Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
With zero new COVID-19 cases in seven days, Newfoundland and Labrador health authorities hope everyone celebrates by staying right where they are.
“We cannot stress enough that this does not mean that this virus is not in our communities and moving around us,” Premier Dwight Ball said Friday during the week’s final COVID-19 briefing.
However, the mood was generally upbeat as Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald announced the province hit the one-week mark in reporting no new cases of the disease.
“The dedication you have shown to this is incredible,” she said, addressing residents of the province. “It has taken great sacrifice and determination, and yet every day you continue to give it your all.
“Thank you for doing your part and doing it well.”
Of the 256 cases tallied so far in the province, 207 have recovered. Five people are in hospital, two of them in intensive care. Three people with the disease died.
Friday also marked the end of the first week for expanded testing criteria. Anyone who has at least two flu-like symptoms is encouraged to call 811 or take the self-assessment quiz at gov.nl.ca/covid-19.
So, far 7,135 people have been tested.
With a handful of other provinces announcing plans to phase out strict health measures starting in May, Ball and Health Minister Dr. John Haggie hinted the province will announce its own plans as early as next week.
Most of that will centre around new projections to be presented Monday by Dr. Proton Rahman and his core analytics team. Rahman, a professor and clinical scientist, first presented models just before Easter that predicted a slight rise in cases through April. That rise hasn’t registered in testing since that time.
“They will test the validity of their model and see how it fit in with what happened, and then use that to see where we’re up to now,” Haggie said.
Ball said Saskatchewan’s plan to phase in changes one at a time is wise, because the province will need to re-evaluate the impact between phases.
Asked about a planned premiers’ call with the federal government Friday, Ball said he’ll raise some caveats about relaxing the economy and restarting the economy.
“For me, as premier, the message I’ll be bringing is we must make sure we have very tight border control. We all know that in the future, it’s probably through a traveller or through someone else that we’ll get this into our worksites and into our province,” he said.
The province has increased border screening measures over the past week, including a new order Friday that requires employers to implement a self-isolation plan for foreign workers entering the province.
“We must also make sure we have the testing capacity if we need to domore of that in case we have a flare-up,” Ball added.
Haggie said all government departments will be involved in the complicated process of easing out of the lockdown.
“I’ve likened it in my own mind to an orchestra with each department playing some bit of a tune, but maybe Dr. Fitzgerald is the conductor of this orchestra.”
Haggie said Friday that another hoax video online of Newfoundlanders supposedly bypassing border screening has caused considerable stress to those who have to debunk its origin.
“Whilst it might seem amusing to some, and light-hearted, it’s had a really corrosive effect on the morale at Eastern Health and the morale of airport employees,” he said.
A similar video showed up early in the shutdown.
In an apparent reference to controversial musings Thursday by the U.S. president, Haggie said injecting or ingesting bleach is a recipe for disaster.
At a pandemic news conference in Washington, President Donald Trump flirted off-script with several unusual ideas for treating COVID-19.
“As a clinician who treated people who survived drinking bleach and spent the rest of their days being fed through tubes, I urge any of you to do what you would do for your children and make sure the stuff under the kitchen sink stays there and not inside of you,” Haggie said.
In other developments Friday:
• The briefing was paused at 2:30 p.m. to mark a national moment of silence for victims of Nova Scotia’s mass shooting last weekend.
• Haggie recommended those struggling with grief without the usual supports call 811 to find the nearest Doorways counselling clinic.
• An updated news release on fire bans in the province will be issued to clear up any confusion that has arisen since the first one was released Wednesday.
• Ball said it is highly unlikely schools will reopen before summer.
Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiatives reporter covering health care for The Telegram.