Testing chief Carika Weldon resigns, saying her advice was ignored
The scientist in charge of the island’s fight against the coronavirus is to leave the job at the end of the month, The Royal Gazette can reveal.
Carika Weldon confirmed that she had told the Cabinet of her decision.
Dr Weldon said: “I really appreciate the experience and opportunities I have gained while working in this role. And my successor will be fortunate to be a member of the team.”
The resignation came after massive delays in the turnaround of test results this week.
Dr Weldon told the Gazette that her advice to the Government had been ignored during the build-up to the latest outbreak.
She said she had warned against children returning to school this week, which required 5,400 tests for Covid-19 to be turned around in a matter of days while her lab was short-staffed.
The news came as Covid-19 test results continued to lag by at least two days because of a lack of staff.
Dr Weldon, the director of the Molecular Diagnostic and Research Laboratory, said the team was flooded with more than 3,500 test samples every day.
MDL was set up in April 2020 just after the pandemic reached the island.
Dr Weldon, 31, a researcher at the Oxford Genomics Centre in England, returned to the island to head the lab’s work.
David Burt, the Premier, welcomed the move as a triumph for a young, Black Bermudian scientist.
A government spokeswoman said: “Dr Weldon has done an incredible job, bringing immense passion and commitment to the vital operation that has been Covid testing in Bermuda.
“She transitions with the sincere thanks of the Government and people of Bermuda for a job tremendously well done.”
Dr Weldon earlier said cutbacks in staffing as infection rates soared had left MDL unable to keep up with the latest outbreak.
She added: “It’s a people problem. We have now approval to hire people back that we were told to get rid of. But the administration side has not gone through.”
Dr Weldon admitted: “I don’t see any way out unless we stop testing for a day, meaning that no samples are collected to let us catch up — or stop testing the community and just test for flights.
“There’s no way we can keep going like this. I have asked for a specific action plan. We’re not going to catch up without proper staff.”
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said on Wednesday that MDL and Dr Weldon, the Government’s scientific adviser, was being “provided with the support to meet the current demands”.
But Dr Weldon said test delays, which caused frustration for travellers and affected the return of children to school this week, had happened because her warnings had been ignored.
Dr Weldon added: “We have people right now, who we were told to get rid of, who know what to do.
“We have staff on standby waiting, but their contracts have not been sorted out. This could all have been avoided had they listened.”
Dr Weldon was speaking after she tweeted that MDL remained “two full days” behind.
Dr Weldon said the surge in coronavirus case numbers would need eight lab staff on three shifts “around the clock” to deal with the backlog.
She added: “We have been working with three, sometimes four.”
But Dr Weldon insisted that morale at the lab remained high.
She said: “That’s the great thing, I have to say. The team is amazing. They’re like a family.”
Dr Weldon also welcomed news of a new fast antigen test centre at the Washington Mall in Hamilton, which opened yesterday to ensure travellers were tested inside 24 hours of departure.
She said: “Before, it was just impossible. They were still sending people to Perot knowing they would not get results in time, then to the airport.
“Now they can go directly to that site.”
Dr Weldon added she was unable to make a prediction on infection numbers over the next few days.
The Omicron variant sparked a wave of new infections, although few people have needed hospital treatment.
But Dr Weldon said: “We haven’t seen the effects of New Year’s Eve — not fully.
“At the moment, children are back in school. It could fuel the outbreak further.
“We caught a lot of people, teachers and students, who came through as positive, but it might have been too early to test them.”