Happy Valley-Goose Bay residents were on high alert Thursday after a non-resident health care worker who recently arrived in the town may have visited local retail outlets before testing positive for COVID-19.
Health officials won’t confirm whether that’s the case, but alerts have been issued for anyone who was on either of two flights or in two stores in the town at a certain time last week to contact public health.
Labrador MP Yvonne Jones and others tweeted images of a long lineup at the drive-through testing site. Jones suggested it could be as much as two kilometres long.
Waylon Williams, a spokesman for the town, was in the lineup when contacted by The Telegram Thursday.
“The town is concerned, and will be arranging to have meetings with Labrador-Grenfell Health on a local level to discuss what may or may not have happened,” he said.
But the health authority said not everyone in that lineup was necessarily advised to get tested.
“There are many more people seeking testing that really need to, but that would be expected,” a spokesperson said when contacted.
Part of the reason is that the authority temporarily dropped its requirement that testing be done by appointment until Saturday, when residents will have to call 811 again to be assessed.
The positive case is a woman between 20-40 years old who apparently came from Saskatchewan to fill in for a staff position at the Labrador Health Centre, something that occurs regularly.
“As a health authority which serves a rural and remote population, Labrador-Grenfell Health relies on locum support of health professionals from outside our region,” the authority explained in a statement Wednesday.
“Sometimes those professionals come from outside of the province. Labrador-Grenfell Health follows guidelines outlined by the Department of Health and Community Services and the chief medical officer of health around essential healthcare workers to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This process has been successful, and we continue to take great care in ensuring we protect the health and safety of our communities.”
The stores and times in question are the Terrington Co-op on Sept. 22 from 4:30-6:30 p.m., and The Bargain Store on Sept. 23 from 3:30-4 p.m.
Those familiar with the town say the Co-op would have been especially busy at that time of day. Happy Valley also serves as a shopping hub for the rest of Labrador.
On Thursday afternoon, store president George Andrews announced in a Facebook post the store would close at 6 p.m. to ensure staff had a chance to call 811 for instructions.
He also assured customers that strict cleaning protocols are in place and offered to crosscheck Co-op card numbers for anyone who may not be sure if they were in the store at the time specified in the alert.
“The safety of our customers and our staff is our top priority at this time,” he said.
The flights involved are Air Canada flights 7950 and 7484 departing Regina and Toronto for Deer Lake on Monday, Sept. 21, and PAL Airlines Flight 901 departing Deer Lake to Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Tuesday, Sept. 22. Other passengers on those flights are asked to call 811 to arrange for testing.
Anyone who stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Deer Lake on Monday, Sept. 21, should also call 811.
Finance Minister Siobhan Coady has been told to self-monitor for symptoms because she was at the hotel around that time.
At a news briefing in St. John’s Thursday, Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Rosann Seviour clarified that self-monitoring is not the same as self-isolating, in which a person is required to stay away from public spaces. She said the decision on whether a person is instructed to isolate or not is based on a variety of risk factors that depend on individual circumstances. That determination is made by public health.
Seviour is filling in for Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, who is on vacation.
The line up in @TownCentreHVGB for #COVID19 testing is about 2km long. A healthcare worker from Saskatchewan was given exception to travel to Labrador to work @LGHealthNL tested positive for COVId19 #contacttracing and testing is on the way. @VOCMNEWS @evancareen @LabradorWatch pic.twitter.com/ctJJjJeRz5
— Yvonne Jones (@YvonneJJones) October 1, 2020
During the briefing, Health Minister John Haggie would not confirm whether the health worker who tested positive actually visited the stores in question and said an investigation into the matter is continuing. Pandemic health orders dictate that essential workers who enter the province can begin work right away but must self-isolate when not at work or travelling to and from work.
He said Labrador clinics have a preliminary process to get immediate test results before sending them to St. John’s for confirmation. As of Thursday morning, no other positive results had been found.
To make sure those who should be tested get tested promptly, the minister advised anyone who does not meet the stated criteria to stay away from the drive-through station.
“Don’t sit in the queue. Go home.”
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for Labrador-Grenfell Health emphasized that even though the worker may have been in contact with others at the hospital, strict protocols make it unlikely any spread occurred. All health care workers wear personal protective equipment on the job.
“Considering we already have our COVID restrictions in place in terms of designated visitors and appointment-based services and things like that —and social distancing and masks, hand sanitizer available, hand-washing, those measures — there’s no additional measures to be taken at the hospital,” the spokesperson said.
Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering health care for The Telegram.