Nfld. & Labrador

Despite call with Fitzgerald, Labrador Affairs minister won't say if point-of-entry testing is coming

The issue was discussed on a phone call with officials, says Lisa Dempster, who noted that it's up to the chief medical officer to implement it. However, it doesn't appear to be coming any time soon, with Dempster repeating Fiztgerald's reasons why it isn't currently in place.

Labrador affairs minister says it's up to chief medical officer of health

Minister of Labrador Affairs Lisa Dempster says Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald outlined the reasons why point-of-entry testing isn't being used in Labrador, during a meeting with regional leaders. (CBC)

Despite a push this week from municipal leaders in Labrador for point-of-entry COVID-19 testing to be done on anyone arriving in the region, mayors didn't get the answer they're looking for.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald met virtually with Labrador leaders and public health officials on Tuesday to discuss the idea, and according to Labrador Affairs Minister Lisa Dempster — who was in on the call — the meeting was positive, but she wouldn't say if a firm decision has been made. 

"She hears the concerns, she understands the uniqueness around Labrador," Dempster, also the incumbent Liberal candidate for Cartwright-L'anse au Clair, told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning on Wednesday.  

"She heard about concern in Nunatsiavut around snowmobile travel, some things around vaccine rollout, but basically at the end of her calls, and I've done a few with her now, she says, 'We'll take this back and we'll discuss it with the team.'" 

Point-of-entry testing in Newfoundland and Labrador has been a topic frequently raised by the provincial PCs and NDP. On Monday, Happy Valley-Goose Bay town council submitted a letter to Fitzgerald requesting point-of-entry testing after the first new COVID-19 case in the region since Oct. 31.

Dempster was asked multiple times if point-of-entry testing would be implemented for Labrador, but she said it's ultimately Fitzgerald's decision. Dempster did, however, outline Fitzgerald's reasons why point-of-entry testing isn't in place. 

Labrador leaders are asking for point-of-entry testing for anyone travelling to the region, after the first new case of COVID-19 in the region since Oct. 31. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"She took some time to talk about the rapid testing that we've been hearing much about these days, and how people who didn't have symptoms ended up with a false-negative but went on to have a positive when they were tested on the PCR [test] and the implications of that," Dempster said.

"Dr. Fitzgerald took the leaders through several questions to say, 'What would be the extra benefit over what is already in place? What will be the process for administration? Who would enforce the point-of-entry testing? What are the consequences if someone refuses point-of-entry testing, and will any travellers be exempt?'"

Fitzgerald also discussed how Newfoundland and Labrador's public health measures, said Dempster, and how those measures have helped keep COVID-19 largely contained. 

"She assured the leaders yesterday about some of the measures that Labrador-Grenfell Health has in place around increased testing but also decreasing the threshold. So if you have only one symptom you can now get tested," said Dempster. 

"She's been really clear from the beginning about the problems with point-of-entry testing. If it has a 35 per cent rate of false negatives, that means it misses a significant number of cases that later turn positive so it can create a false sense of security for people entering the province."

During Monday's COVID-19 briefing, however, Fitzgerald said she isn't ruling out point-of-entry testing, given the outbreak of the coronavirus variant B117 in the St. John's metro area. 

"We will make some recommendations about that," she said. "The variants are a game-changer."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Labrador Morning