Nfld. & Labrador

Source of Harbour Breton COVID-19 cases still under investigation: Fitzgerald

The town's mayor says there are two cases in the town.

No new cases in Newfoundland and Labrador on Monday, with 2 new recoveries.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald is asking residents of Harbour Breton to remain home as much as possible and call 811 if even minor COVID-19 symptoms appear while public health investigates the source of cases in the region. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health says residents of Harbour Breton should take extra precautions, as the source of COVID-19 cases in the area is still unknown.

During Monday's COVID-19 briefing Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said public health is still working to locate the source of weekend cases in the Central Health region. 

"In the meantime we are asking that anyone living in Harbour Breton and surrounding areas to take some extra precautions, to stay home as much as possible, to avoid entering stores or establishments outside of the community and to avoid holding gatherings for now," Fitzgerald said. 

Health Minister John Haggie said the health centre in Harbour Breton has potentially been exposed to COVID-19, with two positive tests from staff.

One of the health-care workers provides hands-on care, while the other is in an administrative role. Public health has tested all patients the first staff member has had contact with. So far none have returned a positive test, said Haggie. 

Haggie said the health centre is now closed to visitors and will remain closed until further notice. Acute-care services will remain open for emergencies, while staff have separated to run the long-term-care services — which has 18 beds — independently to avoid any risk to vulnerable seniors staying in the facility.

Haggie said staff are being tested over the next few days. 

Watch the full Dec. 7 update:

"In addition to that, should the need arise, we have rapid testing equipment ready to be deployed and in the final stages of validation prior to being moved down to the centre," said Haggie, adding the public health division will make that decision in the next 24 hours. 

Fitzgerald said she understands people's fears, and added public health is working to determine the source of spread. Testing will help, she said, but people should stay home if they have even mild symptoms.

"You need to stay home, you need to contact 811 and get some testing so we can find any cases that may be there, and try to reduce your contacts as much as possible," she said.

On Monday afternoon, the Department of Health announced no new cases of COVID-19 in the province, with two new recoveries in the Eastern Health region. The province now has 28 active cases.

In total, 64,586 people have been tested as of Monday's update, an increase of 232 in the last day. The province has had a total of 351 cases since March, with 317 recoveries and four deaths.

Also on Monday, Premier Andrew Furey announced that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be shipped to the province next week. The province will receive nearly 2,000 doses in the first shipment, with more following. 

Closures in Harbour Breton

Concerns over COVID-19 have sparked closures in Harbour Breton, including its schools and town office.

The Connaigre Peninsula community's mayor says two cases have been identified in the small town over the weekend.

Georgina Ollerhead said one case was identified Saturday, and another Sunday, prompting town council to post on Facebook to ask residents to go into lockdown mode and non-essential businesses to close, as contact tracing continues within the community.

Instituting the closures, as well as asking for residents and businesses to curb public interactions, come as voluntary measures and not ones imposed by provincial public health officials.

Ollerhead said the cases have Harbour Breton residents concerned.

"They're worried. Is it travel-related? Is it community spread? They're looking for answers, and like I tell them, be patient," Ollerhead told CBC News on Monday.

Anxious times in Harbour Breton

CBC News Newfoundland

8 months ago
3:55
Mayor Georgina Ollerheard tells CBC's Peter Cowan how people in the town are reacting to the appearance of COVID-19 3:55

According to Department of Health press releases, of the three cases of COVID-19 identified in the Central Health region over the weekend, the source of infection in one case from Saturday, a woman between the ages of 20 and 39, is still under investigation. One other is travel-related, with the third a close contact of a previous case.

Central Health had a mobile testing clinic set up in Harbour Breton as of Monday morning, said Fitzgerald.

Elvis Loveless, the MHA for the area, wrote on Facebook on Sunday, "COVID-19 has found its way to our region, and this is unfortunate," and said he had been in communication with the premier and minister of health on the situation.

"The days ahead may be filled with uncertainty, but please know that public health in the Central Health region are doing everything possible to investigate the source of the infection," Loveless said.

Schools closed

Both schools in the town, St. Joseph's Elementary and King Academy, announced on Facebook they would be closed on Monday "to allow additional time for cleaning," as directed by the province's Ministry of Education. Whether they will reopen Tuesday will be decided Monday, the post said.

About 180 students attend the two schools, but Ollerhead said she has been informed neither COVID-19 case is in the school system. The cleaning is meant to give students, parents and staff peace of mind.

The town council has closed its office, as well as the Connaigre Fitness Centre.

"We felt it's very important that we step up. Let's be the leaders. The residents are looking to us for direction and we felt this direction would be the proper one," Ollerhead said.

There were two cases of COVID-19 identified in Harbour Breton over the weekend, says Mayor Georgina Ollerhead. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The town's library branch added to the list of closures Monday, tweeting it would be closed Monday and Tuesday and "monitoring the situation in Harbour Breton on a day-by-day basis."

Harbour Breton is the latest small town in Newfoundland and Labrador to deal with COVID-19 lockdown measures, as both Deer Lake and Grand Bank have tightened restrictions in the wake of clusters of the virus in their respective communities.

Harbour Breton has about 1,600 residents, many of them elderly, Ollerhead said, with the cases serving as a wakeup call.

"You didn't think that this virus was going to knock on your door. But it's an eye opener to everyone in this province, whether you're a small community or big, that it can happen to you," she said.

"It can happen to you, and when it does, I'm telling you, it certainly makes your heart pound."

Ollerhead said she and her council are taking their public restriction suggestions day by day and staying in close communication with health officials, and hope for no further cases in the town.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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