ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Health Minister John Haggie said Monday the province’s first death from complications related to COVID-19 should be a “wakeup call” for residents of Newfoundland and Labrador.
And chief medical officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says it’s too early to predict trends from the daily counts of positive cases of the coronavirus which has swept across the world since it was first detected last December in China.
A man died in hospital Sunday from COVID-19 complications.
The total number of positive cases in the province has risen by 13 since Sunday, all in the Eastern Health region. That makes a total of 139 for the region and 148 in total for the province.
“This is not a simple flu. This is a deadly virus,” Haggie said during the province’s daily video update.
“I’m worried, though, that when I look around outside, while a lot of people have taken our orders and instructions and recommendations to heart, there are still people out there who really have not grasped the gravity of this situation,” he said. “This is not a game. You need to stop looking for loopholes, ways to get around the recommendations and the orders that our chief medical officer of health has put in place.”
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Over the weekend, Fitzgerald announced that anyone required to self-isolate because of travel or any other reason must stay on their own properties. Anyone with symptoms must stay inside. Walks, runs or bike rides are OK for all others as long as they stay two metres apart.
Monday, Fitzgerald banned sales of scratch and break-open tickets at stores, banned all funerals and visitations, and placed a cap of five people at burials and weddings.
That means if you’re getting married, you can have only two guests and an officiant.
Apartment and condominium dwellers who are self-isolating must stay in their units.
Families, she said, should consider themselves an isolated unit. Don’t hang out with anyone, and don’t play street hockey or basketball.
“This is to ensure that we all stay in our own family bubble, and we don’t break anyone else’s,” she said.
“I know how difficult this is for everyone, but your actions will make a difference. The health and safety of our province is everyone’s top priority.”
Haggie said he’s alarmed at how many people are still looking at shopping as a family affair.
“Don’t take your children with you unless there is really no alternative, and please don’t let them lick the handles on the shopping carts,” he pleaded.
The focus should be on one person, once a week, buying necessities.
After a surge in single-day cases last week stemming from visitations at Caul’s Funeral Home in mid-March, the number of new daily positive cases has started to drop off.
Fitzgerald said not to assume the trend will continue.
“This is very early in the game, and too early to make any kind of assumption like that, but certainly what we’ve seen with the majority of these cases is that they’ve been related to the Caul’s Funeral Home cluster, so as we are getting further away from that it’s not unexpected that we would see a slight drop in cases.
“But only time really will tell what our pattern is going to be, or what our trajectory is going to be.”
Physical (social) distancing means limiting your physical contact with other people in order to stop, slow down or...Posted by Government of Newfoundland and Labrador on Sunday, March 29, 2020
Haggie added his own caveat.
“Please don’t use that as a cause or an excuse for complacency,” he said.
“We are not out of the woods yet.”
When asked, both Haggie and Premier Dwight Ball said it’s not a fair comparison to look at this province’s rates of testing versus per capita positive cases.
Newfoundland and Labrador has the second-highest per capita number of cases in Canada, while ranking low on testing.
“Testing is based on public-health recommendations,” Haggie said. “The fact that we have a good pickup rate like that can be interpreted as saying that traditional contact tracing and public-health shoe-leather detection, as it were, is actually working.”
“The fact that we have a good pickup rate like that can be interpreted as saying that traditional contact tracing and public-health shoe-leather detection, as it were, is actually working.” — John Haggie
Ball added that considerations such as testing people too early, along with the unique size of the Caul’s cluster, are important factors to consider in comparisons to other provinces.
“It’s important to consider all those factors before you do mass testing” he said. “Sometimes it can be very helpful and sometimes it can be not as beneficial because you could have false negatives out there, and indeed a few days later they could be positive.”
However, Haggie said testing criteria may change over time.
“If there is a need to change our testing policy on the basis of developments, and this is a fluid situation, then we’d be happy to reconsider and do differently,” he said.
Ball tried to distill the uniqueness of the situation in his opening remarks.
“We are in a challenging time. A time that is filled with emotion, and with emotion comes a want to be able to console one another, maybe with a hug, or to provide a shoulder to cry on. It’s our human nature,” he said. “But we are in different time, a time when a loving or a kind touch can do more damage than good.”
Like the others, Ball heaped praise on essential workers who are braving the front lines while everyone else avoids each other.
He highlighted Sunday’s 7 p.m. show of support that included vessels in the St. John’s harbour blowing their horns.
“Thousands of people in St. John’s and the surrounding areas stood on their doorsteps and made noises. They put signs in their windows as a sign of respect for our essential workers.”
Ball said he has spoken to the owners of the Come-by-Chance refinery, and has been assured its closure will not immediately affect supplies of propane and jet fuel, which are exclusively supplied by North Atlantic.
The refinery does have inventory on site, he said.
As for gasoline, he said he’s been in contact with other suppliers should North Atlantic not be able to provide it.
The refinery has ceased operations because of the global collapse of oil prices.
Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering health care for The Telegram.