Nfld. & Labrador

Fitzgerald defends changes to COVID-19 testing eligibility

Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health says changes to COVID-19 testing eligibility requirements were made to focus on preventing spread among the most vulnerable populations.

Chief medical officer of health says changes made to focus on preventing spread among vulnerable populations

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said this week's changes to eligibility for COVID-19 testing were made to help the health-care system return to normal. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health says changes to COVID-19 testing eligibility requirements were made to focus on preventing spread among the most vulnerable populations.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said Friday the health-care system needs to return to normal.

"Regional health authority staff have been redeployed to COVID booking and swabbing for two years now. It's important to get more of these staff back to their normal duties," she said.

"It's natural for people to want to know that the symptoms they're experiencing is due to COVID-19. But it's important to realize that for those who are not in the vulnerable categories, COVID will likely be a mild illness that will pass quickly."

The province's Department of Health announced changes to eligibility for PCR testing Thursday, limiting the availability to the province's most vulnerable populations, people with symptoms who are at increased risk, or people who are essential to keeping the health-care system working.

The list of who's eligible now includes the immunocompromised, people age 60 or older, children under two, First Nations, Inuit or Métis people over 18, front-line health-care workers, pregnant women, anyone working in a long-term or personal-care home or correctional centre, and anyone living in or working in a shelter, transition house or temporary foreign worker setting.

Fitzgerald said the move was also made to ensure the province's medical testing labs have enough capacity to deal with more tests being done in the health-care system.

PCR testing is still available for some household and non-household contacts of a positive case, she added, but only if they can't access a rapid antigen test.

Since Wednesday, Newfoundland and Labrador has reported 663 new cases of COVID-19 and three more deaths due to the coronavirus. (Marta Lavandier/The Associated Press)

Asked if there are plans to make rapid tests more publicly available, Fitzgerald said the government is trying to make sure their supply is used as best as possible.

"We do have to be careful, so making it widely available and what other jurisdictions have found, it's just open and available, is that the tests get depleted very quickly and they're not being used necessarily in the most effective way possible," she said.

Fitzgerald said the provincial government has allotted each student in the province an additional 10 rapid tests to use over the school year, which can be shared with family, friends and neighbours if needed.

On Friday, the Health Department reported 663 new cases of the virus since Wednesday, and three new deaths. A total of 85 people have now died as a result of the virus in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Twenty-seven people are hospitalized due to COVID-19, unchanged from Wednesday, with three people in intensive care.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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