Newfoundland and Labrador reports seven new COVID-19 infections, 21 presumptive cases

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador reported seven new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and warned that the province's daily case count would likely rise because of increased use of rapid testing.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said there were 21 presumptive but unconfirmed positive cases as a result of rapid testing, mainly from the St. John's area, where a COVID-19 outbreak led authorities to impose a provincewide lockdown Friday.

Six of the new cases reported Monday were in the eastern health region, while a travel-related case was identified in the western zone. Newfoundland and Labrador reported 37 cases over the weekend and has 298 active reported infections — a significant jump from the six active cases it had reported only two weeks ago.

"Please do not read into these case counts," Fitzgerald told reporters. "It is not the cases we know of that are concerning but the cases that we don't know about." Health officials have identified more unlinked chains of transmission, she said, meaning that "COVID is among us and we need to be vigilant."

She said the province is increasing its testing and contact tracing capacity.

Health Minister John Haggie also warned residents against underestimating the current threat, adding that cases have been identified in all provincial health regions.

"The numbers of confirmed cases may look low," Haggie said Monday, "but based on how the rapid testing is performing it is highly likely that we will see from today at least 28 new confirmed cases."

Haggie said that as of Friday, the province had 130,000 rapid test kits, adding that new testing equipment at the provincial laboratory will give officials the ability to analyze 7,000 samples a day by the end of next week, up from 2,300 samples per day.

Fitzgerald said Friday that a variant of the virus first identified in the United Kingdom was behind the outbreak in the St. John's area but said it was unclear how widespread the mutation was in the province.

She said on Monday the rapid increase in infections in the province is a testament to the "efficiency" of the variant. "It doesn't matter how low your case count is today because tomorrow could be a very different story," she said. "This virus has to be taken seriously."

— By Keith Doucette in Halifax.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2021.

The Canadian Press