Nfld. & Labrador

Haggie argumentative, apologetic as questions about new COVID-19 cases bubble up

There have been four new cases in N.L. since Wednesday, including one death. Information from the health department has been inconsistent, and sometimes incorrect.

There have been four new cases in N.L. since Wednesday, including one death

Health Minister John Haggie said there would have to be 'consequences' if someone breaks isolation rules. Labrador-Grenfell Health later acknowledged a health-care worker was not made aware of the rules. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Website glitches. Missing details. Wrong information.

In one week, there have been four new cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador, including a death and a high-profile case in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, where residents were anxious about the possibility of community spread. 

After CBC News made repeated inquiries, Heath Minister John Haggie answered questions in the House of Assembly, and from reporters at Confederation Building.

He was at once argumentative and contrite, calling CBC's coverage "totally inaccurate," before telling reporters, "If we didn't answer a question, then I apologize for that and we'll do our best to do it better." 

After the revelation from Labrador-Grenfell Health CEO Heather Brown on Friday that there was no formal plan to support and inform a worker coming from outside the Atlantic bubble, Haggie doubled down on his assertion that she should have known about the self-isolation rules.

"Every person who comes in on a travel exemption to this province gets the information they need to be able to comply with the special measures order," he said.

2 cases announced on the weekend

On Saturday afternoon, CBC journalists noticed a glitch on the provincial government's COVID-19 tracking website. The site, which usually updates by 3 p.m. did not update by that time. 

As well, a line of text on the page that indicates the website will be updated before 3 p.m. disappeared from the site. 

When the site finally changed, it indicated there were no new cases in Newfoundland and Labrador. When CBC asked the Department of Health to confirm the zero, spokesperson Kathy Dicks-Peyton told CBC the figures were correct. 

Less than 20 minutes later, at 5:08 p.m., the Health Department issued a release indicating that in fact, there had been a new case: a man in his 60s who died on Thursday in the Western Health region. 

On Sunday, at 7:15 p.m., the health department issued another release: a woman in the Western Health region had also tested positive. Health officials said the two cases are linked, as both the man and the woman travelled from somewhere in Central Africa. 

On Monday, Haggie defended his staff. He told the House of Assembly that information was provided to reporters as it became available. 

"Information evolves. Sometimes a test needs to be repeated and rather than come out with inaccurate information, we wait and we get it right. That's why we're leading the country."

The health minister did acknowledge a technical problem with the government website. He said the communications team would return to issuing daily news releases about COVID-19 cases, a strategy it discontinued less than two weeks earlier.

Haggie said the daily news releases would continue at least "until such time as we figure out what went wrong and prevent it from happening again."

More questions in Labrador

In Happy Valley-Goose Bay, people lined up for hours for a COVID-19 test on Thursday, after the Health Department announced a woman who tested positive had visited two stores in that town. 

The woman is an essential worker from Saskatchewan who travelled to the province with an exemption to work at the Labrador Health Centre. 

Under the provincial government's self-isolation exemption order, essential workers are not required to self-isolate before beginning their work in the province. They are, however, required to isolate while not at work. 

Long lines formed at the drive-thru testing site in Happy Valley-Goose Bay Thursday morning. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

On social media, public outrage boiled over: people asked why anyone from outside the Atlantic bubble was allowed to work in this province and called for harsh penalties against the woman. 

On Friday, the CEO of Labrador-Grenfell Health acknowledged the essential worker had not been informed of the rules. 

"We do have a process with regards to when we bring people in. However, in this particular case, we do want to be transparent and acknowledge that there was a communication error," Heather Brown told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

"[That] resulted in this particular health-care worker not fully understanding what was required. We are reviewing together in our organization, and we're identifying opportunities to ensure that we take lessons from this particular case and improve process to ensure that this does not happen again."

Brown went on to say that there is no "formalized plan" in the health authority to provide groceries and other necessities to workers who, under health orders, are not allowed to shop for themselves. She said at least one local store did provide delivery, but it's not clear whether the woman was made aware of that service. 

For years, Labrador-Grenfell Health has relied on fly-in, fly-out staff to fill key positions. It is not clear how many health-care workers have travelled from outside the Atlantic bubble since the pandemic began, whether they are debriefed on the rules in Newfoundland and Labrador, or whether they are provided information about how to purchase necessities. 

In the House of Assembly on Monday, Haggie thanked the staff at Labrador-Grenfell Health for establishing a COVID-19 test site in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. He told reporters the regional health authority's communication with the employee was "flawed" but maintained she should have known the rules.

"Miss Brown addressed that last week and said there was an issue. We verified today that that has been fixed and so I think any questions about what that might be, I would direct you to her."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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