Thousands of residents in Newfoundland and Labrador who have been waiting a week or more for COVID-19 test results finally have an explanation for the delay.
More than 6,600 tests were sent out of the province to be processed from Dec. 29 to Jan. 6, and Public Health only received a bunch of them back Sunday, Jan. 9.
Results of the remaining 2,930 swabs are expected within the next 48 hours, Health Minister Dr. John Haggie said in a briefing Monday afternoon.
Haggie — who is back in action after recovering from a bout of COVID-19 — couldn’t explain the delay, but did say it’s not the first time the province sent tests elsewhere when the local laboratory became overwhelmed.
“We were seeing increasing case counts. We had very broad testing criteria, and our capacity to deliver on those tests in-house was exceeded,” he said.
“Obviously, I apologize to those people for whom it has been an excessive delay.”
The test results have added 680 new cases to the books, but the minister emphasized the number is historical and not current.
Monday’s daily count was 455 new cases.
Two more people — men over the age of 70 in the Eastern Region — have died of COVID-19 since the last reported tally, for a total of 23 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
Haggie said the province does not normally provide details on COVID-19-related deaths, but did confirm it’s his understanding the two men who died were hospitalized at the time.
There are now four people hospitalized, down from six on the weekend.
The minister said hospitalization should be considered the key metric to watch as the province moves from a pandemic to endemic stage of the disease.
An endemic is a state in which the virus is circulating but not causing major disruptions to the health-care system, as is the case with the flu and other respiratory viruses.
He said positivity rates — the ratio of positive cases per number of tests conducted — are deceiving because the province is using different criteria now.
“Because we are focusing on high-risk groups, it will have a tendency to skew the data, and some of the other indicators that we’ve looked at such as per cent positivity rates and these kinds of things, on their own, will be subject to some error because of that.”
In fact, the province won’t even release positivity figures, despite being asked for them by media.
“The daily positivity rate fluctuates because it has depended very much on where the testing clinics were and whether people were prepared to travel to go to them, because that has been a factor,” he said.
On Jan. 6, the province decided to no longer test close contacts of cases who were symptomatic. Instead, those people are to assume they are infected.
As well, some positive rapid antigen test results are being taken as final without being confirmed through a lab test.
“Now it’s not going to be population-base representative because we are focusing our testing solely on high-risk individuals, so that (positivity) rate will climb,” Haggie said. “I think to focus on any one particular number always has significant drawbacks. Even my focus on hospital admissions, one could argue that that ignores the toll of sick time and isolation and these kinds of things.”
Haggie also offered some notes Monday about vaccine delivery, based on queries the department has been getting.
• People looking for first or second vaccine shots can get them at booster clinics. They should make sure to let the administrator know it’s not a booster, as the dose is different.
• Boosters are not currently recommended for those under 18 years of age.
• Children who turn 12 between first and second doses can avail of the adult dose for their second shot.
• Plans are being developed by health authorities for home visits, and also curbside vaccinations. The latter is already available at Waterford Valley High School in St. John’s.
Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram