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Newfoundland and Labrador has first COVID-19 hospitalization


ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Peter Jackson

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Newfoundland and Labrador moved into triple digits Friday, chief medical officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald also announced the first hospitalization in the province.

It’s in the Eastern Health region, but no other information was provided.

Fitzgerald also said one person has now recovered from the coronavirus — again, without giving specifics.

The province has 102 cases in total, including 95 in the eastern region. The majority of those can be traced to a person who visited Caul’s Funeral Home in St. John’s earlier this month.

The only new case outside the Eastern Health region was in the Labrador/Grenfell region. It stemmed from travel, but not ferry-related.

A little more than half of all those who tested positive are female, and 20 cases involve people over the age of 70.

In total, 1,587 people have been tested in the province, and all results in this province are now considered confirmed, whether positive or negative.

In her opening remarks at a daily video briefing Friday, Fitzgerald said it’s important for people who are confused or concerned to consult the government website if they can.

“We have many resources on our government website, gov.nl.ca/covid-19,” she said. “These resources are there to provide updates and support during this difficult time.”

Information, which is updated daily, includes:

• Contact-tracing procedures;

• Self-isolation and physical distancing instructions;

• Advice on parenting and dealing with stress;

• Advice for vulnerable populations.

Federal funding

Premier Dwight Ball, meanwhile, says the federal government's new aid program should help hard-hit businesses stay afloat without having to lay off workers.

Employees can receive 75 per cent of their salaries, and business loans of up to $40,000 are now available, with $10,000 forgivable.

“If the employer wants to stay connected, this gives them the opportunity to stay connected with their employees,” Ball said.

The premier also highlighted measures taken during an emergency session in the House of Assembly Thursday, including protections for tenants, an interim supply bill and new restrictions for ferry travel.

Government assistance cheques — there are about 1,700 of them — will come through in April, Ball said.

If post offices are not able to accommodate delivery, other means will be found, he added.

Ball also thanked churches and other organizations that have availed of technology to stay connected.

“I know thousands of people will be going to church this Sunday in a very different way.”

Cabin fever

However, Health Minister John Haggie warned that those feeling the urge to gather this weekend should think twice.

He said he noticed a number of cars along the highway where people were gathering to go snowmobiling.

“Warm-up shacks on the T’Railway are not the best place to be this weekend,” he said.

He added that the continued rise of positive cases should be taken as a warning.

“It speaks to the importance of not being complacent.”

On the question of the health-care system's capacity to handle a coronavirus influx, Haggie said the cancellation of elective surgeries continues to pay dividends.

There are only 13 per cent of ventilators in use, and 40 per cent of ICU beds, he said.

"We do have slack we hope we never have to use.”

The province has also freed a path for retired health-care professionals to regain their licences if necessary.

Passenger vetting

There’s been a public outcry for more expansive testing of airline passengers, particularly those on the same flight as a confirmed COVID-19 case.

Haggie said research has shown this is not productive.

“For medium- and long-haul jets, the pickup rate for those people who didn’t develop symptoms was so low that, in actual fact, PHAC (Public Health Agency of Canada) stopped recommending testing routinely people who had been on the same flight.”

Fitzgerald said the parameters for all testing are reviewed daily on a regional and national basis.

“The information is evolving rapidly with regard to who we should test and when we should test,” she said.

“If the information and the evidence that we have suggests that we should expand that testing into a broader group of people, then we will do that, but at the moment that’s not where we are.”

Haggie said health authorities also have to take into account the fact that it is flu season.

“All that sneezes is not COVID.”

Peter Jackson is a Local Initiative reporter covering health care for The Telegram.

peter.jackson@thetelegram.com

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