N.L. reports 3 new COVID-19 cases as province investigates variants in western Newfoundland

·5 min read
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says social gatherings contributed to the spread of coronavirus variants in western Newfoundland.  (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - image credit)
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says social gatherings contributed to the spread of coronavirus variants in western Newfoundland. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - image credit)
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting three new cases of COVID-19 and 12 new recoveries Wednesday, leaving the province with 53 active cases.

One person is hospital due to the virus and 151,796 people have been tested to date, including 415 since Tuesday's update.

One of Wednesday's cases is in the Central Health region, a person under 20 years old, and is under investigation, according to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald.

The two other cases are in the Western Health region and were previously reported presumptive positive cases. Those cases are also under investigation, Fitzgerald said during Wednesday's COVID-19 briefing.

On Tuesday, the province recorded its seventh COVID-19-related death since the beginning of the pandemic. The deceased was a man over 70 in the Central Health region.

"I offer my sincerest sympathies to the friends and the family of the individual," said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald said more than 2,000 people volunteered for asymptomatic COVID-19 testing in the Western Health region as public health looks for the source of a cluster comprising 31 cases in the last two weeks. She said there are separate investigations ongoing in the region involving the B.1617 and B.1.1.7 variants of concern.

While some of the most recent cases of COVID-19 in the Stephenville area, as well as their source, are under investigation, Fitzgerald noted, most cases have been contacts of previous cases. Fitzgerald said there has not been widespread transmission within the community, or within the St. George's area.

"Information from community testing, as well as other aspects of the investigation, is being assessed to determine if further testing is needed," she said. "The region will therefore remain in Alert Level 4 for the time being, and we anticipate reevaluating this by the end of the week."

Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada
Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada

Social gatherings within the affected areas have contributed to the spread of the variants, said Fitzgerald, who reminded residents that under Alert Level 4 contacts should be limited to people in the same household.

Fitzgerald also said the public should assume a single symptom of COVID-19 could mean a person has the virus, regardless of where they are in the province. She said people should get tested even if it's a mild symptom.

"This is particularly important as we ease restrictions and permit more travellers to enter the province," she said. "An important part of living with COVID and easing restrictions is maintaining our ability to detect and maintain any new cases."

Wednesday's pandemic update comes the same day a middle school in Gander shut its doors for what St. Paul's Intermediate said were "operational reasons" stemming from the discovery of a case of COVID-19 connected to the school. In a letter, Central Health's medical officer of health said contact tracing is ongoing and affected individuals will be contacted directly.

Infections after vaccination

Fitzgerald said people still have to follow public health measures regardless of their vaccination stage. One dose offers good protection against severe illness, she said, but recent evidence suggests two doses offer better protection, particularly against the B.1617 variant.

A person is considered fully vaccinated one week after their second dose.

To date, 56 people in Newfoundland and Labrador have tested positive for COVID-19 after being vaccinated, Fitzgerald said. All but two were not fully protected because they were infected less than 14 days after receiving their first dose or less than a week after receiving a second dose.

"There have been two breakthrough infections post-vaccination in that they were more than one week after the second dose when infected," she said.

Only three of those cases were considered to have "severe disease," Fitzgerald added.

More than 323,000 people in N.L. have now received a first shot of vaccine, about 67 per cent of the eligible population. More than 17,000 are fully vaccinated, and Fitzgerald said the province anticipates that number to grow quickly in the coming months as second doses are now being provided sooner than initially planned. Fitzgerald said the province is on track to have given at least one dose to 75 per cent of the eligible population by July 1.

Figures tweeted by Health Minister John Haggie on Tuesday breaks down the population with at least one dose of vaccine by age as of Sunday:

  • 80 years old and older: 85.8 per cent.

  • 75-79 years old: 96 per cent.

  • 70-74 years old: 91.5 per cent.

  • 65-69 years old: 86 per cent.

  • 55-64 years old: 78.2 per cent.

  • 40-54 years old: 65.3 per cent.

  • 20-39 years old: 45.5 per cent.

  • 16-19 years old: 41.1 per cent.

  • 12-15 years old: 28.2 per cent.

"Making the choice to be vaccinated is critical to protect yourself, your family and your province. Every person vaccinated adds to that layer of protection and every dose counts," said Fitzgerald.

Alongside the investigations, provincial vaccination efforts are also expanding.

Labrador-Grenfell Health has announced it's speeding up second doses for certain groups, such as some rotational workers and people who were booked for a second shot between July 16 and Aug. 5.

Central Health is now offering Moderna vaccines at a number of pharmacies across its region, for people looking for a first or second dose of that vaccine.

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