of certain goods electronically. So those can be compiled and shared through technological means.

I invite all persons to tune into House of Assembly, whether it be on the website parliament.bm, on the radio on 105.1, or on Bernews.com.

Before I end today’s press conference, I want to say thank you to a few people. A few weeks ago, I challenged the Department of Communications to create COVID-19 messages and videos specifically for children. I am pleased to say that Al Seymour Junior, Programme Manager at CITV, and his daughter Kerri Seymour took up the challenge. Al and Kerri Seymour worked together on the animated cartoon which debuted at the start of today’s press conference and which you will see again immediately afterwards.

The female character Karli was voiced by ten year old Warwick Academy student Khloe Bassett.  Al Seymour voiced the male character, Uncle Kevin.

The project was a combination of traditional hand drawn animation and digital technology. 26 year old Kerri is a graduate of CedarBridge Academy and Humber College, in Toronto.  She graduated Humber College in 2016 with a degree in Applied Arts and has returned to Bermuda after working for a short time in Canada. Kerri also specializes in digital editing and effects as well as graphic design.

Mr. Seymour is no stranger to animation, and has worked on numerous cartoon projects for many years. The script was written by Communications Officer, Helen Zoellner.

My appreciation goes to everyone who worked tirelessly on this outstanding production, as it is important while we go through this pandemic, we are making sure that we have messages for our young people who are similarly suffering the effects which this change in our way of life has caused.

Thank you also to nine year old Kylee Hollis of West Pembroke Primary school who sent in a letter and drawing paying tribute to her parents who are essential workers. The Youth Library will display Kylee and other students’ artwork on their public display board.

I extend thanks also to all of the workers, employers and those on the frontline of COVID-19.  You have continued to serve our country well, and as more and more Bermudians return to work, we are beginning to see that there can be hope in the midst of a global pandemic.

I’m happy now to entertain any questions from members of the media.