Bermuda Government COVID-19 Update May 13 2020
Thank you for tuning in and welcoming us into your homes once again for our COVID-19 briefing. Today we will have an update from the Minister of Health on items dealing with the Ministry of Health and the latest test results. We will also have a presentation from the Minister of Finance. Also with us this evening is the Minister of National Security who is here to answer questions members of the media may have.
I want to give a special thanks to my Deputy Premier, Walter Roban, who stepped in on Monday to lead the press conference while my family celebrated my son’s fourth birthday.
We will begin the press conference with a statement from Minister Wilson
MINISTER WILSON STATEMENTS
Between yesterday and today there were 157 test results received by the Ministry of Health.
Unfortunately, we suffered a technical error in yesterday’s numbers and reported 153 results when, in fact, there were 127 received by the reporting cut-off time. Since then we received a further 30, for the total of 157. None of today’s results were positive for COVID-19.
As such, Bermuda’s total confirmed positive cases stands at 121. Their status remains as per yesterday:
- there are 47 active cases, of which
- 40 persons are under active public health monitoring, and
- 7 persons are hospitalized, with
- 2 of these in critical care
- A total of 66 have now recovered, and
- the total deceased is 8.
The average age of all of our confirmed positive cases is 59 and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 18 to 101 years.
The age of persons hospitalized ranges between 68 and 89 years, and the average age is 78.
Now that we have a larger number of cases who are deceased, we can provide collated information about the deaths, as there is less risk of identifying individuals. The average age of all deceased cases is 75 and the age range is 57 to 91 years.
The Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit has also been able to do more analysis of the racial breakdown of COVID-19 in our community. Today I can report that, as we have seen in other countries, the impact of COVID-19 is, indeed, also worse on black populations here in Bermuda.
Currently, 57% of cases are black, 39% are white and 4% are other or unknown. However, 72% of hospitalized cases are black, and most distressingly, 88% of deceased cases are black.
The causes are not fully understood anywhere but it is generally believed that it is due to underlying health and socioeconomic disparities. There are higher rates of chronic disease among black populations and a greater likelihood of living in smaller dwellings and higher density areas. These factors contribute to the likelihood of COVID-19 spread and its impact.
These statistics are also a stark reminder of why preventive measures are so important. If we don’t wear masks, wash our hands and maintain physical distance of 6 feet, we will not fare well as a country.
Nevertheless, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of people who were hospitalized have recovered and been released, which I think is excellent news. I want to thank the staff at KEMH for their exceptional care of COVID-19 patients.
For example, there is a covid-19 positive patient in the hospital who last week moved from ICU to a general ward. That patient says the nurses helped him through what he describes as a scary experience. It is the nurses who comforted and encouraged him, and helped him renew his faith that he could make it through. This is a wonderful testament, especially during Nurses Month.
I now want to to talk about the importance of Infection Prevention and Control Training. No matter where you work or which industry you work in, the risk of spreading infections in the workplace is ever-present. It is important that everyone knows the risks, how to stay safe, and keep themselves and everyone around them healthy.
General measures to prevent and control the spread of infection are critical in combating COVID-19 and preventing its spread. An understanding and appreciation of the general principals, as well as the full co-operation and involvement of the entire team, at all levels, is essential to our success.
As an employer it is your duty under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to train your employees in this regard whenever there is a risk to their health and safety, such as that presented by COVID-19. To help employers with this, the Department of Health has created online training which has been posted on coronavirus.gov.bm and covers the fundamentals of infection prevention and control for COVID-19. This 50-minute course is for all employees and management. I encourage all employers to be aware of this training and to share it with their staff where appropriate.
Today I can share with you the estimated real-time reproduction number (Rt) of COVID-19 for Bermuda.
The Rt is different from the basic reproduction number… The basic reproduction number, referred to as R0 (pronounced R-naught), is the average number of susceptible people infected by each infectious person. The R0 is a static number, currently estimated at 2.4 for COVID-19, and is based primarily on the characteristics of the infection.
In contrast, the real-time reproduction number (Rt) depends on additional factors including personal behaviours and interventions made to reduce contact between infected and susceptible people; its value will change over time as all of these factors change.
The current estimation of the real-time reproduction number for Bermuda is 0.47 but this can fluctuate a great deal in a small population like ours.
This is promising as our goal is to have an R at near or below 1.
The real-time R is just one indicator that can be used to understand the impacts of our mitigation measures (or non-pharmaceutical interventions) and the country’s overall status. This number will continue to be monitored and factored into decision-making for moving to future phases of our reopening. The Ministry will use the Rt number, as well as public compliance with physical distancing, hospitalizations and other factors, to make recommendations to Cabinet as to when we can move to Phase 2.
And, finally, I want to end with a request…Please, Bermuda, use care and caution when operating vehicles on the road.
Since the shelter-in-place regulations were relaxed, there is increased traffic on the roads between 6am and 10pm.
Excessive speeding poses a threat to the safety and wellbeing of not only the operators of the vehicles involved but other road users, especially the increased number of individuals using the roads for exercise. It is our responsibility as a good citizen of our country to practice and promote road safety.
During this time of COVID-19 pandemic, we should also be very mindful of the impact that preventable road traffic collisions can have on the capacity of our hospital. Please work with us and exercise care, courtesy and caution as you make your commute.
Thank you very much Minister, and it’s certainly encouraging to get that particular information regarding our real time reproductive number.
Yesterday was International Nurses Day. Yesterday Minister Wilson released a video thanking nurses in Bermuda for their tireless dedication. Nurses play a vital role in each and every healthcare system around the world, making a difference to the lives of their patients and their patients, families.
In Bermuda, your endless dedication is recognized and appreciated during regular times, and is highlighted as we move through this global pandemic. On behalf of the Government and the people of Bermuda, I add my sincere appreciation to the 751 registered nurses in Bermuda. I also want to recognize the dedication of nursing assistants, and everyone involved in the health care of Bermuda’s residents.
I also would like to extend a thank you to everyone who is involved in the operation of Bermuda’s testing facilities. Thanks to the collective efforts of all, on Monday, Bermuda entered the top ten countries per capita in the world for testing. However, this is not a competition between countries, but the more that we tests, the more we know about the virus, and its spread in Bermuda.
Over the past couple of days we took a bit of a break from testing. So as you see there are not a lot of new results today. Over the next few days we will be testing and retesting essential workers, and our seniors’ homes, and we will also offer testing to persons in correctional facilities, while continuing the open testing of the population this weekend.
Antibody testing started last Saturday at the government drive thru testing facility at Southside in St David’s, and the Government is now administering two types of COVID-19 tests for the general public. As stated last week, the PCR test or Polymerase Chain Reaction test detects the presence of COVID-19. Thus, identifying anyone who has an active infection with the virus. This test is administered through a nasal swab.
PCR test results enable the Ministry of Health to detect, who has an active infection, isolate them and identify those that they have been in contact with.
The antibody test is to determine the presence of the body’s immune response or antibodies and is administered through a finger prick blood sample. This enables the detection of individuals who have had COVID-19 in the past, and who may not have been detected in previous testing regimes.
Moving on to give a little bit more information about the technology surrounding the notification of the results. As of 3pm today, all those who booked appointments to be tested between 24 April and 11 May would have received their results by email yesterday and today as it was just a recent system upgrade. Those who came as walk-ins have been called by a medical professional with the results. And they’re also being entered into the system to get an email.
From tomorrow, when the testing at Southside resumes, all doctors will have access to their own portal where they can see the patients who have listed them as their doctor. From this portal, they’ll be able to receive the results, easily run daily reports and also download reports for patient files.
As of 11 May, 2,426 tests have been conducted through, Drive-Through, some of the challenges which prevented the results from being sent quickly include: no doctor listed; people listing themselves as their doctor; and old email addresses for their doctor. I’m also pleased to report that news from the Government lab indicates that everyone who was tested, up to yesterday would have received the results as of 3pm today.
There was a delay in getting some other results back over the weekend. However, those issues have been resolved and testing results will now be turned around in 24 hours.
Due to the overwhelming response by the public to be tested for COVID-19, most of the available appointment slots, have been taken at the Southside Drive-Through Testing Facility.
In response to this exceptional demand, operating hours for this coming weekend, were extended from 9am to 7pm. However, I’m informed that all of those slots have been booked. And there are 687 persons who are slated for tests in between now and over the weekend.
I can report that next week, more spots have been opened, and the slots are available to the public for booking on Monday and Thursdays. However, some of the days are going to be reserved for the testing of specific essential workers who may be involved in Phase Two reopening. Not all the days are open, but there are some slots which are open for next week’s testing.
Also starting tomorrow, an additional lane will be open for essential workers between the hours of 10am and 7pm. Essential workers include members of the Royal Bermuda Regiment, Bermuda Police Service, Department of Customs, and Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service. Those persons can book directly with their office administrator, as the online portal for the essential workers has been shut down. As we open up one for the general public, essential workers are able to go ahead and book through their particular establishments.
Finally, if you’re looking for the link to go ahead and book your tests, it can be found at our website coronavirus.gov.bm. And that is for the general population. Most of the slots are filled for this coming weekend. However, you can now book slots for next week Monday, and next week, Thursday.
COVID-19 has devastated the global economy and as we’ve sought to protect the health and safety of our community, we have also been focused on ensuring that the economic effects of COVID-19 will not be worse than the health impacts of this pandemic. With us now is the Minister of Finance, the Hon. Curtis Dickinson, with an update on the work being done by his team. Minister.
MINISTER OF FINANCE STATEMENT
It has been several weeks since the Government passed legislation on March 24th to provide unemployment benefits to those impacted by COVID-19 related job losses. In a very short time leading up to (and during) the Shelter in Place Order, we architected and implemented a new system from scratch, and collected an unprecedented number of applications from individuals and employers.
Unfortunately, necessary details — required to ensure entitled individuals only were receiving benefits in accordance with the regulations — were either missing or inaccurate in a large number of applications, resulting in many failed payments and ultimately in delays in receiving badly needed benefits.
Over the last couple of weeks, much of this has been cleaned up, and significant improvements to the system have been implemented. Resolving a lot of the initial challenges has not been an easy task, and the team deserves a lot of credit for answering the call and working hard to deliver benefits to a large number of people.
This week we are paying benefits to over 7,000 applicants, totaling approximately $7 million. Including this week, the program will have paid an aggregate of approximately $22 million in benefits.
I am happy to report that over 500 individuals that were receiving benefits have returned to work and informed the Government. I want to remind everyone, both employees and employers, that you must report the date are returning to work immediately to the Department of Workforce Development. You may do so by emailing your information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
COVID- 19 Economic Advisory Committee
To navigate appropriately through this crisis, we will require the input and advice from all stakeholders in the community.
As mentioned in my Ministerial Statement on Friday 8th May, I have established a COVID-19 Economic Advisory Committee.
The Committee includes key stakeholders in the Bermuda economy and community.
I can confirm that the terms of reference have been drafted and the first meeting will be held next. At this meeting, the terms of reference will be reviewed by the Committee and ratified.
The role of the Committee is to provide insight and expert advice on how to protect jobs and stimulate economic activity during the economic crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The objective of the Committee is to assess and recommend prioritized impactful strategies for the short, medium- and long-term economic recovery from the crisis.
More specifically, the Committee shall:
- Solicit and obtain information and ideas from a broad cross-section of the community and all sectors of the Bermuda economy about the functioning of the economy and potential recovery initiatives;
- Provide prioritized recommendations on the design, implementation and evaluation of policies to promote growth, create jobs and improve the long-term prosperity of Bermuda;
- Provide analysis and information for the operations, regulations and healthy functioning of the economy;
- Engage, direct and liaise with subcommittees as needed for the development and implementation of approved recommendations;
- Review, assess and propose changes to Government and Government corporate bodies, and agencies; and
- Assist with other items as the Minister of Finance may request.
I will chair of the Committee, and it’s membership will include 10 other individuals. The Committee will include representatives of all key sectors of the Bermuda economy. The Committee will also invite other participants to present or provide information.
To ensure full participation in the process and increase efficiency, the Committee may also establish various subcommittees as it deems appropriate to arrive at the best outcome for the country.
These sub-committees may include business owners, industry associations, key individual stakeholders and public officers. Sub-committees are anticipated to have an industry focus and may include tourism and hospitality; technology and infrastructure; financial services; retail and services; social services and healthcare; development and construction.
The sub-committees will present their observations, findings, initiatives, action plans and recommendations to the Economic Advisory Committee for review and consultation.
I look forward to starting the work that is necessary to identify and eventually implement the measures to enable sustainable economic growth and mitigate the social impacts of the pandemic.
Financial Hardship Withdrawal
I am pleased to confirm that today the Senate passed the legislation amending the National Pension Scheme (Occupational Pensions) Act 1998 to permit a person under the age of 65 who participates in a private, defined contribution pension plan or local retirement product, to voluntarily withdraw up to $12,000. This legislation will now be sent to the Governor for his signature.
Once the legislation has been brought into operation, a member or a former member of a pension plan or local retirement product under the age of 65 will be able to apply to their administrator for a one-time refund of up to $12,000. If their application is approved, their plan administrator will have up to 20 working days to make the payment.
The Senate also passed regulations to allow members and former members of a pension plan or local retirement account to receive a refund of up to 25 percent of their account balance, provided they had attained normal retirement age (65) and had retired.
The Pension Commission will be providing specific guidance to the plan administrators to make the entire process as efficient and timely as possible.
Thank you Minister.
And I do want to commend your team and also the team within the Ministry of Labour, Community Affairs and Sports for ramping up this unemployment programme and making sure that we were able to get this programme up and running so quickly. We will recognize that there are lots of countries that are far larger than ours who have not been able to effectively deliver these benefits and I’m pleased that in our country, we were able to have the foresight to get this up and running very quickly, to be able to provide that support to persons who need it, while we make sure that our country remains healthy.
I’m sure that many persons are curious about the move to Phase Two, and when that might happen. At the Cabinet meeting yesterday, I can confirm that no decision has yet been made on when we will be moving towards Phase Two. As we said when we mentioned these particular items there are no defined timelines that are set. And there has been no decision to move to Phase Two.
However, with the R number, which the Minister of Health has reported, being below one, we do, possibly have the capacity to move forward. A Cabinet subcommittee will be meeting tomorrow, consisting of the Minister of Health, the Minister of National Security and the Minister of Public Works, who will meet to discuss whether or not an official recommendation will be made to the Cabinet on moving to Phase Two at some points in time in the near future. And I look forward to sharing that information with all of you when I next see you at the press conference on Friday.
As we have mentioned previously, there will be a flight arriving from Atlanta, this Friday. All passengers who arrive in Bermuda will be required to stay at a government quarantine facility. The only persons who are exempt from this requirement, are those who present medical evidence to the Minister of Health in order to be exempted from staying in a government quarantine facility.
Those persons who are allowed to quarantine at home, only for medical reasons will still be checked by the Bermuda Police Service on a regular basis to ensure that they are maintaining their quarantine. At the end of the 14 days persons whether or not they’re in a quarantine facility or at home, due to medical reasons, will be tested for COVID-19 before they are allowed to be released from any type of quarantine.
We’ve also received a number of questions about a possible flight from Canada. If you are Bermuda resident looking to return home from Canada, you can go to the website coronavirus.gov.bm and click the link COVID forms to provide your particular details, under the traveler form for travelers who are looking to return home.
If you have already filled in this form, you will receive updates on any particular flight. Right now, we are working to gauge interest in a flight and capacity to fill a plane. Also, if you are a Canadian resident and you wish to return home from Bermuda you should complete the form.
Before I end this evening, I would like to read an email I received last Friday from a member of the public. The email was addressed to me and to the Minister of Health.
“Good evening, Premier, and Minister Wilson. My mother is presently in a senior rest home which was tested yesterday, 6 May for COVID-19. Today, I received a call, advising me that an online site had posted and I quote, ‘Third Rest Home Comes Up Positive For Coronavirus’. As you can imagine, I was very upset, upon hearing and reading this, even though the name of the seniors’ rest home was not given.
“Clearly, there must be a breach in confidential medical information somewhere. This reporting can evoke worry and unnecessary stress for all family members of patients of Bermuda’s Seniors Rest Homes.
“Minister Wilson, you always mentioned at the COVID-19 updates to be sensitive to families. It appears that this particular news agency is not being mindful of that.
“Premier, I would like to thank you and your team for working and keeping us informed via the televised and online updates during this national crisis.”
There are two clear messages that I wish to give this evening.
If you are employed by a seniors’ home and have access to patient information, you are in breach of confidentiality agreements by sharing information with people outside of approved family members. Given the sensitivity of the information around positive results, I urge those persons phoning, emailing and sending WhatsApp messages to stop giving this information to the media prior to families being notified.
Families should not learn about sensitive health matters, through media outlets. And as you see in this particular instance, it doesn’t necessarily matter if the home was named or not, because family members know that particular homes are being tested, and as the Minister of Health said we are doing testing of nursing homes, but we will also be doing retesting of nursing homes and it is particularly important that this is kept in mind.
My second message is to members of the media, who are comfortable breaking news and sharing sensitive information about the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable members of our society.
Even if you get what you may deem to be exciting information that must be shared immediately, I beg you to stop and think.
Think about the impact that your story will have on family members who have loved ones in the homes that you’re writing about. Think about the added stress and concern that you may be causing these families unnecessarily as the government will be in the process of notifying persons who have been tested.
Understand that your definition of news is also reaching residents and families who are now given extra stress about worrying whether or not they have tested positive and the fact that the general public, may know, before they do.
For Bermuda, we are addressing a situation that we have never faced before. And this is the time for us all to work together. And for us all to support each other. This is the time to think about others.
There are those in our community who have been afflicted with COVID-19, and with that comes a lot of anxiety and concern, not just for persons who have the virus, but also for persons in their household, their family members and friends. We must all do what is right. And we must all do what is in the best interests of our community.
We are a very small island. And with very little information, we can somewhat accurately identify most people in any given situation. This is why the Government has been so careful with the testing results, the statistics which we release. I want to continue to ask all of us to try our best to respect others’ privacy.
As we conclude tonight’s briefing and before I open to questions, I extend my thanks to everyone who continues to show kindness and generosity.
This afternoon, my family joined the children of the essential workers at the essential workers school at The Centre on Angle Street, as Miss KellyAnne Pacheco of the local company Party Animals provided a drive-by Character Motorcade. The children at the school and my family thoroughly enjoyed it. So thank you, Party Animals.
While the hours may be long, the tasks daunting, and the emotional toll of protecting people’s lives can be overwhelming, none of us who are sitting here at this podium would be able to do the work which we continue to do without your support. The calls, emails, social media posts and messages of support, encouragement and prayers for our safety and success are truly appreciated it.
When the days seem darkest, please know that those simple acts of kindness and compassion, truly brighten our days. Before I go to questions, Bermuda, we have made progress and the results which we are continuing to get is certainly a cause for optimism. I cannot express enough that if we move too quickly, if we relax our guard, if we stop practicing the efforts of which we’ve been doing over the past two months, this virus can come back and jeopardize all of the progress which we have made.
So while there may be space for us to move to Phase Two, it cannot happen if we are not all doing our parts. That means very simply: maintain your physical distance; wear a mask wherever you go; and make sure that you minimizing your contact with as many persons as possible.
With that, I’m happy to take any questions that members of the media may have.