Press Conference – April 13, 2020

Premier Holds Daily Press Conference

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the media, and to the Bermudian public that are watching at home, or listening to the radio.

I trust that all Bermudians had a restful and blessed Easter weekend.

Today, I’m joined for this press conference by the Minister of Health, Kim Wilson, the Minister of Labour Community Affairs and Sports, Minister Lovitta Foggo, and the Minister of National Security, Minister Wayne Caines. We are also joined by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Cheryl Peek-Ball, who will be able to answer any medical questions which may come later today.

The first Minister to speak will be Minister Wilson, the Minister of Health, with an update on the latest with COVID-19. Minister.

Minister Kim Wilson

Today, there were no test results received, however an estimated 39 are being processed as we speak. Sadly, another individual has passed away, on this occasion a senior who had been hospitalized. I want to begin by sending my sincere condolences to the family. Please know that the entire team at the Ministry of Health grieves for your loss.

Bermuda’s total confirmed positive cases remains 57; 30 have now recovered, 6 persons are hospitalized (three persons in ICU), and there are 16 persons under active public health monitoring, but who do not require hospitalization. Today’s good news is that another patient has been discharged from hospital.

The age of persons hospitalized ranges between 67 and 78 years, and the average age is 72. The average age of all of our confirmed positive cases is 52. The median age is 53, and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 18 to 86 years.

Out of the 57 positive cases confirmed to date, 31 are males, and 26 are females.

As I announced last night, the Ministry of Health’s Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (ESU) received laboratory confirmation yesterday of COVID-19 in two residents and two staff members at the Matilda Smith Williams Seniors Residence.  Public health actions and contact tracing is actively occurring. Unfortunately, these results confirmed to us that there was spread of the virus within the facility.  This is the second care home where there has been a positive case involving staff members, and we all understand the higher risks for seniors.

As a result, care home residents and staff at Matilda Smith are being tested for COVID-19. More than 50 people are being tested and we expect results within the next 24 to 48 hours.

The team is working with all rest homes to ensure staff and residents are as safe as possible. The country’s testing capacity will continue to prioritize rest homes and other high risk persons.

The outbreak is being managed by strategies put in place prior to the cases being confirmed and these will continue and include: no visitors to the facility, emphasis on infection prevention and control hygiene practices,  enhanced daily monitoring of staff and residents’ health, isolation of any symptomatic individuals, and exclusion from work of any staff with symptoms consistent with COVID-19.  Enhanced cleaning and disinfection is currently taking place.  Disinfecting wipes have been provided by the Department of Health to all facilities.

The confirmation of COVID-spread at rest homes underscores the importance of our decision to amend Bermuda’s Residential Care and Nursing Homes Regulations to prevent employees from working at more than one site where there is a risk of communicable disease spread. Some private homes have since followed this example.

Our Residential Care Home Regulation Officer has been communicating with the homes and asking them to stop the practice since March. We hope this will safeguard our residents from COVID-19 by eliminating any potential transfer of the disease among the different long-term care homes by unknowing staff members.

We know the sacrifice our health care workers are making – both in the long-term care homes and in the community – as, unlike many in Bermuda, they cannot shelter in place or work remotely. We are supporting them as much as we can with supplies of PPE, regular guidance and funding for resources as needed. There is no wish to place restrictions on anyone, but in this instance it is for the safety and health of community.

The Bermuda Health Council is in the process of compiling a list of potential substitutes that could assist with staffing shortages due to this change in legislation.

Since January, there have been extraordinary efforts to prevent COVID-19 from entering our care homes. This is a global pandemic and Bermuda has local transmission, and the efforts have rightly focused on managing and containing spread.

The homes have been on high alert since the beginning of the year and have been working tirelessly on preparing and equipping the homes for COVID-19. This started with plans for restricting visitation, cleaning and disinfecting the facilities, planning for expected staffing shortages, training on using personal protective equipment, and so many more details that have been critical to putting us in a more controllable position.

Visitors have been cancelled to homes since mid-March and the staff without symptoms have been provided with masks.

The Residential and Nursing Home Care team has required the staff to take their temperatures at the door, heightened infection control measures and changed behaviors such as not wearing their uniforms outside of the care homes. Residents would also have their temperatures, blood pressure, pulse and general well-being assessed daily in efforts to detect early warning signs of the residents being unwell and support early interventions.

We are currently securing the supply chain for thousands of units of supplies and meals for the upcoming months, filling the positions of staff that may be unable to work or require isolation, obtaining additional transportation for essential workers and maintaining clear and constant communication with the hospital on potential transfers.

Many of these precautions we have seen adapted worldwide… but have proved to be no match for complete protection against COVID-19. However, we must not lose heart…we must remind ourselves that the picture would look alarmingly different if we did not take these protective measures.

Therefore, this is also a time to remind the community at large of the additional measures that should be taken to protect our most vulnerable – those with health conditions such as severe asthma, cancer, poorly controlled chronic conditions (especially related to heart disease) and repository illness or diabetes.

The precautions are called ‘shielding’ and require these persons to stay at home, strictly avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms and anyone coming into their home should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

We know we are judged as a society on how we protect and support our most vulnerable, let’s all do our best to protect ours. The Ministry of Health is currently working tirelessly to do what we can, but this is about all of us as a community doing our best.

We will be issuing further guidance around ‘Shielding’ tomorrow. Thank you.

Thank you. Minister.

On behalf of the government and the people of Bermuda, and also my family, I extend my sincere condolences to the family of the person who passed away today.

Sadly, at these press conferences we refer to our fellow Bermudians as numbers or statistics which are to be reported. But these persons are far more than numbers and statistics. They are someone’s father, they are someone’s mother, they’re someone’s friend, and they’re someone’s family. Each of these individuals have been a part of the rich fabric of what makes us a country.

We mourn with you, we grieve with you, and we will continue to redouble our efforts to ensure that we can limit the amount of future loss of life. The losses that Bermuda has experienced over the last few weeks underscores the importance of social distancing. As a country, we must stay home and move around as little as possible.

We must only leave our homes to visit the grocery store, pharmacy, or gas station for necessities, and not for a social outing. Staying in our homes may seem like a simple measure, but scientifically it is the most effective way to reduce the spread of a highly contagious disease. This Easter weekend the vast majority of Bermudians adhered to shelter in place guidelines, leaving their homes only for those essential items. However, the Bermuda Police Service continues to run into persons who are not taking these restrictions seriously, and there are continued reports of persons who are not doing what they should do.

The overall aim of what we are doing, as a government in this shelter in place, is to save lives by limiting the transmission to ensure that we do not overwhelm our hospital, and the only way that we can do that is by people following the instructions and remaining home. I also want to remind everyone, giving thanks to the grocery stores, who have signed on and the other establishments that are requiring persons to have their face covered as they move inside.

It is important that if you do go outside, if you are an essential worker if you are somewhere, please make sure that you wear a face covering. It is particularly important at this time, where there are persons who are asymptomatic transmitters of this virus. I did receive a question where someone asked, what does asymptomatic mean.

This means that you don’t have a fever, don’t have a cough, don’t have a sore throat, aren’t experiencing any symptoms whatsoever, and are feeling perfectly fine and healthy. However, you may be an unknowing carrier of the coronavirus. And if you are, you could, by an interaction with someone by some reason you’re not sick so you ended up touching your mouth or something did not wash your hands, do not practice good hand hygiene and you managed to pass that on to someone else unknowingly.

Some of the statistics which we’ve seen, has said that there are persons who are asymptomatic who are carrying this virus. That is why it is important for all of us to cover our faces when we go out in the public. This unfortunately is the norm in many countries around the world, and will soon become our new normal, as we work to make sure that we continue to combat this virus.

As a reminder, we should try to reserve surgical mask, or and N95 for healthcare workers, but wear any covering that you can. If you want to learn how to make the covering yourself, you can go on our website coronavirus.gov.bm for instructions on how to make your own face cover.

If you subscribe to our government WhatsApp, you will have seen a wonderful video received today from the chief medical officer, where she discussed this very important issue. Right now, Minister Caines will give an overview of the Bermuda Police Service and the Royal Bermuda Regiment activities over the past weekend, and some other details.

 

Minister Wayne Caines

“Firstly, I’d like to touch on some concerns regarding the numbers of people who do not seem to be adhering to the Shelter in Place guidelines. While the majority of the population remain compliant, we still have instances in our community where people simply are blatantly not obeying the regulations.

“Over the weekend the public will be aware that Bermuda Police Service were considerably busy during the holiday period responding to a number of issues to do with loud music, numerous gatherings of multiple people, and reports of individuals moving about on our roads and in restricted areas.

“The BPS indicated that over the last week, they have executed 32 arrests. Twenty-one of these were curfew related and 11 were for non-essential movement. There were also 111 warnings issued for breaches to the guidelines.

“I want to take this opportunity to remind the public that under the current Shelter in Place guidelines, they are allowed to move about for legitimate reasons only during the hours of 7.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. Meanwhile, over the Easter holiday weekend the Royal Bermuda Regiment were deployed across the island providing support in a variety of capacities. In partnership with the BPS the Royal Bermuda Regiment Community Advisory Points recorded a total of 18,083 stops over the holiday weekend. The breakdown is as follows:

  • Good Friday – 5,056
  • Saturday – 10,025
  • Easter Sunday – 3,002

“Also this weekend, the Bermuda Coast Guard conducted maritime patrols in the east and west ends, covering all harbours and most inlets. On Sunday various vessels including 10 registered fishing vessels were stopped.

“Also, the RBR intercepted kayakers at Abbots Cliff in Harrington Sound, and swimmers in St. George’s were issued advisories in keeping with Shelter in Place regulations. Turning the Government run Quarantine facilities.

“Currently we have around 215 individuals in five facilities. I just wish to extend our appreciation to Bermuda Police Service Reserve Officers who are working with our Disaster Risk Reduction Mitigation or DRRM Team at the quarantine locations.

“I also wish to take a moment to commend the members of our DRRM Team – who for the past four weeks have done a yeoman’s job in managing these sites, often under incredible demands and strain.

“Throughout it all, they have demonstrated extreme professionalism and integrity, and as Minister, I am very thankful for their service. This week we will continue with the Essential care package drop offs which will take place tomorrow, Tuesday April 14 and Friday April 17. The drop off time is from 1pm – 5pm.

“Again, the essential care package should contain key items such as toiletries, medication and essential foods, inclusive of any special dietary items.”

Thank you Minister.

Part of coping with the effects of a global pandemic is to take care of those persons who have been dislocated economically. What do I mean by that? We have a large number of persons who, due to no fault of their own, whether they work in tourism, or in a business that has been required to be closed are not able to earn an income, because they are unable to work from home and their business is not deemed as essential.

I have stated before that this pandemic will cause significant economic damage to our economy but that does not mean that the government is powerless. We do have the ability to help. Minister Foggo will speak next on the fact that we have provided a significant amount of money to those persons who have, due to no fault of their own, are unable to earn an income, and I’m proud to lead a government that responded very quickly to make sure that persons in need in our community would not starve and would have the resources which they need to survive during this very difficult and challenging time.

Minister Foggo

The Government is working tirelessly to do what is necessary to financially assist our fellow Bermudians during this pandemic.

While there are a number of applications in train, to date I can confirm that around 3,811 individuals have been paid an unemployment benefit. This represents a total of just over $3.4 million.

Many have received their initial payments and more will be receiving payments today (April 13) and on Friday (April 17).  By Friday we estimate a further 1,197 applicants will have been paid for an additional cost of $966,000 bringing the total applicants paid to 5,008.

Those who have received their Unemployment Benefit will have received two weeks of the benefit and as the two week anniversary approaches, they will be eligible to receive another payment.  This will continue until they are either reemployed or the 12 weeks of benefit is up.

During this time of unprecedented uncertainty the Government wants to make sure that no one will be left behind.

To further expedite the payments we have brought in staff from other Departments to assist and are working with the larger employers to speed up the application process.

We are here to assist and to ensure that no one falls through the cracks.

As a reminder applications can be made online through either the Bermuda Job Board or at www.gov.bm. 

You do not need to pay a fee to anyone to assist you in submitting an application.  There are a number of help line numbers to call for assistance:

• 297-7714
• 297-7716
• 707-5439
• 707-5438
• 707-5440
• 707-5442

The ‘707’ numbers can also be contacted via WhatsApp.

Our team continue to review the submitted applications to ensure that the applicant is eligible.  They are approving and processing for payments those who are. We are working diligently to get these payments to you as quickly as we can.

A number of payments have been delayed as applicants have not keyed in their correct bank account details.  Please take care when completing your application to ensure that you have keyed in the correct details and have the supporting documents attached to your application.

We recognize that there are a number of self-employed Bermudians who are not registered with the Office of the Tax Commissioner making them ineligible to receive the benefit.
We recognize that some of these individuals are struggling financially and we are currently looking at ways to assist them.

For those who are not eligible for the Unemployment Benefit, there are a number of options available under our consideration. This Government’s intention is that no one will go hungry. Please reach out if you are in this predicament and require assistance.

Bermuda ‘we are our brother’s keeper’; and we will get through this together.

Thank you Minister Foggo, and I’d like to give tribute to you and your team for working so quickly to make sure that we can get this assistance to Bermudians who certainly require it at this difficult time.

As the Attorney-General and Minister for Legal Affairs, Kathy Simmons mentioned last week, the shelter for Bermuda’s homeless and vulnerable population moved from The Berkeley Institute to the temporary Shelter in Place accommodation at CedarBridge Academy.

The shelter is fully operational, providing 24 hour accommodation for those who need it. The facility is managed by the team at the Department of Child and Family Services with professional assistance from the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute and the St Johns Ambulance.

There is currently a need for medical support between the hours of 8am and 6pm. I will echo the request made by the Attorney-General last week, if there are nurses and doctors who are able to volunteer their services at the shelter, they should contact 707-2223 for more information. The Government will welcome your assistance.

The CedarBridge Academy temporary shelter, with appropriate social distancing in place, has 40 beds available. Over the last two nights, 33 men and four women were accommodated.

Many would heard helicopters flying overhead earlier today. Last week Government House announced that RFA Argus, a ship of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, would be anchored in Bermuda’s waters today and tomorrow.

While here, two helicopters from RFA Argus will conduct familiarisation flights over helicopter landing sites around the island. This was last done in 2014 and is a key part of the hurricane preparedness plan for Bermuda. It should be noted, there was no contact between the ship’s crew, helicopter pilots and any onshore persons. The Argus is also collecting supplies before heading to the Caribbean as part of the UK’s preparedness support and the ship will stay at anchor and no one will disembark from the vessel.

They were also a number of media queries earlier today regarding an advertisement for a private jet that was looking to return persons to the United States.

I would like to remind everyone that before any jets are given permission to come to Bermuda, they have to meet a number of criteria. That permission is not automatically given as any jet that is returning residents to the country must use extra seats to return stranded Bermudians back home.

The flight that was advertised earlier today has not yet received the required permission to land in Bermuda. We have a process, and I would encourage that all persons, follow the process and not advertise something before the required permissions are received.

The government will be looking to adjust our policies going forward to match those seen in other countries where persons in government quarantine facilities pay for their accommodation and food. The Cabinet will be meeting tomorrow to approve this revised policy, and it will be communicated to all persons.

Last week I touched on the emotional well-being helpline.

The emotional well-being helpline, which can be called at 543-1111 opened on Friday, 10 April, and it has received 32 calls, as of last night. As a reminder, the service is anonymous. If you have questions or concerns around your own mental health or how to support friends and family who are dealing with loss, anxiety, and other feelings, that can be overwhelming, please make use of this service. That number again is 543-1111.

In closing. Lives have been lost. Families have been forced to say goodbye to loved ones before their time, and yet there are some persons on this island that seem to think that this situation of this pandemic is a joke.

I must stress again, that if you do not care about your own life, please show some compassion and respect for the lives of others. It is clear that we can only stem the tide of COVID-19, if we remain calm, remain disciplined, and most of all remain united, recognizing that in this we are all our brother’s keeper, and the only way that we can keep our country safe is for all of us to do our part.

Thank you and I’m happy to take any questions from the media at this time.