Nfld. & Labrador

3rd COVID-19 death in N.L.; Haggie warns residents to be prepared to live like this until November

As each week passes the end of the pandemic gets stretched a little further down the road. First it was June, July, August, and now the hardest pill to swallow — November.

Newfoundland and Labrador's peak is expected to come later than other provinces

Health Minister John Haggie reiterated on Thursday there is no timeline for a COVID-19 surge for Newfoundland and Labrador. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Newfoundland and Labrador has had its third death from COVID-19.

Just a few hours after the province announced four new cases of COVID-19 — the fourth straight day of single-digit increases — at its daily briefing, it released a statement saying a 65-year-old man with pre-existing health conditions died Thursday afternoon in the Eastern Health region.

He had been admitted to hospital from his home.

Earlier Thursday, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer, said the new cases were found in the Eastern and Central Health regions, bringing Newfoundland and Labrador's total to 236.

Daily COVID-19 press briefings will be put on hold over the Easter weekend, said Premier Dwight Ball, to give staff working on delivering the information a break. Ball said government will still deliver new numbers each day through news releases over the weekend and will return to video conferences on Monday. 

The best-case scenario from a health-care point of view might be the worst-case scenario for the social lives of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, says Health Minister John Haggie.

Projections released Wednesday by the provincial government show the peak of COVID-19 infections might come in November, which would mean holding the fort on an isolated society until the winter weather sets in again.

"It looks like we're going to have a really good summer from a weather point of view, but quite frankly from a public health point of view I hope it rains every day," Haggie told The St. John's Morning Show on Thursday.

Two projections were released — one assuming the province holds steady on the measures it has in place, which could see 32 per cent of the population infected with the virus over a two-year period.

The other sees the restrictions eased and 52 per cent of the public becoming infected with a peak in September. That scenario would see hospitals overwhelmed.

But Haggie again said projections aren't crystal clear. What a peak will look like for Newfoundland and Labrador — when it hits and how many people will be affected — is still unknown.

"You'll only know when the numbers increased when the numbers increase. That is the challenge," he said.

By region, there are 221 cases in Eastern Health, eight in Central Health, one in Western Health and six in Labrador-Grenfell.

Six people are in hospital. Two of those are in intensive care. Fitzgerald said 96 people have recovered from the virus as of Thursday's briefing. In total 4,390 tests have been done.

"While we have four new cases confirmed since yesterday it is important to remember that there may be cases we don't know about," said Fitzgerald, adding the province will begin broadening its testing criteria.

Some of the things we have let continue, people say they aren't really essential. Well, they are if you're going to live like this until November.- John Haggie

In the best case, the province could still run out of intensive-care beds by the end of June.

Haggie said the regional health authorities have increased the capacity in their intensive-care units, and will look for ways to create more intensive-care beds before the wave comes. Haggie also said the data was drawn when 57 intensive-care beds were available out of the province's capacity of 98. 

As of Thursday's briefing 330 health-care workers are in self-isolation. Of those, 16 have tested positive.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald reminded the public on Thursday it's important to remember there may be cases of COVID-19 we don't know about. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador )

He also said the province hopes to beat the best-case scenario and keep infections closer to 25 per cent over two years, which has been the low-end projection in some other jurisdictions.

That will mean people need to be even more careful than they are already being and look at keeping it that way for the long run.

"These scenarios will be rerun as data comes and revised. It may well be that November is the wrong month and it will come earlier. We don't know. We do know it will come and we have to be prepared for it," Haggie said. 

"The longer time we have to prepare, the better from the point of view of the system. The harder it is, though, for everybody else because it's just not the way we're used to living."

Physical distancing measures will be a part of our lives for months to come. (Erik White/CBC)

Part of the reason Newfoundland and Labrador's peak comes later than other provinces is because of the relatively small number of infections outside of one large cluster. Quebec, for example, is projecting its peak to come this month. 

The sacrifices people make over the next days, weeks and months will determine whether the entire system becomes overrun and will affect how many people will die as a result of COVID-19.

"We have to adapt ourselves to a new normal," the minister said.

Haggie said people have been critical of how many businesses have been allowed to stay open, but if things continue this way, they'll be needed.

"Some of the things we have let continue, people say they aren't really essential. Well, they are if you're going to live like this until November."

As the province heads into the Easter weekend some may want to deliver home cooked food to relatives. Fitzgerald said there's no indication COVID-19 can be transmitted through food or food packaging to any great degree, but reminds people to make sure food containers aren't contaminated and to continue to practise physical distancing measures.

Ball spoke directly to the kids on Thursday as well, and said the Easter Bunny is an essential worker this weekend.

"I checked in with the Easter Bunny this week, and although it's tough and difficult, the Easter Bunny [is] fast and quick," said Ball, but did warn he's "not sure if he'll get to every home around the world."

Dealing with worker shortages

The health-care system also has to work around the number of people required to isolate.

There are 372 health-care workers around the province quarantined due to potential contact with COVID-19. Haggie said he's not aware of any impacts on services as a result of those shortages, mostly due to the measures put in place ahead of the pandemic.

All non-urgent procedures were postponed and hospitals opened up as many beds as possible, meaning they could get by with fewer staff.

"At the moment the slack is the low bed occupancy," Haggie said. "Obviously there are challenges when you lose staff, but in the acute-care sector, there's some capacity there because of the number of empty beds we have at the moment."

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