A rule is nothing without exceptions, and Thursday’s COVID-19 briefing in St. John’s managed to prove the point.
On Thursday, Health Minister Dr. John Haggie could not confirm whether essential workers who travel to the province from outside Canada are subject to stricter provincial rules than the federal Quarantine Act travel exemptions dictate.
The federal act classifies certain international workers as essential, meaning they have to wear masks in public, but do not have to isolate at home or work.
The minister has said previously that international workers do not qualify for a shortened isolation period brought in early in the month because they fall outside provincial jurisdiction.
But Haggie did admit Thursday some of these workers do not have to self-isolate like rotational workers do.
Asked about employees on Great Lake freighters, the minister said closed vessels, where no one leave or boards the ship other than a harbour pilot, present a different case.
“If you are on a closed vessel and you depart and return to a port within the Atlantic bubble, there is no requirement for you to self-isolate,” Haggie said.
The same doesn’t apply to anyone who disembarks from a vessel at, for example, a U.S. port and flies home on a commercial airline. They are treated as rotational workers.
Asked about confusion expressed by international workers, Haggie said the closed vessel policy is not new.
“The information that I have is that that’s been there for a little while, so I’m looking into how those dates match up,” he said.
Meanwhile, the minister said the department has given Eastern Health benchmarks for phone line wait times and testing turnover.
The health authority is required to answer calls within 30 minutes, and to conduct and report test results in no less than 48 hours.
Some rotational workers have expressed frustration at the length of time they have to wait on the line, but Haggie said at last report, the average wait time was four minutes.
He said he’s received no reports of delays at the three other provincial health authorities.
Both Haggie and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitgerald re-emphasized the importance of getting influenza vaccinations this year, and the minister said in advance of the public clinics being established in late October, public-health nurses will go into care homes and schools.
"We will be offering it in schools, and in actual fact we’d like to try, if we can, to make the school vaccinations family events for a better uptake,” Haggie said.
Fitzgerald said as the cold weather starts to keep people inside more, contagious diseases like the flu will be more of a concern.
In February and March, the province experienced one of its worst flu seasons, which presented concerns for keeping hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients.
“This year will be more important than ever to get a flu shot. We need our health system to have the capacity to deal with the surge of COVID-19 cases, and keeping flu out of our communities is one of the most important ways to do so,” Fitzgerald said.
Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering health for The Telegram