Newfoundland and Labrador has recorded 14 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, with one of those in the Labrador-Grenfell Health Region.
That case is related to international travel, said Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the chief medical officer of health, in a Monday briefing.
There are 407 active cases, with no new or outstanding speculative cases, a decline for Sunday’s active caseload of 430.
Five people were hospitalized, a rise of two since Sunday, and the highest total since late April, whereas 37 persons have recovered since Sunday’s briefing.
“We are beginning to see an encouraging trend,” said Fitzgerald, with more recoveries than new infections. “I am cautiously optimistic that we are making progress but we are by no means out of the woods.… Our ability to see this through will depend on our continued patience and dedication.”
Infections are additionally beginning to skew the elderly, she said, with fewer teenagers catching the virus and additional cases emerging in middle-aged persons.
The province is on Day 10 of strict Alert Level 5 restrictions, which shut down schools and non-essential businesses and reduced contact outside households.
First case in Labrador-Grenfell in months
Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s town council demanded point-of-entry quick testing for all travel into Labrador on Monday, following a reported presumptive positive case in the region over the weekend.
In a press release, the Department of Health said this case is a case of a military person and has been in self-isolation since arrival.
Monday’s briefing confirmed a case in the Labrador-Grenfell region, which surrounds all of Labrador and the northern part of Newfoundland. It’s the first confirmed infection in the region for months, after panic hit the north coast this past week when a presumptive positive case was reported in the isolated community of Makkovik.
The town council submitted its letter asking point-of-entry testing to Fitzgerald on Monday, as per the town.
“Happy Valley-Goose Bay is known to be the hub of Labrador. Anyone traveling from the Island of Newfoundland and beyond coming to Labrador will ultimately enter via our community,” reads the letter.
In its letter, the town council says that whereas the result of a point-of-entry quick test would be presumptive, and therefore, would need to be confirmed in a lab, “it would still be beneficial in preventing the spread of COVID-19.”
Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Wally Andersen said whereas the COVID-19 case count for Labrador has been quite low, point-of-entry testing is “the safest way we can protect our communities.”
“With all that’s going on … we feel it would serve a great purpose for people here in Labrador,” Andersen told CBC News.
He also praised Labrador-Grenfell Health officials as well as the contact tracing efforts.
“We would rather see a test come back false rather than a case fall through our hands … that no one knows about and then have to deal with an outbreak,” Andersen added.
The area wants the testing at the following places:
St. John’s International Airport. Gander International Airport. Deer Lake Regional Airport. The Quebec-Labrador border in Lab West. The Strait of Belle Isle ferry.
The PCs and NDP have many a times said that point-of-entry testing should be enforced in the province.
However, Fitzgerald has frequently said point-of-entry testing is not the best use of testing resources, adding again on Monday that the province saves rapid tests for those with a greater risk of having COVID than the general population.
Furey agrees with the idea.
“The point-of-entry [test], we’re concerned, may cause a false sense of security, and, therefore, cause extra disease spread, which wasn’t really reflected in the McMaster study to date,” he said in November.
However, Fitzgerald said public health has not ruled out the idea.
“We will make some recommendations about that,” she said. “The variants are a game-changer.”
Waiting on vaccine supply
Nova Scotia is readying for immunization of the elderly this week, and its government intends to mail letters to those aged 80+ to inform them about vaccine clinics.
Haggie said there are also such plans in Newfoundland and Labrador, however, time is not yet right.
“There are arrangements to do that,” Haggie said, but indicated the vaccine supply isn’t yet stable enough to start booking appointments for the general public. “If we go out tomorrow and say, ‘Here’s how you schedule your vaccination,’ and we don’t have the vaccine for another three or four weeks, the challenge there is around people saying, ‘Well, you’ve forgotten about me,'” Haggie said. “It’s unfair to raise those expectations until we know for sure.”
Haggie added that he was told Monday morning there are over 6,000 Pfizer-BioNTech doses shipped to the province. But, by Pfizer’s understanding, “until March rolls around, at the very earliest, they don’t see themselves making up the deficit from what they should have supplied,” Haggie added.
“I wait each week to see what the guaranteed tray number is for the next week.… Until we see the whites of the eyes of these vaccine trays, it’s difficult for me to give any kind of firm commitment.”
Dr. Haggie said the province gets a two-week notice ahead of its vaccine delivery, however, said the supply enters the region, he is confident of a swift and widespread immunization campaign.
“We’ve shown very clearly from our flu campaign that we can vaccinate 80,000 people a month, even in a pandemic,” he said. “We just do not have the [COVID-19] vaccine to give them.”
Testing and tracing
Last week, the number of daily COVID-19 tests were over 3,000 on three occasions, but Sunday’s total was 986. On Monday, the Department of Health said 1,037 individuals had been tested in the last 24 hours.
A genome sequencing lab within Newfoundland and Labrador that could help point which cases are caused by virus variants, which was planned to open last week, has been postponed until at least the end of February, Fitzgerald said.
Eastern Health continues to recommend more COVID-19 testing for the entire population in the Mount Pearl Senior High School community, regardless of whether they have previously returned negative results for the coronavirus or do not currently have symptoms.
The health authority said there are concerns there could be persons who went formerly undiagnosed or have developed symptoms since the first testing phase.
Fitzgerald said the second phase of tests has already found some asymptomatic cases. Her team is additionally considering widespread wastewater testing to track fluctuating levels of the coronavirus in communities.
Sewage testing is already underway in the metro areas, she claimed, and other parts of the province are set to follow suit, depending on the wastewater systems in utilization.
Fitzgerald added that sewage tracking will become incredibly useful as time goes on.
“We’ll see if it picks up signals in the future,” she said.