Following that I will make brief comments on what is needed from all of us in order to contain this outbreak and the steps and help that is available to persons if they may need assistance.
covid-19-update-minister-of-health-remarks-on-14-december-2020" target="_blank">Minister of Health speaks
Thank you, Minister Wilson. Thank you again for the work that you are doing and also the work your teams are doing inside of the Ministry of Health. It is excellent work and certainly we pay homage to the teams that are working throughout the weekend to accomplish the extraordinary increase in testing and reporting which we have been able to witness.
When the Government announced the new restrictions last week, we advised that it was necessary to allow the doctors, technicians, analysts, contact tracers, and other resources that we employ to stem the outbreak, to catch-up. Last week we also advised the current outbreak was created due to about seven clusters of infections that spread due to people not adhering to the guidelines and protocols that were in place.
As evidence of what was occurring, we found that more than half of the new cases were Bermudians under the age of 30 years old, and most new infections came from events, gatherings, and people socializing.
The rise in cases, the lack of accurate tracing information from residents, and a minority of Bermudians choosing to flout the protocols, meant the Government had to significantly increase testing capacity to provide people with the information they needed to make the decisions for them and their family. Last week dozens of Bermudians had to decide whether to get tested, quarantine or do nothing because science meant they were unaffected.
And so before I go on, I wish to apologise to anyone who had undue stress, or worry while they were waiting for test results over the past week.
Last week some of you may recall that I stated the Ministry of Health will increase its testing capability. The government’s goal is to ensure everyone who needed to be tested was tested and had access to a facility for that testing. Last week we set a goal that we wanted to be able to conduct at least 1,000 tests per day.
Some statistics to share:
Between Tuesday, December 1 and Saturday December 5, there were 3,479 testing samples received at the Bermuda Government Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory. That was the week before. So again Tuesday December 1 to Saturday December 5, 3,479 over those five days means there were an average of 695 samples received each day for processing at the lab.
However between December 8 and Saturday December 12, there were 6,741 test samples that were received at the Bermuda Government Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory. This is an average of 1,348 per day.
This means that in the same period last week and the week before, the Lab received 94% more testing samples, quite simply shattering the target that was set for 1,000 tests a day. Before I go further, I want to thank everyone who helped make that happen. The testers, administrators, doctors and nurses who came on line and answered the call to help collect more samples. The testing teams, the transporters. Everyone who had a part to play. This is absolutely amazing.
Unfortunately, as a result of the significant increase in testing, there was a delay in the lab providing the results. As of today, I am informed that the lab has caught up with this backlog.
Moving forward the lab will still endeavour to issue results within 24 hours. But as the Minister of Health said, you should not expect your results outside of 48 hours. If all goes well, the speed in service which we have been used to in Bermuda will be able to continue.
Testing remains an important factor in containing the spread of the virus. The sooner we know if someone has tested positive, the required actions can be put into place.
Last week I announced assistance for workers and employees who have had their businesses shut down or are impacted by quarantine orders that have been issued by the Ministry of Health. The deadline was today to apply to ensure that payment was issued this week. For those persons who did not get to apply this week, that does not mean you cannot still apply. The application can be found on www.gov.bm at the very top on that red banner it has is a link to the Unemployment Benefit Application.
You can complete that form whether your business has been affected by a closure order which has been issued by the Minister of Health or if you have received a quarantine notice to quarantine by the Minister of Health, as well. Again, that website, go to gov.bm and the link is right at the top of the page in order to fill out and complete the application.
Further last week, I announced the government will be making support available to businesses who have been affected either by business closures or by reduced business as a result of the pandemic.
The Bermuda Economic Development Corporation will be administering that relief and they will announce the specifics of the support later this week. I can advise that businesses will receive support for their overhead which still continue while they are unable to generate business.
The confirmed positive case numbers announced the by the Minister of Health in recent days has been alarming which is why the restrictions imposed last week and the additional measures, including the 11pm – 5am curfew, put in place from 6am on Saturday, will help us to contain the spread of the virus.
If you need to move around during the curfew hours a Curfew Exemption Form must be filled in. Again you can find that form on gov.bm at the very top there is a red banner with a link to the Curfew Exemption Form.
On that form there is a list of people who are already exempt from completing the form. This includes persons who have to pick up travelers from the airport and taxi drivers who may be transporting passengers who are exempt or have received an exemption.
If you are transporting or picking up people from the late flight from Miami, you are allowed to pick up those persons and transport them. You are allowed to transport people who are in possession of the exemption. For example, nurses who may be going to the hospital or otherwise. However outside of that, if you are transporting persons inside of curfew hours you are in violation of the law. I would encourage persons to please ensure they are not in violation of the law.
The goal of imposing the curfew is to stop and reduce persons moving around, reduce the number of people who may be socializing in various different households and the time at which they are socializing in an attempt to minimize contact to reduce the spread of the virus.
If you can work from home, please do so. Employers if your staff can work from home, allow them to do so. Employees who must physically go in to work, please ensure all precautions are followed.
The broken record will continue on this side, but we are going to switch it up a little bit.
Everyone must wash your hands – maintain good hand hygiene.
Everyone must wear a mask.
And everyone must continue to maintain physical distance.
There is one more thing that must be added to that.
Everyone should download the WeHealth Bermuda app on their phone.
The app can be downloaded from the App Store for Apple or Google Play for android phones. You can find it by searching WeHealth Bermuda.
I would like to thank you to the cell phone companies, Digicel and One Communications, who worked collaboratively with the Government to issue a text message today to all cell phone users in Bermuda. The message provided a link so you can access the app quickly and easily. If you haven’t downloaded the app, I encourage you to do so right now.
I’ve explained before, but I want to explain again in case persons didn’t hear it. The app works by ensuring after a person is tested, if they are positive for the coronavirus and have downloaded the app, they are given a randomized verification code by the team at the Ministry of Health.
That person will enter the code into the app, and WeHealth Bermuda app will then anonymously notify other WeHealth Bermuda app users that an infected person was in close proximity, even if they don't know that person.
This takes into account sophisticated modeling, the distance at which you are apart. The amount of time which you may or may not have been together in close proximity. It is a very sophisticated programme that analyzes the risk of exposure.
WeHealth Bermuda does not use or collect personal information or track users’ locations, therefore these notifications will be completely anonymous. The WeHealth Bermuda app uses secure Bluetooth signals to measure how long and how close app users were together.
Once you download and install the app, the app will run in the background and alert you to any exposure risks, and it uses very little data or battery life to run on your phone. If you don’t have data on your phone and only have a phone that is able to use Wi-Fi, the app will still work as long as you have Bluetooth on and will get any updates for exposures when you are in range.
Please encourage your friends, family and coworkers to download WeHealth Bermuda.
As of yesterday, just over 11,000 people have downloaded the app. In addition to downloading the app, the other important piece is those who are confirmed positive and have the app must be willing to put in the randomized code.
A reminder if that may apply to you in the future. No one will know who the code came from. This is the other key to the success of the app and for people using it. It is 100% anonymous. Again. It is 100% anonymous and no one can see who is sending the information. No information is collected or shared about the user.
The WeHealth Bermuda app is valuable to restaurants, salons, grocery stores, and other retail locations, where there is relatively closer physical contact. I urge business owners to ensure that all of their employees have the app installed on their phone, and also to encourage customers to download the app to their phones as well.
If a customer and employee are using the app, it can alert that employee that they would have come into contact with a customer who may have been infected and the employee would be able to know this.
That information can allow an employee and their employer to take action to protect their employees and customers; and to ensure their livelihood is protected. Right now - all staff in an establishment may need to quarantine, whereas if the app was installed and in use, selective quarantine may be able to be used instead. That is a key point. That is why it is key and critical that all persons use this app.
It makes contact tracers job easier and it will relieve the stress versus wide quarantines to targeted quarantine.
The Department of Communications has been hosting virtual presentations about the app and sharing fliers and other graphics with attendees. Those of you who have attended the meetings, I encourage you to share the information with your members and member organizations. Print the graphics and place them in prominent places so the QR code can be scanned and the app downloaded. Flyers can be found on gov.bm/wehealth.
In closing, we are seeing increasing numbers of people under 30 contracting the virus. I cannot emphasize enough while there many who many not have symptoms, these persons can still transmit the virus to others and we can see it going from people under the age of 30, going to their parents, going to their parents’ parents. Possibly impacting persons who may be more vulnerable to the virus.
I urge families to please be vigilant. The challenges that can arise from where we are to where we can be in two to three or four weeks, if there is transmission within families to persons who are older, we can see the hospitalization rates that have not risen to slowly begin to increase and lead us to a worse place.
I urge families to be vigilant. I urge families, especially parents, guardians, aunts, uncles, and other persons to make sure we are speaking to young people and make sure you are shielding vulnerable persons. This is very very important. Right now over the next few weeks, we have the time that we can combat this outbreak but it is required for all of us to be vigilant and to make sure we are minimizing our contact.
We are our brothers and sisters keepers and we have to make sure we continue to work together so we can stop this current outbreak.