Don't panic, but don't be complacent, warns Fitzgerald, after 4th COVID-19 case in Grand Bank
Chief medical officer of health cautions people to not 'contribute to the rumour mill'
The positive COVID-19 cases in Grand Bank prompted two hastily-called news conferences Thursday, as Newfoundland and Labrador public health officials sought to allay fears from residents in the rural town with a population of about 2,500.
On Thursday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said there are now four COVID-19 cases in the community of Grand Bank, all of which appear connected, one of which involves a tenant at the Blue Crest Cottages retirement facility.
The province reported one new case of COVID-19 on Thursday — a man in the Eastern Health region over the age of 70 and a close contact of a previous case announced a day ago.
The newest case is not a resident of Blue Crest Cottages, according to a Department of Health media release.
At this time, public health officials say there's no evidence of community spread.
"At this point, what we're finding is that all of these cases are connected, so we're not seeing any spread beyond that cluster," Fitzgerald said Thursday.
No one is immune to COVID-19. It's a nasty, nasty virus. We're all in this together.- Grand Bank Mayor Rex Matthews
"I know it's alarming for the community when situations like these arise, and I caution people not to panic or contribute to the rumour mill."
COVID-19 briefings, led by Fitzgerald and Health Minister John Haggie, are usually scheduled once a week, on Wednesdays. However, one was called just an hour before it started on Thursday.
It was preceded by a media availability with Dr. David Allison, Eastern Health's medical officer of health, as well as its CEO David Diamond, as both the health authority and the provincial government moved to dispel rumours and address concerns and fears being stoked on social media, with the news of the province's latest small cluster of COVID-19 picking up steam since Wednesday afternoon.
The man in Thursday's case is self-isolating, said the health department, and contact tracing is underway. Anyone considered a close contact has been advised to quarantine.
The province now has 10 active cases and two people are in hospital due to the virus. There have been 294 recoveries and four deaths since March. The province's total caseload is now 308.
Fitzgerald said the province has been fortunate to keep the virus at bay for as long as it has to this point, and reiterated the importance of continuing to follow COVID-19 guidelines. She said she suspects the public is becoming more complacent of late.
"We're all tired. I'm here today to tell you that our fight is not over, and we have to hold the course," said Fitzgerald.
Watch the full Nov. 19 update:
Fitzgerald was stern in reiterating the importance of keeping the numbers of contacts as low as possible and to avoid gatherings with people outside of close consistent contacts.
"This is something we all need to take seriously. You only need to look to elsewhere in the country to realize how quickly this can get out of hand," she said. "And I cannot stress it enough, how important it is to follow the guidelines that we have put out. We should be looking at this very similarly to how we looked at things in April."
"We try our best to have as accurate information as possible, to release it in as timely a way as possible, but at the end of the day we cannot beat the keyboard warriors who will sit there and do their thing," said Haggie.
Fitzgerald said the index case in Grand Bank was not a rotational worker. An index case is the first identified case in a group of related cases.
As of Thursday 57,944 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador — 434 in the last day.
Practise public health measures, be compassionate: mayor
Eastern Health officials addressed the situation in Grand Bank ahead of Thursday's briefing, saying contact tracing is underway for the Blue Crest Cottages resident that tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
All tenants have been asked to quarantine for 14 days.
Dr. David Allison, the health authority's medical officer of health, said there was "a significant possibility that there were exposures" within the retirement home.
"That presents a challenge because it's sometimes difficult to know exactly what kinds of interactions people are having, and yet these people are perhaps the most vulnerable to COVID-19 in our province," he said.
Allison said there were 23 people living at the facility and a dozen others that have been identified as contacts, although "that's a number that is going to change rapidly as we progress through the investigation."
While some people are being tested for COVID-19, Allison stressed there is a challenge with those tests so early in the contact tracing process, as the virus has an incubation period of five to 14 days. That means whatever the test results, contacts will have to remain in self-isolation for the full two-week period.
With tenants asked to stay in their apartments, Allison also said common areas at the facility have been cleaned and closed, and tenants may only receive essential visitors in order to receive care.
The tenant with COVID-19 was a contact of a previously confirmed case.
Grand Bank Mayor Rex Matthews urged residents to practise vigilant public health measures and be compassionate toward fellow citizens.
"No one is immune to COVID-19. It's a nasty, nasty virus. We're all in this together, and because you live in Grand Bank it doesn't mean that you're not going to get that virus," Matthews said.
"We just have to do what we have to do to protect ourselves. Live by the rules, abide by the rules, encourage others to do the same."
Matthews said the initial information he has on cases cropping up in his community suggest it's possible someone didn't abide by self-isolation regulations.
"If you take that chance, and take that risk, you're putting other people at risk and you're putting your community at risk," he said.
"But people shouldn't look at those people as having done something crazy or wrong. Everyone makes mistakes. We all do things sometimes we shouldn't. But that doesn't give people the right, in my opinion, to be unkind or insensitive in their comments or to be judgmental."
Eastern Health CEO David Diamond also asked for "civility and respect" as contact tracing continues.
"It's really easy for folks to be emotional and upset around these sorts of issues," he said.