44 new COVID-19 cases in N.L. as testing numbers hit new record
Province has 338 active cases as 3 more people have recovered
Newfoundland and Labrador has 44 new cases of COVID-19, all of which are under investigation, says the province's chief medical officer of health.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, at the Wednesday afternoon coronavirus briefing, said 42 of the new cases are in the Eastern Health region, and 14 of them are people under 20 years old.
The other two cases are in the Central Health region and are contacts of previous cases in the region, according to the Department of Health.
Fitzgerald said there are also 21 new presumptive positive cases in Eastern Health, while 10 of Wednesday's confirmed cases were previously presumptive cases. Presumptive cases are not included in the daily total of confirmed cases, or the total active caseload, until they are confirmed, but are treated the same as confirmed cases by public health officials, said Fitzgerald. There are 57 presumptive positive cases waiting for confirmation.
"As soon as we have a presumptive positive these individuals are contacted by public health and advised to self-isolate," Fitzgerald said.
"Anyone considered a close contact is advised to quarantine and contact tracing by public health begins."
The Department of Health also announced three new recoveries: two in Eastern Health and one in Western Health. The province's active caseload is now 338, a new high.
A total of 2,573 people — a new record, breaking one set just the day before, by 503 people — have been tested since Tuesday. A total of 97,517 people have now been tested since March.
One person is in hospital.
Watch the full Feb. 17 update:
It may take 72 hours or more for test results to be available, said Fitzgerald, and the fastest way to access results is to check the Department of Health's website with an MCP card. People who test positive via a rapid test will be notified by phone, while negative test results will go to the public health lab for confirmation before the results are posted on the government's website.
Health Minister John Haggie said Eastern Health and public health staff have successfully cleared a testing backlog of "several thousand" to zero as of Wednesday. As of Tuesday night, he said, the number of people waiting for a test across the entire metro area was down to 182 and the wait time for test results should begin to fall.
"They can only be congratulated for achieving that," he said.
The health department is also advising rotational workers about a COVID-19 outbreak at the Shell Gold Creek 44 worksite in Alberta.
In a media release the department said it was notified about the outbreak by the Public Health Agency of Canada as people from Newfoundland and Labrador work at the mine.
Rotational workers from this worksite who have returned to Newfoundland and Labrador in the last 14 days must self-isolate, physically distance away from household members and complete the online self-assessment tool or call 811 to arrange testing. These workers must also complete the full 14-day self-isolation period.
Don't gather: Fitzgerald
The fluctuating numbers in new cases — just seven new confirmed cases were announced Tuesday, along with 25 presumptive cases — is expected, Fitzgerald said, as thousands of people have come forward for testing.
Fitzgerald said the B117 variant can transfer from person to person through brief close contact in less than 15 minutes.
"This means we will find more close contacts for each positive case," she said.
"Remember that these new cases are a result of interactions as long as two weeks ago. This means our behaviour now will determine how well we fare in the weeks to come."
Fitzgerald said neither indoor nor outdoor informal gatherings should take place because of how quickly the B117 variant can spread.
"Remember, these restrictions are not forever. The faster we can contain this outbreak the faster we can ease restrictions," she said.
Testing ramps up across province
Thousands of people are still getting tested and awaiting results, following the outbreak of the B117 variant, which has proved to be more easily transmissable. While the majority of cases have been found in the metro St. John's area, Fitzgerald said it has likely spread to other regions.
Confirmation of the variant prompted Fitzgerald to move the province back into Alert Level 5 — the highest level in the province's phased system of restrictions — in an effort to curb a spiking number of cases and community transmission.
On Wednesday, Central Health opened a rapid antigen testing clinic in Grand Falls-Windsor for asymptomatic residents who have travelled from the region to the St. John's metro area since Feb. 1, as well as anyone who works at or attends Sprucewood Academy, Exploits Valley High, or Exploits Valley Intermediate.
"This type of testing can help us detect COVID-19 in people who do not have symptoms and limit the potential spread of the virus," Central Health said in a release.
Watch the interview with Dr. Monika Dutt:
Labrador-Grenfell Health also brought in testing clinics in three communities on Wednesday and Thursday, encouraging any resident who has travelled from the region to the metro area recently to get tested for COVID-19.
Fitzgerald said rapid testing is being used in the metro area to find cases as quickly as possible. They help identify a positive case within a half-hour or so, she added.
The idea is to use rapid test kits to screen for positive cases, which allows public health to quickly contain contacts of that case. The rapid test result is then followed by a PCR test at the province's public health lab to confirm the result, whether it's positive or negative.
But, Fitzgerald said, there is a higher false negative rate with the test.
"We do recognize that we will not be catching every positive with these tests, but we are catching probably two-thirds of them," she said.
"So that's good, we're catching them quickly. We're having people still isolate until they get a negative result back from a PCR test, which is done at a lab. But those that are positive we're able to start contact tracing on very quickly and try to break those chains of transmission as quickly as we can."
Fitzgerald said there's no additional risk since people who receive a negative result from a rapid test still have to self-isolate until their result is confirmed by a PCR test.