Nfld. & Labrador

COVID-19 reaches 6 cases in N.L. as 2 new presumptive positive cases announced

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said the two new cases are both people who returned from international travel.

2 new presumptive cases bring the total number of N.L. cases to 6

Premier Dwight Ball, left, and Dr. Janice Fitzgerald announced two new presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador on Saturday. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

There are two new presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador, provincial Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald announced Saturday.

That brings the total number of cases in the province to six — three confirmed in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region, two within Eastern Health and the first case in the Central Health region. Contact tracing is ongoing in the two new cases.

Fitzgerald said 901 people have been tested for the disease to date, with 895 confirmed negative cases. 332 people are in isolation. She added the new presumptive cases are not unexpected.

"Our public health system is responding and operating as it should," Fitzgerald said.

The case in the Central Health region is a woman who recently returned from a cruise, while the case within Eastern Health is a woman who returned from the United States, according to Fitzgerald.

During Saturday's briefing, Fitzgerald said those who return to the province after leaving an airport must immediately return to their homes to self-isolate.

Fitzgerald added those who feel unwell should not travel to a long-term care home under any circumstances, or personal care homes or homes of the elderly. She also pushed for people to avoid gatherings such as dinner parties, or limiting trips, such as running errands.

In a release earlier in the day, Fitzgerald said travellers that deliver essential services, such as truck drivers, airplane crews, or oil and gas workers, are exempted from the requirement to self-isolate. The provincial government also said individuals are allowed to cross the Labrador border into Quebec, as long as the trip is for health or work reasons.

Premier Dwight Ball also introduced a form that must be filled out by all travellers coming into the province. The public form will request the health and contact information of travellers.

This is the second form introduced surrounding COVID-19, following the online public reporting form, in which members of the public can highlight those who may not be taking serious action in limiting the spread of COVID-19. The public reporting form must be printed out, filled in and returned to the provincial government in an email.

Testing up and running

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will be able to visit testing sites this weekend to be screened for the virus, as Health Minster John Haggie said Friday that Western and Eastern Health would start testing Saturday morning.

In a release Saturday, Eastern Health said its testing centre on the parking lot of St. Teresa's Elementary School on Mundy Pond Road in St. John's has been set up as a drive-thru location.

The health authority said the clinic will operate seven days a week, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with nurses collecting samples while individuals remain in their vehicles.

The centres will be by appointment only for patients who have been referred there. Eastern Health advises people to complete the provincial online self-assessment before calling 811, and individuals will then be scheduled for an appointment based on advice from 811.

For anyone who is unable to attend the drive-thru clinic, other arrangements will be made for testing.

Individuals will remain in their vehicles while nurses collect samples at Eastern Health's drive-thru testing centre at St. Teresa’s School in St. John's. (Submitted by Eastern Health)

Mobile screening sites in western Newfoundland opened 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Western Health said the sites will allow for more efficient screening, once the need arises.

Sites are set up on the parking lot of the Corner Brook Civic Centre and the Stephenville Dome.

A representative with Western Health said the health authority should be able to do 40 tests a day.

Haggie said this type of system would limit person-to-person contact, however Labrador-Grenfell Health may opt to do things a little differently based on geography.

Fitzgerald hopes the number of tests done in the province will grow as these mobile test sites open up.

To further clamp down on the spread of COVID-19, Ball said anyone who has travelled outside the province — whether within Canada or internationally — will be required to quarantine for 14 days.

"If this situation wasn't serious we would not be doing this," Ball said Friday.

Howley considering state of emergency

Wayne Bennett says his town could be greatly affected if COVID-19 precautions are not followed. (CBC)

In the town of Howley in western Newfoundland, Mayor Wayne Bennett is sounding the alarm over some inhabitants' lack of concern over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bennett says that he's spoken with at least two of the town's residents who have returned from international travel and refused to self-isolate for 14 days, making trips to grocery stores and nearby communities within days of returning. 

Bennett fears there will be grave repercussions for the town's 200 people.

"We have an aging population and we have people in town who are on cancer treatment," Bennett said.

"I would say, to be very realistic, that if COVID-19 gets into the town of Howley, we'll lose 70 per cent of the population."

Currently, Bennett said he doesn't have the powers to enforce isolation or limit the movements of those who have travelled internationally.

Bennett said he's been in contact with the premier about his concerns and that the town council will vote on Saturday night on whether or not to declare a state of emergency, which he says will allow the town to enforce adherence to COVID-19 precautions.

Rules needed for tradespeople: Trades NL

Trades NL is asking the provincial government for clear guidelines on how construction sites should be run during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The labour organization oversees 16 trade unions in the province and says they're concerned that they are not seeing the scaling back of projects where large numbers of workers spend their days in close proximity.

Darin King, executive director of Trades NL, credits the provincial government with their response to the coronavirus outbreak and wants similar guidance for construction work.

"We're hearing from concerned members," King said. 

"So we're just asking that someone give us some guidelines and help contractors along the way to make sure we're doing what we ought to be doing to protect the safety of our workforce."

Darin King says ground rules are needed immediately to protect tradespeople still working closely together on construction sites. (CBC)

King said his organization contacted the government on Thursday and expects to hear back by Monday afternoon. He said with some large projects planning to scale up their operations, ground rules are needed immediately.

"With the West White Rose project we're literally going to have hundreds of workers shoulder-to-shoulder on that project once that concrete pour starts about 100 meters high in the air," King said.

"It's going to be impossible to practice social distancing and it's going to be impossible to have groups of less than 50 in that very confined space."

Fitzgerald responded to those concerns Saturday, and said while workers are generally "not crammed in together" on construction sites, she stressed employers have to ensure workers can practice social and physical distancing on site.

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