Live: Medical officials urge public to get vaccinated to end outbreak
Bermuda’s top physicians today urged people to get vaccinated, saying it was the single best way to stop people dying and to get through the current Covid-19 outbreak.
And the chief medical officer, Dr Ayo Oyinloye, also made a heartfelt plea to the public not to abuse health care workers, saying they were working night and day to keep Bermuda safe.
They made the statements at a press conference today where David Burt, the Premier, said the coronavirus outbreak had been caused by events and institutions that had not followed social distancing restrictions and SafeKey.
He said it had not been spread at large events which received exemptions and adhered to SafeKey requirements.
He also revealed that new vaccines will arrive tomorrow. Just a few hundred vaccines were left for first shots. Details on active and new cases will be released later today.
Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, gave details on new cases and the effect on the hospital.
She said the hospital had seen 34 Covid-19 cases in August, which was 1.4 per cent of all cases. From September 1 to September 20, the hospital received 212 cases or 15.8 per cent of all cases.
Moving to overall hospital admissions, she said the hospital had had 183 patients with Covid-19 between January 11 – when vaccinations first became available – and September 18. Of that number, 169 or 92 per cent were unvaccinated while 14 or 7.7 per cent were fully vaccinated.
Of the 30 deaths recorded since January 11 and September 18, 26 or 86 per cent were unvaccinated and four or 13.3 per cent were fully vaccinated.
Ms Wilson said that the number of people with two vaccination shots had moved up to 66.2 per cent of the population while a further 1.6 per cent of the population had had one shot.
She emphasised that vaccinations were the best means of preventing the spread of Covid-19 and “serious illness and death”, not only for individuals but for the whole community, including children and others who cannot receive vaccinations.
The Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ayo Oyinloye, said high levels of testing did mean that more positive tests were recorded than in other countries, but he said this gave Bermuda a more accurate picture of the island’s position.
“We are in a big outbreak and it is important everyone takes this very seriously,” he said.
He said since the outbreak began through Sunday, 107 people had been admitted to hospital and 24 had been admitted to the intensive care unit.
He also reminded the public that people who had tested positive for the original coronavirus or the alpha variant was no guarantee against being infected again.
Dr Oyinloye said people who had had Covid-19 before should still get vaccinated.
He appealed to the public not to “abuse” health care workers.
He said: “Myself and my colleagues at the Ministry of Health, in the laboratories and in the hospitals are working day and night to protect this country. We certainly do not deserve the abuse that has been given to us by members of the public.
“This is completely uncalled for and I would like to appeal to you not to do this. Everyone is working hard to keep the country safe. The least we can do is appreciate the people doing this and not give them abuse.“
He added: “I would like to remind you of a simple thing to protect yourself is to vaccinate yourself. If you have not been vaccinated, this is the time to get vaccinated. This is the single most important thing you can do for you and your loved ones.“
He said contact tracers received regular abuse, as did hotline workers and hospital staff.
“It is not helpful. It is not helpful. Everyone working on this pandemic are doing their best and we have this country’s interests at heart. It is not helpful to us to get this abuse. That is not motivation to keep going.”
He also urged people to exercise hand hygiene to wear masks and to avoid large crowds. Dr Oyinloye also urged people with any symptoms to stay away from work.
Bermuda Hospitals Board chief of staff Dr Wesley Miller confirmed the hospital had moved to its highest level of alert. “We are at a dangerous juncture,“ he said.
He said there were 14 Covid-19 patients in ICU which took up a lot of resources because eight nurses were needed to care for three ICU patients in a 24-hour period.
Even after moving operating room and other specialised nurses to the ICU, the hospital was running out of the highly skilled nurses required for the regular ICU plus two satellite facilities.
He said the number of admissions was outpacing the number of discharges, meaning demand for skilled care was continuing to increase.
He said the hospital had recorded some deaths because “Covid is no joke”.
He added: “If you have not been vaccinated, get in line, get your first dose and three weeks later, get in line for your next dose.”
Dr Miller said vaccinations also reduced the severity of symptoms.
Dr Miller said hospital admissions increased by 38 per cent in one week and ICU admissions increased by 24 per cent, although some patients who should have gone to ICU were cared for on the acute wards.
Dr Miller said the flow of patients through the emergency department had improved slightly but he said if admissions continued to mount, the hospital would fail to serve its patients because of staffing shortages.
“The staffing situation has gotten a little worse because the staff live in the community and are exposed to Covid-19 and unfortunately some of the staff are not vaccinated,” he said.
He said 59 hospital staff were off work because of Covid-19, with 39 having an infection and 20 having been exposed to the coronavirus. He said the majority of those infected had not been vaccinated.
Asked about using introducing monoclonal antibody treatments, Dr Oyinloye appeared to say that Bermuda had ordered some treatments which would be needed. He noted that it was not a preventative measures but a treatment for people with severe symptoms and patient selection would be a problem.
Dr Miller said he had instructed the hospital pharmacy to source the treatments, but noted that it was not a panacea and would only benefit a small proportion of patients.
Both doctors denied that cost was an issue.
In answers to questions posed by The Royal Gazette this week, Mr Burt ruled out the need for further restrictions but called on the public to follow the rules.
Asked if any fully vaccinated people had died in September, Ms Wilson said there had been fully vaccinated deaths.
Dr Miller said there had been deaths in younger people than in the first wave. He said in this outbreak people much younger than in their 70s and 80s had died, although there had been none aged between infancy and 20.
He said he could not be more specific than that in order to protect patient confidentiality.
Asked by The Royal Gazette how many vaccines were being delivered tomorrow, Dr Oyinloye said 2,300 doses were going to be delivered.
He said these would be mainly aimed at first and second doses and for students to enable schools to open. He confirmed that second doses would also be delivered at a six-week span instead of three. Research suggested this would improve the vaccines’ efficacy.
He said later deliveries would be used for booster shots.
Asked if the Government supported the reported move by employers to enforce mandatory testing of employees, Mr Burt said it was up to employers to decide what they needed to do to keep their workplaces safe within the law.
But he said the most important message was to ensure rules were followed.
He said: “If you choose not to get vaccinated, wear a mask and make sure people around you are wearing masks.”
Mr Burt said government’s position on vaccinations was unchanged and it would not mandate vaccinations in the civil service.
He also noted there was a high level of vaccination hesitancy and take-up in the black community in particular.
Asked about Pfizer reporting that its vaccine was safe for five- to 11-year-olds, Ms Wilson said Dr Oyinloye said it was exciting news and if approved by the FDA, local authorities would consider its authorisation after reviewing the data.
Asked about bringing in overseas medical staff, Dr Miller said the greatest need was specialist critical care nurses because the excellent nurses on staff were working multiple shifts and would eventually become exhausted.
People in the pharmacy area would be helpful as well, he said.
Asked how many people were needed, he said: “Whatever we can get. Six, 12, 20.”
He said some semi-retired staff had agreed to come back, but for limited times.
The Premier also said he was disappointed the International Triathlon had to be postponed. He said he was confident the PGA Bermuda Championship would go ahead, and he noted PGA events occurred in US locales where the spread of Covid-19 was much worse.