Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. says new COVID-19 case is connected to Harbour Breton investigation

The Department of Health is reporting one new case of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador, a man between 60 and 69, connected to an earlier investigation in Harbour Breton.

Province also reporting 1 new recovery

Harbour Breton Mayor Georgina Ollerhead says schools are open but attendance has been low as public health continues to search for the source of three COVID-19 cases in the town. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

One new case of COVID-19 is being reported in Newfoundland and Labrador, involving a man in his 60s who is connected to the ongoing investigation in Harbour Breton.

The man is self-isolating, the Department of Health said in a statement. Contact tracing by public health officials is underway.

There are now three active cases in the community as the public health division continues to search for the initial source.

CBC News asked the Department of Health how the new case is connected to the investigation in Harbour Breton. 

"Public Health will be looking at the nature of the contact as part of the investigation," the department wrote in an emailed statement. 

The first case in the small town was reported Saturday.  

Since then, the town has gone into lockdown, with the mayor, and provincial government and health officials are urging residents to take extra precautions.

Mayor Georgina Ollerhead said Deer Lake Mayor Dean Ball called Sunday night to offer support and a few tips. Ball shut down his town a few weeks earlier as a cluster of cases emerged.

"It was tremendous. With all honesty, if there's a flood or something like that, we're prepared for that stuff," she said. "He put us in the right direction.… He said if he had to do it again he wouldn't change anything, gave us his cellphone number, [said]  'I'll be at your beck and call.' It was phenomenal. I can't thank him enough."

Ollerhead said a few businesses have closed for the time being in her community, including beauty salons and a furniture store, but the response from business owners has been positive.

The majority of the town's population of 1,600 are seniors, Ollerhead said, so people are concerned.

"Right now, we're not sure of where the source came from," she said. "So if you're an elderly, or if you've got children, it's very concerning."

The COVID-19 testing site at the Connaigre Peninsula Health Centre in Harbour Breton was set up earlier this week. Rapid testing kits will be available on Friday, according to Central Health. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The community lies at the end of a long stretch of highway, more than 200 kilometres from the Trans-Canada Highway. But, said Ollerhead, if anything has been learned about COVID-19 since March, it's that it doesn't matter where you are.

"It doesn't matter whether you're in New Brunswick, or you're in Grande Prairie — COVID as a virus is global. So I don't think anybody is fully protected," she said. "It's just that you have to follow all of the public restrictions put in place and pray to God that it doesn't reach your community."

Ollerhead said the community is going to take things day by day before easing lockdown restrictions. While schools in the area remain open, Ollerhead said attendance has been low.

"It's because of the uncertainty. Right now they don't know the source. We're a small community and they're not comfortable," she said. "Right now it's ease of mind to keep their kids home."

A message from Fitzgerald

In a video released Thursday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald requested that everyone in the town get tested for COVID-19, even if they haven't travelled or have any symptoms of the virus. 

"Please, do what needs to be done to protect your community. Stand beside each other and support each other as I know you've done so many times in the past," she said. 

"When I hear that people are reluctant to come forward for COVID-19 testing because they might be blamed or shamed, I'm profoundly saddened. COVID-19 knows no boundaries, no community. If we allow it to divide us it will defeat us."

Rapid testing is ready

On Monday Central Health set up a mobile testing site in the community. On Wednesday Health Minister John Haggie said rapid testing kits were also being sent to the site, and were expected to be available for use on Friday. 

In a statement to CBC News on Thursday, Central Health confirmed rapid testing will be available starting Friday for Harbour Breton residents. Testing will be set up at the town's Lions Club, and is available through appointment only for people who have symptoms for less than seven days. People who have not been symptomatic within the past week will receive the standard COVID-19 test, says the statement.

Test results will not be available to patients at the point of testing.

"Right now Facebook is lit up. Everybody is making the appointment," said Ollerhead. "The message is out there and I think people are seriously going to consider getting this test done."

According to Central Health the testing team will get a result within 15 to 30 minutes, and the result is considered presumptive until confirmed in a second test done by the province's public health lab. People with symptoms should self-isolate, and if the test is positive the person will be contacted by public health with contact tracing to follow while waiting for confirmation by the public health lab. 

Harbour Breton is a community of about 1,600 people, the majority of which are senior citizens. (Submitted by Aiden Mahoney)

If a presumptive negative test is later confirmed to be negative the results will be posted on the provincial government's COVID-19 website once they're validated by public health.

"This broader testing is part of the public health investigation to determine how community members may have acquired their infection with the COVID-19 virus. Being tested is an opportunity to help protect the health of all residents," reads Central Health's statement. 

"Everyone is reminded to follow public health measures including wearing masks, practising good hand hygiene, staying home as much as possible, avoiding entering stores or establishments outside the community and avoid holding gatherings for the time being."

With one new recovery being reported, in the Western Health region, the province's active caseload stands at 20. There have been 330 recoveries and four deaths in Newfoundland and Labrador since March.  

As of Thursday, 65,793 people have been tested in the province, up 460 since Wednesday. 

The province's next live briefing is scheduled for Friday afternoon. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Garrett Barry and The Canadian Press

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