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Province adds phone lines to handle COVID-19 calls

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health, speaks to reporters Wednesday at the Confederation Building. Joe Gibbons file photo/The Telegram
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health, speaks to reporters Wednesday at the Confederation Building. Joe Gibbons file photo/The Telegram

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Peter Jackson

Local Initiative Reporter

The Department of Health has added more lines to accommodate a significant hike in calls to its 811 health line.

But with no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province, Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical officer says they’re still mostly dispensing advice for now.

“We are ensuring the line is resourced to respond to this increase,” Dr. Janice Fitzgerald told reporters late Friday afternoon.

That includes the hiring of an “intake specialist.”

As of Friday morning, 62 swabs had been taken throughout the province of people displaying possible symptoms of the new strain of coronavirus. All were negatives, and 46 of those have been confirmed negative through the national laboratory in Winnipeg.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are onset of fever, coughing and difficulty breathing.

Fitzgerald was eager to clarify the meaning of some of the terms that have arisen since the pandemic began.

One of those is self-isolation.

“Self-isolation means stay at home, limit the number of visitors in your home, avoid contact with others, keep your distance, cover your coughs and sneezes, and wash your hands.”

Quarantine, on the other hand, means staying isolated as a precaution when you’re not displaying symptoms.

The latter is only expected of those who have been to high-risk areas such as Italy, Iran and Hubei province in China.

But air travel is still the main concern.

Earlier on Friday, Canada’s chief health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said Canadians should avoid travelling outside the country. Fitzgerald echoed that advice.

Outgoing travel curtailed

The Nunatsiavut Government announced Friday it is immediately restricting all non-essential travel for all employees until further notice. As well, all Nunatsiavut sponsored events, meetings, workshops, etc. involving participants from multiple communities are cancelled.

“These precautionary measures are being put in place to help prevent unnecessary contact or potential spread of the COVID-19 to Labrador Inuit communities,” the government stated in a news release.

Memorial University banned all non-essential out-of-province flights for its staff Thursday,

Health officials have recommended that gatherings of 250 people or more should be called off. Sports and entertainment organizers in the province and around the world have heeded the advice.

Planning to hit George Street for St. Patrick’s Day this weekend? Not wise, Fitzgerald said. But if you do go, “keep your distance, avoid people who are coughing and sneezing, and wash your hands.”

Meanwhile, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) confirmed Friday that two of its employees in Newfoundland attended the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conferance at the beginning of the month. An Ontario participant of that event later tested positive for COVID-19. Eight Department of Natural Resources employees isolated themselves Wednesday after hearing of the positive test. ACOA says its employees have done the same.

There’s a question, however, whether there was much of a risk at all.

Fitzgerald said the virus is not nearly as contagious in a carrier with no symptoms.

“The evidence to date suggests that the virus is most contagious when people are symptomatic,” she said.

Asked about panic-buying, including a recent rush on toilet paper, Fitzgerald said it doesn’t make sense to stockpile huge quantities of goods when there’s not a single case in the province.

“No one needs to run out and buy mountains of things right now,” she said, adding that ensuring prescription medicines are refilled is always wise.

Despite all precautions, Fitzgerald says no one is naïve about Newfoundland and Labrador's COVID-19-free status,

“I think we will see cases,” she said. “I think that will be inevitable given travel patterns and what we’ve seen in other areas.”

peter.jackson@thetelegram.com

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