Nfld. & Labrador

'Nobody went out and intentionally spread this': No order broken in Caul's cluster

The total number of cases related to the St. John's funeral home has reached 111 as of Monday.

Total number of cases related to St. John's funeral home reaches 111, with one death

Caul's Funeral Home on LeMarchant Road in St. John's is the centre of a cluster of COVID-19 cases, representing 75 per cent of the total number of cases in Newfoundland and Labrador as of Monday. (CBC)

The first person who had COVID-19 at a St. John's funeral home— also known as the index case — did not spread the virus knowingly and did not violate any government orders by being there, says the province's chief medical officer of health.

As of Monday, 111 people infected with coronavirus in Newfoundland and Labrador contracted it either directly or indirectly from Caul's Funeral Home in St. John's, between March 15 and 17. One man, 78, died Sunday as a result of the virus, linked to the funeral home.

Social media has been awash with vitriol, shaming and misinformation on the incident, with some calls for the individual to be charged, but Dr. Janice Fitzgerald called for calm.

"Nobody went out and intentionally spread this," Fitzgerald said Sunday. "This happened at a time when we didn't have the same measures in place that we do now.

"Taking our experience from now and trying to apply that to something that happened nearly two weeks ago is fraught with problems because where we are now is very different."

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, N.L.'s chief medical officer of health, says the person who spread coronavirus at Caul's was not violating any government rules in place at the time when they attended a wake. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Fitzgerald, who is Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health, said it does not appear anyone violated government rules at the time, and shaming individuals is not conducive in the fight against the ever-spreading virus.

Caul's Funeral Home disclosed March 22 that people who had attended its LeMarchant Road business for visitation for two people between March 15 and March 17 were being contacted by public health, as a suspected infected person had visited the building. 

The provincial government had only ordered public sector employees who returned from travel outside the country to self-isolate on March 16. Two days earlier, the federal government advised all Canadians returning from outside the country to voluntarily self-isolate for 14 days. 

It is unclear if the individual was showing symptoms at the time, and where they were prior to the funeral service.

"That is our balance we always have to achieve," Fitzgerald said Sunday. "We want people to come forward, we want people to feel safe to come forward."

The self-isolation period for anyone who did attend the funeral home and has not yet been sick ends Wednesday.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

now