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Peek-Ball: we didn’t need to test them all

Chief Medical Officer Cheryl Peek-Ball (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A Covid-19 case at a seniors home this month did not mandate testing of all residents and staff, Bermuda’s Chief Medical Officer insisted last night. Cheryl Peek-Ball said that a Covid-19 case had been confirmed at the Westmeath Residential and Nursing Home, in Pembroke, on April 10. However, she added: “At the April 10 date, the details of the case did not warrant testing ... the entire population of residents and staff”.Dr Peek-Ball said the normal procedure was to find out what contact had taken place between the infected individual, a nurse, and residents and other staff. She added that a decision was afterwards made on whether widespread testing was needed. Dr Peek-Ball said: “There is no kneejerk or automatic reaction if you identify an individual — a staff member particularly — with Covid-19 that one should test everyone in the facility.“The indication is there should be a case investigation, which was done, and which is done in every instance where there is a case. The determination is made at that time who it is appropriate to test.” She added that public health measures had been implemented “immediately” after the first case had been identified. The Government said on Tuesday night that three cases of Covid-19 had been identified at the seniors residence — two staff members, and one resident. Westmeath, on Pitts Bay Road, Pembroke, is the largest of the island’s 21 care homes, with 55 residents and about 40 staff.Dr Peek-Ball said that there was “no connection” between the first case at the home and two more, one identified on April 14 and the other on April 20.She added: “Our investigation does not add up to your assumption that it was the first case that resulted in the other two cases.”Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, said that all residents and staff on duty at the home yesterday had been tested for the coronavirus. She added that the results would be forwarded “to the doctors of the residents” in 24 to 48 hours. Ms Wilson said that questions had been raised why residents and staff at Westmeath had not been tested earlier after the first case emerged. She explained: “When it occurred, case criteria were not met, given the testing capacity at that time.”Ms Wilson added: “It is now that we have the capacity to test more extensively and that is what we are doing.” She said that testing in all rest homes was being carried out “as a matter of priority”. Barbara Lee, the chairwoman of Westmeath’s board of trustees, said health officials had visited the home yesterday to test all staff and residents and were due to return on Saturday to do additional tests.She said the home was told that the results would be available on Tuesday.Mrs Lee asked: “Where is our aggressive testing?“Supposing somebody is positive right now, are they going to spend the whole week at Westmeath infecting everybody else?”She added: “I am pleased they did the testing today, don’t get me wrong, but why did we have to wait a week?”Mrs Lee said she planned to write to David Burt, the Premier, to find out why the testing would take so long.She said the Government had suggested that if Westmeath had a significant number of Covid-19 cases, the home could turn one of its sections into a coronavirus ward.Mrs Lee said that was a good idea, but warned it would not be easy to do. She explained: “We are not the hospital. We get no money from the Government. The hospital can do that in a pinch.”Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the shadow health minister, said that the announcement of cases of the disease at Westmeath was “the news we hoped we would not hear”. She added that “the information we had in February told us that rest homes were going to be a huge target for this virus”, so it was “concerning” that testing at Westmeath had started so late.Ms Gordon-Pamplin said: “As soon as we had capacity to test, rest homes should have been a priority. “Now that we appear to have the necessary capability to step up the testing regime, I would urge the Minister of Health and the Premier to urgently start testing at all nursing homes — both government and private.The health ministry said on Tuesday that 31 cases of Covid-19 were “associated with care homes in Bermuda”, including the three at Westmeath. A total of 27 cases were earlier linked to the Matilda Smith Williams seniors residence in Devonshire. Ms Gordon-Pamplin said: “It is well known that those in rest homes are the most at risk from Covid-19 and staff, residents and their families need reassurance that proper testing is being done for their protection.“I sincerely hope all the remaining results from Westmeath are negative. We do not want the situation we saw at Matilda Smith Williams where so many residents tested positive.”The Royal Gazette asked yesterday which care home the 31st Covid-19 case was linked to. Dr Peek-Ball said that she did not have the numbers in front of her. But she added: “If the numbers don’t add up, there is a reason. I can’t say right tonight what the reason is.”Dr Peek-Ball said that, to her knowledge, there had not been any cases of Covid-19 confirmed in residents at any other seniors homes. She added: “When there is an infection identified in a resident at a home, we will make that announcement.”Dr Peek-Ball said that she was not sure how many residents and staff at care homes had been tested for the coronavirus. She added: “Those are questions that you can easily e-mail and we can give you the figures.” Dr Peek-Ball said that the epidemiology and surveillance unit would put together a series of public-service announcements to explain the process of case investigation, outbreak investigation, contact tracing, and case management.• To read the full statement from the Minister of Health, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”