Nfld. & Labrador

5 new COVID-19 cases in N.L., bringing total to 252

Newfoundland and Labrador has five new cases of COVID-19, the provincial government announced Thursday, bringing the province's total to 252.

Largest single-day increase in 10 days

Health Minister John Haggie extended the province's public health restrictions for two more weeks on Thursday. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Newfoundland and Labrador has five new cases of COVID-19, the provincial government announced Thursday, bringing the province's total to 252.

The new cases — the largest single-day increase in 10 days — are in the Eastern Health region. 

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer, said seven people are in hospital as a result of the virus with three of them in intensive care. She said 170 people have now recovered, so with the three deaths, the province's current active cases of the coronavirus is 79, the lowest it has been since March 25. 

Watch the full April 16 update:

As of Thursday 5,370 people have been tested.

Health Minister John Haggie is extending the public health emergency order by another two weeks, to the end of April. Legislation requires it be reviewed every 14 days. 

Provincial seniors' advocate Suzanne Brake joined Thursday's briefing to talk about how the pandemic is affecting seniors in Newfoundland and Labrador, and to make recommendations.

Seniors — about 20 per cent of Newfoundland and Labrador's population — are at the highest risk when contracting COVID-19.

"It's important to remember that this disease can be caught by anyone, of any age. But, if you are an older person and you catch this disease you are likely to become much sicker and may possibly even die. That's a terrible thing to think about," Brake said.

"We as seniors have to self-isolate, we have to keep ourselves away from other people, and also the rest of the population must distance ourselves from us."

Brake recommended a new phone line or email for seniors who are without support from friends or family to assist them with daily needs such as groceries, medication or mail. 

For families looking to remove their senior relatives from long-term care homes for the duration of the pandemic. Brake said there are pros and cons in doing so, and families should be prepared to be able to provide for seniors with high needs.

"They need to recognize the fact that once they are at home they probably will need home support services and we will need to explore and look at that," she said.

"There are certain types of care and needs that need to be met if you're going to be living at home, and often equipment as well.… I think it's up to the family to talk that through with the long-term care facility and the health-care system."

Long-term care staffing

When asked on Thursday if long-term care homes will have enough staff to deal with a surge in COVID-19 cases, Haggie said it shouldn't be an issue.

"The regional health authorities advise me that they are not aware of any local area of staffing shortage within those facilities," he said.

"Should that situation change then we have access to casual and float staff again on the caveat that they work in one location rather than across sites."

Suzanne Brake, Newfoundland and Labrador's seniors' advocate, made a recommendation to the province for a new phone line or email for seniors to get assistance with daily needs such as groceries, medication or mail.  (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

What's more, Haggie said government has approached and gotten regulatory approval through each of the province's licensing bodies so it can recruit and relicense licensed practical nurses, personal care attendants and registered nurses in a surge situation. That can happen rapidly, Haggie said, even by phone.

"So we've got a tiered response and we don't have any information at the moment that there is a staffing problem in those areas," he said.

Health services still available

While COVID-19 is at the forefront for most health-care services right now, Haggie said other health needs are not being marginalized. The health minister said doctors in every regional authority can be contacted directly or indirectly, and are available for consultation either through virtual care or face to face.

Haggie also said the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador has been encouraging doctors to remain accessible to regular patients.

"My office informs me we have over well 650 physicians and nurse practitioners who signed up for that virtual care option," he said. 

Elective and non-priority surgeries were among some the first things government halted when COVID-19 appeared in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

When asked on Thursday why those procedures can't continue, in light of the virus surge not yet presenting itself, Haggie said the challenge remains in making sure there is enough space in hospitals when the surge does come. 

"It took well over two weeks to start to empty out the acute beds from people who had been in for elective procedures," he said.

"We know from elsewhere that we're within three or four weeks of a peak coming. Given that, it might be very difficult to then deal with a group of people who you brought in on a planned basis but now have to get out quickly on an unplanned basis."

Read more stories from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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