Press Conference with COVID-19 Update
Good day Bermuda and thank you for joining us
Today, Bermuda laid to rest a Bermudian public servant, a Bermudian leader and our friend. Former Speaker of the House and MP for Southampton East, Stanley Lowe. In a pre-COVID-19 world he and his family would have received the pomp and circumstance of an official funeral, and the line of speakers to give him the recognition and accolades which he deserved would have covered the gamut of past and present political, social and community leadership. Sadly with COVID-19 and physical distancing, we could not give him the home going ceremony that a man of his accomplishment and stature deserved.
We who serve in the House of Assembly, meet on Friday and I am certain that the outpouring of admiration, respect and stories of Speaker Lowe will provide some comfort until the day when we can properly and fully recognize this fallen Bermudian. Our prayers are with his family and with all who knew, loved and admired Speaker Lowe.
I am pleased today to have with me, Minister of Health Kim Wilson, the Minister of Public Works Lt. Col. David Burch, the Minister of National Security Wayne Caines and Bermudian biochemist and Science Advisor to the Government of Bermuda, Dr. Carika Weldon.
Minister Wilson will give an update on COVID-19 testing results and the work being conducted by the Minister of Health.
MINISTER OF HEALTH’S STATEMENT
Today there were 195 test results received by the Ministry of Health; and 3 were positive for COVID-19.
Bermuda now has 118 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows:
- there are 52 active cases, of which
- 37 persons are under active public health monitoring, and
- 15 persons are hospitalized;
- a total of 59 have now recovered, and
- the total deceased remains 7.
The average age of all of our confirmed positive cases is 60 and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 18 to 101 years. The age of persons hospitalized ranges between 64 and 91 years, and the average age is 77.
As of today, we have tested 247 care home residents and 302 staff members from twelve different care homes. Of all those tested, 505 results have come back negative with 44 positive. We plan to finish the testing of all care homes by Sunday.
I would now like to clarify how cases and countries are classified, as the terms sometimes overlap and can cause some confusion.
Cases can be classified as imported, local transmission, or under investigation. An imported case is a person who was exposed to COVID-19 abroad.
A case is classified as local transmission if the person has no history of travel and has a known exposure to an imported or confirmed case in Bermuda.
A case is considered under investigation until an exposure to COVID-19 is determined, at which point it will be classified as either imported or local transmission as appropriate.
If no link is found within 4 weeks of a positive result, the individual case will be classified as “local transmission”. We are not classifying individual cases as “community transmission” to avoid confusion with “community transmission” on a country level.
Community transmission is a country classification which is defined by World Health Organization as larger outbreaks of local transmission defined through an assessment of factors including, but not limited to, large numbers of cases not linkable to transmission chains and/or multiple unrelated clusters in several areas of the country.
Other categories included by the World Health Organization are sporadic cases and clusters of cases. Bermuda is currently classified as clusters of cases – which is a category for countries with local transmission. We will advise immediately if the country status changes.
Over the past few weeks, the Ministry of Health has created various guidance documents regarding face masks – from how to make them to how to wear them…and I have to say, I’ve seen some very impressive homemade cloth masks over the past few days.
Today, I want to clarify WHEN to wear masks. The short answer is that you should wear a mask whenever you are outside of your home. This includes at the grocery store, while taking public transport or taxis, and for workers at all workplace premises…unless, of course, you are working from home.
There are exceptions to this guidance. You can remove your mask while engaging in strenuous exercise outdoors such as running and jogging, but you must put it back on once you have completed your exercise if you plan to be around others, outside of your home.
Delivery personnel MUST wear a mask when going about their business, in accordance with current regulations.
Lastly, mask-wearing is not recommended for young children below the age of two, for child safety reasons.
I want to remind the public that, because there is currently a global shortage of surgical masks, Bermuda needs to conserve these masks for those who need them most, such as our healthcare workers and those who are sick.
Reusable (cloth) masks complement safe physical distancing measures and provide some basic protection. Masks help protect others from you, in case you are infected but unaware.
And, remember, I wear a mask to protect you; you wear a mask to protect me.
For more information on mask wearing or making go to coronavirus.gov.bm.
Now that the shelter in place restrictions have ended and we are in phase one of reopening, business leaders must do their due diligence to ensure that employees are adequately protected when returning to work.
In light of this, ‘Return to Work’ Guidance for Businesses has been created with recommendations to assist employers in establishing workplace protocols to protect employee health and safety when returning to work after COVID-19.
It includes sections on infection prevention & control measures, return to work considerations, occupational risk assessments, site cleaning & disinfection protocols, site operations and risk management, as well as general information on COVID-19. It also provides a sample screening questionnaire for employees returning to work after the shelter in place and an occupational safety & health risk assessment template.
Additionally, it contains information for specific populations and work groups. For example, there is industry-specific guidance for Healthcare Professionals, Care Homes, Offices and Banking Services, Construction, Mechanical & Landscaping, Warehouses, Auto Dealers and Retail Operations.
We recommend that screening protocols be in place before employees return to work. Employee screening will help ensure that any symptomatic individuals are identified before coming to the facility and to prevent the potential spread of infection.
In addition to employee screening, once employees arrive to work it is advisable that clear reporting procedures be developed and communicated to all staff. These procedures must inform staff of what to do if they were to develop respiratory symptoms.
Conducting an assessment of employee occupational risk of exposure to COVID-19 will be crucial in determining what steps are needed upon re-opening your business. Occupational risk will vary from very high, high, medium or lower risk. The level of risk will depend on several factors, including:
- industry type and job responsibilities;
- the need for close contact with persons who are known or suspected to be infected with COVID-19;
- the need for close contact with the general public;
- the need for repeated or extended contact with the general public; and
- employee susceptibility to infectious diseases.
It is essential to determine which occupational risk category your employees fall into. In doing so you must consider that different groups of employees may be exposed to different risk levels. You must also take into consideration whether or not you have any medically vulnerable employees in your workplace. This information will determine the types of controls that may be needed in your workplace.
Once your business re-opens, it is essential that protocols are in place to outline what employees must do if they develop respiratory or flu-like symptoms when at work. These protocols must outline, as a minimum, who employees must report to, what information is reported and who maintains this information. We recommend that the person(s) in charge of maintaining accident/dangerous occurrence reports and other occupational safety and health issues at your business should be responsible for this.
We also recommend that a specific location be designated for employees who develop respiratory or flu-like symptoms at work, to ensure that they are adequately isolated from the rest of the workforce. This location must be communicated to all employees so that they can report to this area, as needed. All areas where these employees have been must be cordoned off and appropriately cleaned and disinfected.
Before employees return to work we recommend that thorough cleaning and disinfection of the work facility be conducted. Disinfection should focus on frequently touched and flat surfaces throughout the facility and must be done multiple times daily with EPA-approved disinfectants or a bleach solution only.
Again, that guidance can be found at coronavirus.gov.bm.
In closing, I just want to highlight the availability of the Emotional Wellbeing Hotline at 543-1111 as a resource to our community while we weather this storm. That number again is 543-1111.
We realise that these are times of extreme heightened stress and anxiety – particularly for those who are quarantined and those being tested for COVID-19 – and therefore I want to remind people that this resource exists for you. Thank you to those individuals who man the phone lines at the Wellbeing Hotline, providing this vital service for our community.
Finally, I want to thank another group of people trying to help out those who may also be struggling…Thank you to the Market Place who announced today that they will be offering a 5 per cent discount to all Financial Assistance clients from now until October 31st. This applies to all of their Market Place and Price Rite stores on any day of the week.
Thank you Minister.
Following on from the Minister of Health, we have with us Dr. Carika Weldon, a young Bermudian woman of international acclaim who we are truly fortunate to have with us on island aiding us in the fight against COVID-19. I first met Dr. Weldon three and a half years ago when she came back to Bermuda to speak at Thinkfest, hosted by Ayo Johnson. Since that time I have been incredibly impressed with her dedication to promoting science in Bermuda.
She has started a foundation in Bermuda to raise money to expose young residents to science. She has mentored many students here and she has hosted international conferences in Bermuda to discuss cutting edge topics in genetics such as gene splicing. She is a member of the Royal Society of Biologists and recently became a Fellow of the Institute of Biological Medical Science.
Dr. Weldon gave this presentation to our Cabinet yesterday, and I thought it would be great to share with the country so that we all can have a better understanding of how testing can assist in defeating COVID-19.
She will be discussing the work that she’s doing in conjunction with the Ministry of Health to keep Bermuda in a global leadership position containing this particular pandemic. Now, I give warning before Dr. Weldon starts, that some of the items that what she covers are particularly technical, and I know that there are slides to accompany this, and I apologize that there might be some interruption of our services for the hearing impaired, but we are going to make sure that this video was put out later so that those persons who are hearing impaired can make sure they can get the full information that Dr. Weldon is putting forward. With that, Dr. Weldon.
DR. WELDON’S STATEMENT
(Details to be added at a later time)
Thank you Dr. Weldon and thank you again for coming home and the work that you and your team are doing.
I can say without fear of contradiction, if it were not for your tenacity to assist us in scaling up our testing capacity, we would not be leaders globally in testing our population for the novel coronavirus. And I have to say this although some people get upset at me, the slings and arrows that the minority in Bermuda have tried to throw at you should be deflected by the enormous admiration, that young and old, black and white and everyone holds towards your particular accomplishments and your work and your country is incredibly proud of you.
Now we have Minister of Public Works, Lieutenant Colonel David birch, who review the guidelines for entry to government offices, and the work that is being done within his Ministry, Colonel.
MINISTER BURCH’S STATEMENT
Everyone will be aware of the restrictions we have endured over the last 6 ½ weeks from scaled back government services to Shelter in Place.
Despite the closures, the Ministry of Public Works, with responsibility for all government assets which include public lands, beaches, public parks, government buildings, water distribution, sewerage disposal, solid waste management and refuse collections, continued operations virtually unchanged as most functions are essential services.
On the front line are our sanitation workers and the staff at Tynes Bay Waste to Energy Facility. At the start of this crisis there were some challenges with refuse collection. These were swiftly resolved and collection not only continued but in fact, the teams improved their performance by completing their assigned zones before 2:00 pm daily. It is also important to note that there were no health and safety incidents during this period.
The Tynes Bay Waste to Energy Facility – a 24 hour – 7 day a week operation -and an almost entirely Bermudian run operation adjusted seamlessly to the changes and carried out its vital role with no difficulties. I remind that this facility generates a significant amount of electricity that is sold to Belco and the benefactor is the Bermudian taxpayer.
Other challenges involved individuals placing garbage for collection curbside after the area had been serviced and illegal dumping across the island. The issue with residential garbage collection was quickly resolved with Government supervisors visiting those responsible parties. The illegal dumping is still to be addressed – it is the source of significant disappointment to and irritation for me – as such there are several options available for enforcement that are being explored. I am determined to take the necessary and possibly controversial steps to curb this behavior.
While we were learning and operating throughout the shelter in place, we also began preparing for the inevitable reopening of the Government.
In anticipation of that decision it was decided that returning to work would be a gradual process, dependent on several factors such as:
- the ability of staff to attend work when nurseries, schools (public/private) and public transportation remain offline;
- determining how staff can function in their respective workplaces while adhering to the new social distancing requirements; and,
- the ability to keep front line employees safe while interacting with customers.
In preparation for the reopening, the Ministry of Public Works developed protocols that outlined how we can safely resume providing the necessary services. This involved the Ministry of Public Works’ Health and Safety Officer consulting with the Ministry of Health regarding the proposed protocols. Following this initial consultation, the four Health and Safety Officers from Tynes Bay Waste to Energy Facility, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Public Works and the Cabinet Office worked together to draft the protocols and procedures now in place to reduce the transmission of disease among our workforce and the community we serve.
With the Government now open and operating in a limited capacity, we continue with our phased approach of a gradual return to work. Wherever possible, to reduce the number of persons in the office at any given time including opportunities to work from home that are being encouraged.
For those working in government offices, the recommended physical distancing between employees is 6 feet which translates into a 28 square foot circular area allotment per person. However due to different office layouts, in practice, it is appropriate and more practical to double this number to 60 square feet. Considering the current government space standard per person is 65 square feet, physical distancing in Government offices is assured.
In addition to the physical distancing, we have also implemented the following protocols for entering government buildings with the necessary signage affixed to inform and reinforce the message.
All persons entering government buildings or facilities must:
- Have their temperature taken;
- Wear some form of face mask;
- clean their hands via the hand sanitizers available at the entrance to each location; and
- A maximum of one or two persons are allowed in an elevator at any one time – depending on the size of the elevator;
There were concerns expressed regarding the air-conditioning systems in buildings with some reports indicating that the virus could spread through the building’s air-conditioning systems. To address this issue, the Ministry consulted local air-conditioning vendors who in turn provided assurances that this can be mitigated. As such, all air conditioning systems in government buildings were deep cleaned before reopening along with all work spaces.
Despite the challenges we will face going forward, the Ministry is confident that if the aforementioned protocols are adhered to, the risk of spreading COVID-19 will be greatly reduced permitting the Government to slowly expand business operations.
Thank you Minister Burch.
The Bermuda Police Service and the Royal Bermuda Regiment will be enforcing the evening curfew between 10pm and 6am, conducting both patrols and checkpoints. The Regiment is keen to ensure that essential and exempted people are inconvenienced as little as possible.
Enforcing the regulations during daylight hours means the police and regiment will ensure they have a visible presence in public spaces. The public should expect to see regulations enforced at all public parks, beaches, golf courses, railway trails, and authorized businesses.
The Coastguard will enforce the regulations on Bermuda’s water. This will include commercial boats, pleasure crafts, and areas such as inshore waters, harbours, private docks, recreational areas, and marinas.
There will be an increase in the number of Regiment soldiers working over the weekends to deter large gatherings and to inform the public of the regulations. The public is advised to re-read the legislation and the physical distancing and closures document so you are do not accidently in breach of regulations.
Under the current regulations there remain specific categories of business that must remain closed for example: bars and clubs, spas, gyms, barbers, beauty salons, sports clubs and restaurant dine-in services.
For other businesses, the law still requires an employer to arrange for his or her employees to work remotely from home if that is reasonably practicable. Those businesses that cannot operate remotely, such as construction, landscaping, or the outdoors showing the real estate are no longer required to not operate, but what is important is that appropriate physical distancing is strictly observed.
Customers are not permitted to enter the business premises so that any businesses provided are only available for curbside, delivery collection or done via phone, and the internet.
It is still not allowed for any employer to force an employee to come into work where that person can reasonably work from home. Any employer who does that will be in violation of the law. Mandated working from home in the private sector does not end until phase three. Where appropriate physical distancing is not observed, the regulations permit the Minister of Health to close the business until there is compliance with these important public health conditions.
The devastating impacts of COVID-19 has created massive economic disruption and displacement to workers around the world. Here in Bermuda, we began to address this impact to our economy through the introduction of the new unemployment benefit, which is seen $15 million paid out to date, and provides a safety net for our workers through this programme. Additionally, to support small and medium sized businesses, the Minister of Finance has given a grant of $12 million to the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation to assist those businesses during this time.
On Friday, the House of Assembly will meet to pass legislation that will provide further economic relief to Bermudians. Under the proposed amendments to the national pension scheme, which were approved by the Cabinet yesterday we will expand the scope of existing provisions for financial hardship to include a one-time withdrawal of up to $12,000, from person’s individual pension accounts.
There are those who will raise legitimate questions and legitimate concerns about the impact this could have on the long-term health of person’s individual pensions. We share those concerns. But it is clear that this is not any normal time. Funds like this should only be accessed in emergency situations. And it is undoubted that the massive amount of unemployment that is seen in our economy due to the restrictions that are necessary to put in place to preserve life is such an emergency.
The reality is that there are people suffering today, who need assistance today and the overall health of our economy requires help today. This money is Bermudians’ savings, largely overseas and bringing some of that money home is the right move at this time.
This will have no impact on anyone currently receiving pensions and no impact on those persons set to be eligible to receive pensions over the next couple of years.
It is important to note that withdrawals can only be made from individual defined contribution plans, what we call private pensions. Withdrawals cannot be made from Government’s Social Insurance Fund, or it cannot be made by public officers or those persons who work in quangos, such as the Hospital and other places from the Public Service Superannuation Fund, or public officer pensions.
These are defined benefit plans and other defined benefit plans are not eligible for this one time withdrawal. So, to put it simply, you will not be allowed to dip into anyone else’s savings. These funds will come from individual savings that persons have saved up over the years. It is your money and at a time like this, your money can be used to help our economy.
Applications for participation in this relief initiative will be administered by the current pension plan administrators.
In developing this relief programme, we consulted with the Opposition who have agreed to allow a process which normally takes weeks to be conducted in one day in the House of Assembly on Friday. I am grateful to the Opposition for their support and cooperation in moving this forward. I am also grateful to the Speaker of the House for allowing us to be able to move this in virtual session on Friday.
This relief and initiative has also received the endorsement and support of Bermuda’s Pension Commission. The Minister of Finance will provide further details on how to apply for this relief and other details once the legislation has completed the legislative process.
I encourage everyone to listen to the House of Assembly on Friday, when we will have another virtual session. You can hear the details of the plan as the details are laid out. And the House of Assembly debates this legislation on how we can help Bermudian families navigate these extraordinary challenging times.
On Friday the House of Assembly will also debate the new regulations which were put in place to govern Phase One.
I would like to remind persons who are at home who are watching and for those persons who are suffering emotional or mental distress to please take advantage of the hotline which has been established. That number is 543-1111.
Before I close tonight, I would like to echo the Minister of Health in reminding persons to wear masks in public, and continue to practice your physical distancing. The only way that Bermuda is going to keep this virus at bay is if all of us follow the rules which have been laid out. Any person who does not causes an issue for all of us. The closer we adhere to the rules, the more we avoid leaving the house unnecessarily, the sooner that we can start moving to the next phases.
When you leave your house, it is very important that you continue to practice physical distancing. I know that it is difficult sometimes to be patient and to wait inside of these particularly long lines, but this is our new normal. The only way that we are going to be successful is if we adhere to these guidelines.
So please be kind, be considerate, and be patient. And I would like to thank the team at Bermemes in conjunction with Coral Coast Clothing, who donated these wonderful new Bermuda face masks, which I’m sure are lovely for all to wear. Thank you for them.
The health and safety of each and every one of you remains our driving motivation at the heart of all the decisions which we make. Our hearts go out to everyone who has lost loved ones, who have loved ones currently wrestling with this disease. Our hearts go out to the workers and businesses that have seen their ability to provide for their families and meet their obligations significantly diminished. And our thanks go out to everyone, everywhere across our community that has done their part to help our community get through this.
The next press conference will take place on Monday afternoon at 5:45pm. We will not be having a press conference this week Friday, as the House of Assembly will be meeting in virtual session and all persons are encouraged to listen to the House of Assembly session that will be taking place while we would normally be here doing our press conference.
We will pick up again next week for Monday, Wednesday and Friday, where we will have more details on what is necessary required to advance Bermuda from Phase One on to Phase Two. There will be presentations from other Ministers on the various initiatives that the Government is taking to move the country forward.
Before I close, I would like to thank all of those persons in the community who are supporting each other in the search for the missing young lady Chavelle Dillon-Burgess. I just would like to say thank you for your efforts in that search. It proves that we as a community can work together in times of crisis.
With that close and I’m happy to take any questions from members of the media.