Nfld. & Labrador

2 new cases of COVID-19 in N.L., bringing total to 261

The number of active COVID-19 cases in the province rises to 14, the first increase in just over a month.

Number of active cases rises to 14, first increase in just over a month

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said Thursday there are two new positive cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Newfoundland and Labrador reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, snapping a five-day streak with no new instances.

The new cases are located in the Eastern Health region of the province, moving the total caseload to 261. There have been 244 recoveries, but none since Wednesday's update. With three deaths, that means the province's active caseload rises to 14, the first increase since April 6.

"Ebbs and flows in the number of new cases is not unexpected, especially as we begin to gradually lift some of the public health measures we've had in place for a while," said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald at Thursday's daily COVID-19 briefing.

"If anything it serves as an important reminder that we must not become complacent."

Watch the full May 7 update:

One of the new cases is related to the April outbreak at the Kearl Lake oilsands project in Alberta. The other new case is not believed to be related to the recent situation at Eastern Health, Fitzgerald said.

The province has tested 162 people for the virus since Wednesday's update, a total of 9,458 since testing began. 

Fitzgerald said workers returning to Newfoundland and Labrador from the Horizon work site, where there has been a COVID-19 outbreak, in northern Alberta since April 12 must self-isolate and contact 811 immediately. They will be referred for testing by public health officials, whether they are symptomatic or not. Workers who test negative are to remain in self-isolation for 14 days. 

Since Monday's ban on tourists and people deemed to be non-essential to the province began, applications for exemptions have been rolling in. As of 9 a.m. Thursday morning, Health Minister John Haggie said, there had been 1,336 applications. 

"The majority of these fall into categories of people relocating to the province or caregiver requests for people coming home to support loved ones with illness and in need of some help," Haggie said.

"We are ramping up our efforts to make sure these are done on a priority basis and are working through them." 

Health Minister John Haggie says there are 1,336 exemption applications as of Thursday morning from people hoping to enter the province under the government's travel ban.  (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador )

Surgical backlog

On Monday, the province's regional health authority can start to make its way through a backlog of about 5,500 elective procedures — an amended figure from the 6,000 Haggie announced Wednesday — but each will make its own announcement on how it intends to do so. 

The province shut down elective procedures to free up hospital bed space to be ready for a surge in COVID-19 cases. Haggie said acute-care beds in hospitals are 42 per cent available. The initial benchmark for resuming elective procedures was to have 50 per cent of hospital beds available.

Asked what the occupancy benchmark will now be, Haggie said the plan is to ensure the ability of health authorities to handle a potential surge of COVID-19 cases, including an adequate supply of personal protective equipment. 

Haggie said the first phase will be done in a way to limit demand on inpatient beds and minimize a large number of face-to-face interactions. Those changes will then be reassessed. 

"At some point we're going to have to continue to keep beds free, but whether that is 20 per cent of our capacity or 40 per cent of our capacity, the modelling and predictive analytics from Dr. [Proton] Rahman's group, that he gives us on a rolling 30-day cycle, those will help," he said. 

Haggie said the health-care system is still available for those with urgent needs.

Wage boost

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $4-billion deal with the territories and provinces to help boost the wages of essential workers. The federal government is contributing $3 billion while the provinces and territories make up the remainder 

The decision on who will qualify for wage top-ups is up to each individual province and territory.

Provinces such as Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan have already moved ahead with their plans for the money. Other provinces are in the process of confirming their plans, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau said. 

When asked who in Newfoundland and Labrador will be eligible for the wage top up, Premier Dwight Ball said there are a number of options the province is considering. 

"Who gets the plan, or the money, would be based on the hours that they could have worked as an example, but also there's a broad range of essential workers that have been designed by some federal initiatives, some federal programs. So these are the kinds of people that we would want to get included, and also we also know that there's been some decisions that have been made by governments where people can only work at one site, of course they would be included as well," Ball said.

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