14 new cases of COVID-19 in N.L., as a Labrador mayor calls for point-of-entry testing
407 active cases, down from Sunday's 430
- Happy Valley-Goose Bay council wants point-of-entry testing for all travel into Labrador
- 1st confirmed case in Labrador-Grenfell Health region since November
- Phase 2 of vaccine recipients still not determined, coming “very soon”
- Some of the 5 people in hospital are in ICU, but Fitzgerald won’t say how many
- Sewage testing started in St. John’s metro, can help detect prevalence of virus
- Lab here in N.L. that could detect variants of concern delayed weeks, until end of February
Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting 14 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, with one of those in the Labrador-Grenfell Health Region.
That case is related to international travel, said Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the chief medical officer of health, in a briefing Monday.
There are 407 active cases, with no new or outstanding presumptive cases — a drop from Sunday's active caseload of 430.
Five people are in hospital — an increase of two people since Sunday, and the highest total since late April — while 37 people have recovered since Sunday's update.
"We are beginning to see an encouraging trend," said Fitzgerald, with more recoveries than new infections.
"I am cautiously optimistic that we are making progress but we are by no means out of the woods.… Our ability to see this through will depend on our continued patience and dedication."
Cases are also beginning to skew older, she said, with fewer teenagers contracting the virus and more cases emerging in middle-aged people.
The province is on Day 10 of strict Alert Level 5 restrictions, which closed schools and non-essential businesses and limited contact outside households.
1st case in Labrador-Grenfell in months
Happy Valley-Goose Bay's town council demanded point-of-entry rapid testing for all travel into Labrador on Monday, after the region reported a presumptive positive case over the weekend.
In a media release the Department of Health said this case is military personnel and has been in self-isolation since arrival.
Monday's update confirmed a case in the Labrador-Grenfell region, which encompasses all of Labrador and the northern part of Newfoundland. It's the first confirmed infection in the area for months, after panic struck the north coast last week when a presumptive positive was reported in the isolated community of Makkovik.
The town council submitted its letter requesting point-of-entry testing to Fitzgerald on Monday, according to the town.
Watch Monday's update:
"Happy Valley-Goose Bay is known to be the hub of Labrador. Anyone traveling from the Island of Newfoundland and beyond coming to Labrador will ultimately enter via our community," reads the letter.
In its letter, the town council says that while the result of a point-of-entry rapid test would be presumptive, and thus would need to be confirmed by the lab, "it would still be beneficial in preventing the spread of COVID-19."
Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Wally Andersen said while the COVID case count for Labrador has been very low, point-of-entry testing is "the safest way we can protect our communities."
"With all that's going on … we feel it would serve a great purpose for people here in Labrador," he told CBC News.
Andersen had high praise for Labrador-Grenfell Health officials and the contact tracing efforts.
"We would rather see a test come back false rather than a case fall through our hands … that no one knows about and then have to deal with an outbreak," he said.
The town wants the testing at:
- St. John's International Airport.
- Gander International Airport.
- Deer Lake Regional Airport.
- The Quebec-Labrador border in Lab West.
- The Strait of Belle Isle ferry.
The PCs and NDP have frequently said point-of-entry testing should be implemented in the province.
But Fitzgerald has repeatedly said point of entry testing is not the best use of testing resources, and said again Monday that the province saves rapid tests for those with a higher risk of having the disease than the general population.
Furey has expressed a similar point of view.
"The point-of-entry [test], we're concerned, may cause a false sense of security, and therefore cause extra disease spread, which wasn't really reflected in the McMaster study to date," Furey said in November.
However, Fitzgerald said public health has not ruled out the idea. "We will make some recommendations about that," she said. "The variants are a game-changer."
Waiting on vaccine supply
Nova Scotia is preparing to immunize the elderly this week, and its government plans to mail letters to those 80 and older to inform them of vaccine clinics.
Haggie said there are similar plans to do that in Newfoundland and Labrador, but the time isn't yet right.
"There are arrangements to do that," Haggie said, but indicated the vaccine supply isn't yet stable enough to begin booking appointments for the general population.
"If we go out tomorrow and say, 'Here's how you schedule your vaccination,' and we don't have the vaccine for another three or four weeks, the challenge there is around people saying, 'Well, you've forgotten about me,'" Haggie said. "It's unfair to raise those expectations until we know for sure."
He said he was told Monday morning there are more than 6,000 Pfizer-BioNTech doses en route to the province. However, by Pfizer's own explanation, "until March rolls around, at the very earliest, they don't see themselves making up the deficit from what they should have supplied," Haggie said.
"I wait each week to see what the guaranteed tray number is for the next week.… Until we see the whites of the eyes of these vaccine trays, it's difficult for me to give any kind of firm commitment."
Haggie said the province gets a two-week notice ahead of its vaccine delivery, but said once the supply enters the province, he's confident of a rapid and widespread immunization program.
"We've shown very clearly from our flu campaign that we can vaccinate 80,000 people a month, even in a pandemic," he said.
"We just do not have the [COVID-19] vaccine to give them."
Testing and tracing
Last week, the number of daily COVID-19 tests topped 3,000 three times, but Sunday's total was 986. On Monday, the Department of Health said 1,037 people had been tested in the previous 24 hours.
A genome sequencing lab within the province that could help pinpoint which cases are caused by coronavirus variants — which was slated to open last week — has been delayed until at the least the end of the month, Fitzgerald said.
Eastern Health continues to recommend additional COVID-19 testing for everyone in the Mount Pearl Senior High School community, regardless of whether they have previously tested negative for the virus or do not currently have symptoms.
The health authority said there are concerns there may be people who went previously undiagnosed, or have developed symptoms since the initial testing blitz.
Fitzgerald said the second round of tests have already unearthed a few asymptomatic cases.
Her team is also looking at widespread wastewater testing to track fluctuating levels of the virus in communities. Sewage testing has already begun in the metro region, she said, and those efforts may be translated to other parts of the province, depending on the wastewater systems in use.
She said sewage tracking will become more useful as time goes on. "We'll see if it picks up signals in the future," she said.