Nfld. & Labrador

New COVID-19 cases 'worrisome,' Fitzgerald says as public health searches for source

Three of four new cases announced Thursday are connected to a case reported Wednesday with an unknown source.

3 of 4 new cases announced Thursday connected to Wednesday case with unknown source

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says three of four new cases announced Thursday are connected to a case Wednesday whose source is still unknown. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting four new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, three of them connected to a case reported Wednesday whose source is still unknown.

"To date we have not been able to identify a source for this cluster," said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald. 

"This is therefore a non-epidemiologically linked case, and these types of cases are worrisome because they can indicate wider community transmission."

Fitzgerald said the province is not ready to call the new cases community spread, as the source is still under investigation.

The cases related to the new cluster are "relatively close contacts" Fitzgerald told reporters during Thursday's live update. Some were household contacts and some were work contacts, she added. 

All four cases announced Thursday are in the Eastern Health region. The province has nine active cases.

Watch the full Jan. 28 update:

Three of Thursday's cases are between 20 and 39 years old — two women and a man — while the fourth case is a man between 40 and 49 years old and is related to international travel. The man is self-isolating and contact tracing is complete, Fitzgerald said. 

She also said there is a suspected case associated with a daycare and public health has been in contact to advise all staff and children in the suspected case's cohort to quarantine for 14 days. However, she said, there has not yet been a confirmed case in the daycare. Public health officials will make testing decisions based on whether the suspected case is confirmed, she said.

"We'll determine whether we test now or if we wait a couple of days to test those people," she said. 

Meanwhile, the source contact could have happened as far back as New Year's, Fitzgerald noted, based on the initial date of symptoms. 

"This is a reminder that COVID can raise its head anywhere at any time," she said.

When asked if any of the new cases are one of the new variants of COVID-19, Fitzgerald said they don't know, but there's no indication they are. The National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, where samples can be sent, can quickly process samples within about 72 hours if there are concerns, she said.

Public health officials will make testing decisions based on whether the suspected case is confirmed, says Fitzgerald. (Rebecca Blackwell/The Associated Press)

Thursday's live update came as a surprise, as the provincial government had shifted back to weekly briefings on Wednesdays since the election call. Fitzgerald has been delivering the briefings on her own since Premier Andrew Furey and Health Minister John Haggie hit the campaign trail. 

"We knew that people probably had questions. Social media seems to beat us every time to getting news out. We wanted to make sure that people understood what's happening, that public health does have control of the situation, or at least a handle on the situation," Fitzgerald said.

Furey said Thursday from the campaign trail that from the beginning he has had the "utmost confidence" in Fitzgerald and her team to contain the virus and conduct contact tracing.

"As they've shown they can do it before — whether it's in Harbour Breton, or Deer Lake or the Caul's cluster initially — these are the experts," Furey told CBC News.

Previous cases with no source

The province has seen non-epidemiological linked cases before, such as on the Burin Peninsula and in Deer Lake. Fitzgerald said any such incident is a cause for concern.

"Any time we have non-epi linked cases, we're worried because it can be that indicator, it can be that canary in the coal mine, of wider community spread," she said.

Cases that cropped up in Harbour Breton in December were eventually linked to travel, but public health officials spent a significant amount of time on contact tracing and testing as many people in the community as possible. Many residents remained on edge for weeks until the questions were resolved. 

On Thursday, Fitzgerald said all of the new cases identified within the newest cluster are already "doing a really deep look back" in the two weeks prior to becoming symptomatic to remember where they were and who they were around to find a potential source of infection. This is on top of routine contact tracing, which is used to prevent forward spread of the virus.

When asked if the province will tighten public health restrictions, Fitzgerald said that remains to be seen. 

Fitzgerald said 90 people are in isolation right now.

In total, 79,067 people have been tested as of Thursday's update. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story stated that three of Thursday's confirmed COVID-19 cases were people between 20 and 29 years old. In fact, the age range is 20 to 39 years old.
    Jan 28, 2021 6:02 PM NT

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