WATCH: N.L. sees 21st COVID-19 death, as Fitzgerald announces isolation period changes

·4 min read
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says Omicron variant evidence shows that it's safe to reduce isolation requirements.  (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - image credit)
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says Omicron variant evidence shows that it's safe to reduce isolation requirements. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - image credit)

Another person has died of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador — the province's 21st death from the virus.

Public Health says a woman in her 60s in the Central Health region has died.

In a release Friday, Public Health also said four people are in hospital due to the virus, the same as Thursday.

A total of 3,835 tests have been done in the past 24 hours, for a positivity rate of 12.5 per cent.

With 480 new cases and 168 recoveries reported Friday, there are now 4,370 known active cases in the province.

Of the new cases, 209 are in the Eastern Health region, 81 are in Central Health, 99 are in Western Health and 85 are in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region. Six cases are the result of testing in private labs.

The number of confirmed cases may not represent the true spread of the virus, however, as the Department of Health has advised anyone who is a close contact of a case and has symptoms to assume they are positive for COVID-19.

Changes to isolation

People in Newfoundland and Labrador who have COVID-19 — or are a close contact of someone with the virus — will soon have to spend less time in isolation.

As of midnight, those who are fully vaccinated and have tested positive for COVID-19, or are showing symptoms after being in close contact with someone who has tested positive, will now have to self-isolate for seven days instead of 10.

Fully vaccinated close contacts of someone with COVID-19 who don't have symptoms will have to self-isolate for five days if they are able to isolate themselves from the case and non-household contacts, and seven days if they cannot.

Those times are down from seven and 10 days, respectively.

Unvaccinated household contacts of someone with the virus will have to self-isolate for 10 days, whether they isolate themselves from the case or not.

"We've looked closely at the evidence around Omicron, and we know it has a shorter incubation period and perhaps infectious period than the variants that have come before it," Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said during a briefing Friday.

Fitzgerald said evidence also shows those who are fully vaccinated shed the virus for less time. The new isolation timelines also apply to those already in isolation, she said.

The number of health-care workers in isolation also played a role in the decision to shorten isolation times, said Fitzgerald.

"There's no doubt this had a major impact on the provision of essential services, and we do have to keep that in mind as well and take that into consideration when we're making these kinds of decisions, as everywhere else has had to," Fitzgerald said.

Changes to testing

Public Health also made changes to testing protocols Friday.

Anyone who receives a positive result on a rapid test, including travellers, should consider that confirmation that they have a COVID-19 infection and not make an appointment for a PCR test.

Those who test positive with a rapid test should still self-isolate and contact notification procedures.

Some essential workers, like health-care workers, first responders, early childhood educators and those working with vulnerable populations should still get a PCR test, however.

But Fitzgerald said due to the testing backlog, don't expect a call from Public Health if you test positive on a PCR test.

Alexandre Silberman/CBC
Alexandre Silberman/CBC

Fitzgerald if someone has symptoms of COVID-19 and tests negative with a rapid test, they shouldn't assume it's truly a negative result but should also get a PCR test. Multiple negative results over an extended period — as is done with travellers arriving in the province — are more reliable.

"You can't assume from a single negative rapid antigen test that it's not COVID, because there can be somewhat of a delay in the rapid test turning positive after you develop COVID," she said.

"If you have a positive test, we feel much more comfortable that that is indeed a true positive; the test just behaves better in that regard."

She said the decision to change isolation and testing requirements was a difficult one.

"We have always had a careful balance to achieve, controlling the spread of COVID while minimizing impacts to the health and well-being of the population, and that balance has never been more delicate than it is now," said Fitzgerald.

"These are not easy decisions, and every change has a reverberating impact somewhere for someone."

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