Cluster grows to five cases

·3 min read

For the second day in a row, Newfoundland and Labrador has reported four new cases of COVID-19, one of them being linked to a cluster of unknown origin in the Eastern Health region.

That one case brings the total in the cluster to five, along with one suspected case associated with a daycare centre in the region. A suspected case means someone has exhibited symptoms, but has not tested positive for the coronavirus. That case is still treated like the others.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said in a video update Friday the cases are all close contacts of each other.

“The situation really speaks to the importance of keeping your close contacts to 20 or less,” Fitzgerald said, adding that 160 people are now in quarantine after being traced as possible contacts by Public Health staff.

She said more uptake of smartphone software that alerts users of possible exposure would be a big help.

“If everyone had the COVID Alert app, this would make the load much lighter for Public Health,” she said. “Contact tracing alone can quickly overwhelm Public Health resources with such high numbers of contacts. Please, if you do not have the app, I strongly encourage you to download it so you can be alerted if you are a close contact of a COVID case.”

Fitzgerald defended her office’s decision not to go public with specific locations where contacts may have occurred. That includes not naming the daycare centre, where one cohort of children was sent home to quarantine as a precaution.

“If we feel there is a need from a public protection point of view to announce a place where we feel people have been and they need to be tested, we’ll certainly do that,” she said. “We are constantly trying to balance privacy with public health and safety.”

She said the Department of Health does issue alerts for specific flights if it feels there’s any risk, and has on occasion warned of possible exposures in specific places of business.

“Right now, our investigations haven’t brought us to a place where we feel we need to make those kinds of declarations.”

Fitzgerald said contact tracers use a number of criteria, the main one being timing.

“If somebody was in a place five days before they became symptomatic, they’re not infectious, so that’s not a risk,” she said.

If it’s possible they were infectious, they judge how long the person was in a place, whether they were wearing a mask and how close they were to other people.

Each situation is different, she said.

Meanwhile, two of Thursday’s other positive cases, one in Eastern and one in Central, were related to travel.

The fourth, in Central, is related to the situation last week with the Marine Atlantic ferry MV Blue Puttees. A crewmember tested positive, causing the company to halt the Port au Basques to North Sydney, N.S., run for 24 hours while another ferry was commissioned to replace it temporarily.

The Blue Puttees is back on the crossing again.

Fitzgerald is still advising anyone who travelled on the ferry between Dec. 29 and Jan. 16 to call 811 to arrange testing.

Marine Atlantic confirmed last week that a second positive case reported in Central Newfoundland was another employee, and Fitzgerald confirmed Friday that the new case is a close contact of that person.

The total active cases of COVID-19 in the province now stands at 13.

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram