Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Newfoundland and Labrador won’t release its own COVID-19 modelling, but do-it-yourselfers are welcome to have a go at the numbers.
Premier Dwight Ball unveiled a new tool Friday on gov.nl.ca/covid-19 that provides interactive data on positive cases so far in this province.
Several agencies contributed to the site, the premier said.
But he said the province is not ready to provide its own modelling as provinces such as British Columbia and Ontario have done. He and Health Minister John Haggie have repeatedly said it’s too early to do so.
“(A) model will help us in preparation, but it’s not going to prevent things from happening,” Ball said. “We can do that today with the tools that we have — and that, of course, is physical distancing and complying to the guidelines that the chief medical officer has put in place.”
With 12 new cases announced Friday, the provincial total now stands at 195. All but nine of those are in the Eastern Health region. The other regions of the province haven’t seen an increase in a week or more.
Eleven people are in hospital, including four in ICU, and 11 have recovered from the disease.
Who gets tested
Chief medical officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald fielded a number of questions Friday about testing criteria.
In particular, she admitted that not everyone who displays suspect symptoms is automatically tested. That depends on whether they’ve travelled or been in contact with other positive cases.
But Fitzgerald said contact tracing includes those who have been in contact with positive cases up to 48 hours before symptoms appeared.
“The evidence shows that in up to 90 per cent of cases, transmission occurs when a person is symptomatic,” she said. “While a viral infection like COVID-19 may be transmitted within 24-48 hours prior to the development of obvious symptoms, the most recent evidence suggests that this may account for about 10 per cent of cases.
“Some of the symptoms of COVID-19 can be mild, such as muscle aches and pains, and may not be recognized as the first signs of infection.”
To date, health workers have conducted 3,201 tests.
Fitzgerald said almost 1,000 people have securely obtained their test results online (gov.nl.ca/covid-19), which frees up more health staff to help with contact tracing.
But she pointed out only negative results are posted. Anyone with a positive result will be contacted personally for further instructions.
Ball had a stark message Friday for those who are sick of hearing his message to stay home.
“We will stop saying it when you start practising it,” he said.
He and Haggie said they are disheartened to see some people still congregating in groups around the province — especially young people who think they have nothing to fear.
“That attitude is irresponsible. That attitude towards others is ignorant,” he said. “And it is extremely disappointing.”
But youth aren’t the only ones. Haggie referenced a recent image he saw of seniors exercising together in close quarters.
“We can’t blame our younger people for behaviour they see from adults who should give them a better example,” he said.
Asked about in-province travel, Haggie said the guidelines are clear: essential travel only.
“So if you’re going to visit granny, is it essential that you do that now and could you do it some other way in terms of the social apps that we see that would allow connectivity?”
He noted that Google Mobility data suggests travel within the province is down at least 30 per cent in some areas.
Models, Haggie said, won’t help anyone in the long run.
“If we cannot delay the peak, it will arrive faster and higher than we can manage, and the system can potentially be overwhelmed.”
Haggie said the search for person protective equipment continues, although authorities were expecting a delivery from Hamilton Friday. More is expected to roll in over the coming week.
Haggie has praised local efforts to produce equipment, but said there are impediments to doing so. Some of the raw material used in N95 masks, for example, has to be sourced in the U.S.
The challenge is keeping on top of it.
"We would like not to have to worry about checking our supply every day, but until we get to that point, we will check out supplies multiple times every day,” Haggie said.
Meanwhile, he said the health authorities and workers have had open discussions about prioritizing use, and that has helped alleviate concerns.
“There is a tendency to follow the heart rather than the head, and we have really been keen to use evidence. “
Haggie said he is aware that organ transplant centres in Halifax and Toronto have scaled back surgeries. These operations are not performed in this province.
“We are totally at the mercy of other jurisdictions, so whatever decisions they make will impact us, and I suspect there may well be, particularly for paired donors rather than cadaver donors, a moratorium or a delay.”
He said he would look into the matter further.
Peter Jackson Is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering health care for The Telegram.