Nfld. & Labrador

Rapid testing underway in Harbour Breton as N.L. reports 1 new case in Western Health

In a video distributed Thursday night, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald urged everyone in Harbour Breton to get tested and told people in the rest of the province that "vilifying a community or the people who live there is not helpful, necessary or kind."

Harbour Breton Lions Club set up as testing site

The Harbour Breton Lions Club has been set up as a COVID-19 testing site. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case of COVID-19 on Friday, as rapid testing in the community of Harbour Breton gets underway.

The new case is a woman in the Western Health region between 20 and 39 years old, a staff member of a school, and the source of the infection is being investigated. There's one new recovery as well, keeping the province's active caseload at 20.

The Department of Health says it will advise parents if students need to be tested as result of Friday's case. If parents haven't been contacted by public health their child hasn't been identified as a close contact.

"As the potential exposure was more than 14 days ago, parents are advised that their children do not have to quarantine for the full 14 days. They will be required to self-isolate until the test results are back," reads a Department of Health media release.

The individual is self-isolating and contact tracing is underway, says the department.

During Friday's coronavirus update, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said public health officials are still investigating the source of the infection in Harbour Breton, which has three active cases. She said extensive testing in the community is ongoing, and on Thursday published a video urging everyone in the community to get tested for the virus regardless of whether they have symptoms.

"While the investigation will continue, the fact is that we may never uncover the origins of this cluster. So a significant part of our focus as well is to identify and contain any cases of COVID in the community," Fitzgerald said.

"We have started rapid testing on site for those who have had symptoms for less than seven days, which we hope will increase the speed which we can detect symptomatic cases." 

The third case in Harbour Breton, announced Thursday, is also tied to the community's hospital, where the two other cases had been reported. Fitzgerald said she couldn't provide more information due to privacy issues.

Health Minister John Haggie said the acute-care and long-term-care facilities remain separated, with separate staff to avoid overlap and potential contamination. 

When asked why health officials aren't using the term "community spread" for the cases in Harbour Breton, whose source is unknown, Fitzgerald said public health is still chasing leads and more people are still being tested. 

"Once we have feel like we have exhausted all those leads and all those possibilities then we will have to make a decision on that," she said. 

Watch the full Dec. 11 update:

As of Friday, 66,084 people have been tested in the province, an increase of 291 since Thursday.

Fitzgerald said N.L. is not planning to reinstate sweeping province-wide shutdowns as seen in the spring, calling them a "last resort." She said stepping back a level in the province's alert system is an action to be taken only if there is wider spread of the virus. 

"Our goal is regional or community restrictions to contain any isolated clusters that arise," said Fitzgerald. "We want to ensure that communities and regional health authorities are supported in the decision-making. Our public health team is refining guidance for communities that align with epidemiology and best available evidence so that they have assurance that they're taking appropriate action."  

Haggie said the provincial government's COVID-19 website will break the province down into zones to make COVID-19 results more "geographically relevant" while preserving privacy.

No evidence of transmission in schools: Fitzgerald 

The Harbour Breton Lions Club has been transformed into a COVID-19 testing centre, and 1,000 rapid tests have been dispatched to the community. 

The mayor of Harbour Breton, Georgina Ollerhead, said anxiety is swirling in the community.

"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," she told CBC News on Thursday. 

She added that the majority of the town's population of 1,600 are seniors, so people are concerned.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says moving back a level in the provincial government's alert system will only be done as a last resort. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

But Fitzgerald said there's no evidence of transmission within schools, and there are criteria for when the province would close one.

"Closing a school itself, even if there was a person who tested positive within that school, is not necessarily something that we would do," she said. "Obviously there has to be some judgment there on the part of the regional public health staff and the medical officer of health to determine there may be other issues at play that may weigh in on that decision."

Fitzgerald said the school affected in the Western Health region will also not close as it's been more than 14 days since any potential exposure.

"We're outside of that infectious period, outside of that quarantine period. We're looking at things a little more closely," she said. 

'If we allow it to divide us it will defeat us'

In her video on Thursday, Fitzgerald spoke directly to the residents of Harbour Breton. 

"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," she said.

"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. 

But she also had a message for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. 

"Keep your words positive and supportive.… Think about how you would be feeling if this was happening in your community," she said. 

"Vilifying a community or the people who live there is not helpful, necessary or kind."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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