Travel-related COVID cases unavoidable but no cause for panic, says MD

·3 min read
Dr. Catherine Donovan, who taught clinical public health at Memorial University, says new cases are unlikely to turn into outbreaks, thanks to health measures like physical distancing and a health system that can test and trace new cases quickly. (Mike Simms/CBC - image credit)
Dr. Catherine Donovan, who taught clinical public health at Memorial University, says new cases are unlikely to turn into outbreaks, thanks to health measures like physical distancing and a health system that can test and trace new cases quickly. (Mike Simms/CBC - image credit)
Dr. Catherine Donovan, who taught clinical public health at Memorial University, says new cases are unlikely to turn into outbreaks, thanks to health measures like physical distancing and a health system that can test and trace new cases quickly.
Dr. Catherine Donovan, who taught clinical public health at Memorial University, says new cases are unlikely to turn into outbreaks, thanks to health measures like physical distancing and a health system that can test and trace new cases quickly.(Mike Simms/CBC)

While Newfoundland and Labrador's COVID-19 cases have been creeping up in recent weeks, a former Eastern Health medical officer says residents should continue to follow public health guidelines and not overreact.

Dr. Catherine Donovan told CBC's St. John's Morning Show on Tuesday that the virus has been contained since the last lockdown, and with everyone's effort it can stay that way.

"Being particularly vigilant about the public health guidelines, keeping our contacts small, keeping our distances in public places, wearing our masks, washing our hands — all of the standard things," she said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the province had 56 active cases — more than double the 27 active cases in the province two weeks ago — nearly all of them connected to travel.

"We certainly should be concerned," said Donovan. "Every case is an opportunity where we can have spread."

We don't want people to think about relaxing anything until at least they have had two doses. - Dr. Catherine Donovan

But, she said, the fact that these cases are being identified in the first place shows that the people who are coming into the province are following the guidelines and getting tested.

"We know about them and we can make sure that they have all the information they need to protect themselves and others."

For the province's economic health, said Donovan, allowing some travellers — including essential and rotational workers — into Newfoundland and Labrador is unavoidable.

"The people that are coming here — the essential workers — they are all critical to our economy, and there's no way that we can completely shut down travel."

Before any relaxing of restrictions, Donovan says, the province will need to be fully vaccinated.
Before any relaxing of restrictions, Donovan says, the province will need to be fully vaccinated. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Given the rise in cases in other parts of the country however, Donovan said that everyone will need to do their part in order to ensure that people is protected; and that means continuing to follow public health measures.

Not the time to relax

While vaccination efforts are ongoing across the province, Donovan cautioned that coronavirus variant seem to be affecting a younger group of people.

"We seem to be moving quite quickly through the vaccine program, and certainly essential workers and rotational workers have the option to be vaccinated," she said.

"[But] there's increasing evidence that the new variants are having an impact on a younger population.… We're all susceptible to this disease and all of us need to take the necessary precautions."

While vaccinations may be the light at the end of the tunnel for residents eager for a return to normalcy, from a public health perspective, Donovan doesn't want to see anything relaxed until everyone is fully vaccinated.

"The first dose has been shown to be very good at protecting people. The lowest [effectiveness] I've seen is 65 per cent, but some evidence suggests that it's 70, 80, even 90 per cent effective within a couple of weeks of receiving the vaccine," she said.

"But we don't want people to think about relaxing anything until at least they have had two doses."

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