COVID-19 and Christmas could be 'perfect storm,' warns Fitzgerald, as 4 new cases identified
Briefings now happening each Monday, Wednesday and Friday
Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting four new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, three of which are still under investigation by public health to find the source.
Two of the cases under investigation are in the Eastern Health region — a man and woman, both between 50 and 59 years old — while the third is in the Western Health region, a woman between 40 and 49 years old, said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald during the COVID-19 briefing.
"It's still very early in the investigation, so it doesn't mean that we don't know the source, it just means that we're starting the investigation," she said.
The other case reported on Friday is also in the Eastern Health region — a man between 60 and 69 years old connected to the recent cluster in Grand Bank. The man is not a tenant of Blue Crest Cottages.
The province now has 31 active cases, but there was a new recovery since Thursday's update, bringing the total recoveries since March to 296.
On Friday, Fitzgerald once again warned against mass gatherings over the holiday season, adding the next four to six weeks will be a test for the province.
"This has the potential for a perfect storm as the threat of COVID and Christmas collide," she said.
Watch the full Nov. 27 update:
Health Minister John Haggie added the influenza season to Fitzgerald's concern over the Christmas and COVID mash-up. Haggie said the province normally sees its first peak in influenza cases in late December, and Newfoundland and Labrador is one of few places in the world that sees a second peak in March.
Government and health officials have been urging residents to get a flu shot this year, aiming to vaccinate 80 per cent of the population.
Haggie said vaccination numbers so far have been encouraging, and as of earlier this week just shy of 189,000 people had received a flu shot — 36 per cent of the province's goal. As of this time last year, 132,000 people were vaccinated, he added.
"We have another 50,000 appointments booked and should we be able to get through all of those, and there's no reason, unless they don't attend, we will be not far off the 50 per cent vaccination mark for our entire population," said Haggie.
The province's total number of COVID-19 cases is now 331. In total, 61,320 people have been tested, an increase of 742 in the last day — the province's largest daily increase since testing began.
Newfoundland and Labrador has been in Alert Level 2 of the provincial government's COVID-19 strategy since June.
A move back to Alert Level 3 would see restrictions on daily life tighten as public health continues to fight the spread of the virus. But Fitzgerald said the goal is to not take a step backward, but to have a targeted response to any outbreaks or any increase in case numbers.
"Those are discussions that we're having all the time, and it's difficult to give a definitive measure right off the top because it does take some evaluation of the whole situation," said Fitzgerald.
"It's not just how many cases we have, but how many cases that we can identify a source for, what's the situation in that vicinity that we're in, do we have a lot of travel in and out of that town or is the town fairly isolated? All of these things will influence our decision as to whether or not we move to another level or not."
Point-of-entry testing not supported by evidence: Haggie
The PC Party continued to call for point-of-entry testing as Newfoundland and Labrador's influx of new COVID-19 cases come primarily from those entering or returning to the province.
Haggie said point-of-entry testing cannot provide the peace of mind many are looking for, and evidence does not support its use.
"We have said all along, that Dr. Fitzgerald's recommendations will be based on evidence, not decisions that are made arbitrarily," he said.
"We've seen that happen in other areas, and the premier, myself and Dr. Fitzgerald have determined that should not happen here.… We need to keep our eyes and ears firmly focused on peer-reviewed evidence where possible."
Fitzgerald said since ushering in additional public health measures for rotational workers and their families, her office has been flooded with questions. She answered some during Friday's briefing:
- Partners of rotational workers can go to work prior to the rotational worker receiving a COVID-19 test on Day 7 of isolation, provided the rotational worker is not symptomatic.
- If the partner works at a long-term-care home or personal-care home, they can go to work, but must wear personal protective equipment when in contact with clients.
- Partners of rotational workers have to wear a mask at work only if interacting with other people. If working in a contained office, with walls and a door, a mask is not necessary.
- Partners of rotational workers who teach at schools should always wear a mask.
- Partners of rotational workers must wear a mask when in a separate house with friends or extended family.
Fitzgerald said these rules do not apply to international rotational workers or those coming from a worksite with an outbreak. Those workers have their own set of guidelines. She added these rules also do not apply to children of rotational workers.
"They're only required to wear a mask in the same situation as their peers, such as on the school bus or an indoor public space," she said.
Fitzgerald said children aren't included in the policy change is to prevent further stigmatization.
"Let me be very clear in saying stigmatization should not be happening. It is completely unacceptable, and to be honest it is heartbreaking for me to hear," she said.
"If you are a parent and witness any ill treatment, discrimination or bullying of a child, regardless of if they have a parent who is a rotational worker or simply because they have a runny nose, I implore you to act."