5 straight days of no new cases of COVID-19 in N.L.
Earliest any restrictions would be lifted is early May, says John Haggie
Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, marking five straight days without an increase in the province's total caseload — after Saturday's lone positive case turned out to actually be negative.
The province's total number of cases dropped by one on Wednesday, to 256. A clerical error at the provincial microbiology laboratory resulted in a case being announced by mistake Saturday, the only one reported that day. That case has now been removed.
As of Wednesday, 199 people have recovered.
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"When the time comes to loosen some public health measures it will take place slowly, and deliberately and with careful evaluation," said Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health.
"Our public health officials are actively investigating how best to relax some of our public health measures.… We are trying to achieve a balance between protecting the public and giving back some of the freedom that we have all temporarily lost due to COVID-19. We want to get this right."
Six people remain in hospital, with two in intensive-care. The province has tested 6,662 people — 231 in the last 24 hours.
Fitzgerald said the province has become aware of an outbreak of the virus in Kearl Lake, Alta., where many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians work. Fitzgerald issued an order on Wednesday that anyone returning to the province from Kearl Lake as of March 29 must self-isolate for 14 days.
Health Minister John Haggie said as things begin to look better for the province, some public health orders may get tighter as Newfoundland and Labrador plans to adapt to a new future.
"I'm reluctant to use the word 'normal,' because no one, I think, who has experience before the pandemic would regard where we're going to end up in the next little while as the normal that we're used to," he said. "It will be a slow process."
Among the last orders that would be lifted — when the province reaches that point — will be around travel, and the state of emergency itself, which has to be renewed every two weeks, Haggie added.
"It enabled us to act swiftly, it enabled us to quash this, and it enabled us to apply good, old-fashioned, shoe leather public health early on," he said.
However, Haggie said, the province may even to go backwards, and reinstate restrictions, if positive cases of the virus begin to flare up again.
Meanwhile, about 50 per cent of the province's acute-care beds have been freed up since the pandemic began. But Haggie said the province isn't quite ready to move on allowing elective surgeries or diagnostic procedures, such as X-rays. Elective surgeries would require those newly available hospital beds, and Haggie noted that with very little warning, the beds could be needed for COVID-19 patients.
The health minister said the province will look at other jurisdictions and modelling to inform its decision-making.
"This is where the flexibility and the maintenance of a state of emergency needs to come in," said Haggie. "Because we may get it wrong the first time, we may get it wrong the second time. But we need the ability to adapt."
A few provinces are gearing up to begin easing some restrictions, including Prince Edward Island. Its first move is begin allowing for elective surgeries again. Haggie said that could be a place to start for Newfoundland and Labrador.
"The question is to how and to what degree we do that," he said.
TESTING: How does Newfoundland and Labrador compare with other provinces and territories for testing, including by capita? Toggle through this interactive to see:
Fitzgerald said under the public has proven itself to be compliant with the restrictions in place, and is confident people understand the importance of continuing to follow the guidelines.
"I have great faith that they will continue to do so," she said.
Fitzgerald said the last several days have been reassuring. As testing criteria have broadened and more samples are moving through the laboratory at Eastern Health, Fitzgerald said it could mean there isn't a lot of the virus circulating within the community.
"However, I say that with a caveat that we don't know that. There have been studies done that have shown that up to 30 per cent of people that didn't know they had the virus had it," she said.
"So we still do need to be careful. Just because people are not presenting for testing does not mean that the virus is not circulating in the community."
On Wednesday government also announced it will be tightening up restrictions on entry points into the province after an incident in which airline passengers were able to walk through St. John's International Airport without being met by health-care officials, after landing in the city. Haggie said there was a communication breakdown between the airport authorities and Eastern Health.
Royal Newfoundland Constabulary cadets and Wildlife enforcement officials will be on location to ease some of the load shouldered by the RNC, Haggie said, and the same will be done at the Marine Atlantic terminal.
"If those measures do not work we will institute more on the advice of Dr. Fitzgerald," said Haggie.
Rate of spread since Caul's
When COVID-19 cases in Newfoundland and Labrador were spiking due to a cluster from a wake at Caul's Funeral Home, the province's reproductive rate of the virus was quite high, Fitzgerald said. As of Wednesday, Fitzgerald said the rate had dropped to about 0.4 per cent.
The RT represents the reproductive rate for one point in time, while the "R-naught" (R0) — how many people on average one person infected — will only be fully known at the end of the epidemic.
"When an R-naught or RT ... is less than one, that means that if a person is infected they pass it on to less than one other person," said Fitzgerald.
"So that bodes very well for for disease control. If the R-naught is more than one, or the RT is more than one, then you know things can get out of control if we if we don't put measures in place to control it."
- A previous version of this story stated that the clerical error relating to a positive test, which ended up being negative, happened at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. In fact, it happened at the provincial lab.Apr 22, 2020 5:20 PM NT