“The variant is a complete game changer,” says N.L. chief medical officer of health

"The variant is a complete game changer," says N.L. chief medical officer of health

There are seven new confirmed positive cases and 21 presumptive positive cases in Newfoundland and Labrador, with further unlinked transmissions of the “complete game-changer” variant prompting a plea from the chief medical of officer of health for people to remain vigilant.

Six of the confirmed cases are in the Eastern Health region, while the seventh is travel-related and in the Western Health region.

Presumptive cases are those confirmed by rapid testing, and are treated the same as confirmed positive cases, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said.

One person is in hospital with the virus, Fitzgerald confirmed Monday afternoon, marking the first hospitalization since the outbreak of the coronavirus variant.

You cannot assume you do not have the virus.
– Dr. Janice Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald said she wouldn’t comment on the status or details of the person in hospital.

“You see enough cases, you’re gonna see hospitalizations. That is the sad fact of the matter,” she said.

With five new recoveries, there are a total of 298 active cases, she said. That brings the province’s total number of cases since the start of the pandemic last year to 704.

Fitzgerald added that while the number of new cases is lower than numbers late last week, contact tracers are still unearthing threads of unlinked community spread.

“Please do not read into these case counts. In public health it is not the cases that we know about that are concerning, it’s the cases that we don’t know about,” she said.

There is also a “significant number” of people the department still has to contact to notify them they’ve been a close contact of a confirmed case, Fitzgerald said.

“If you have any reason to believe that you may have been exposed, but have not yet received a call from public health, please stay home and monitor for symptoms.”

There are multiple “unlinked chains” of transmission, Fitzgerald said, which means contact tracers are still uncovering community spread. She said to expect “more cases in the days and weeks ahead.”

Given its higher rate of transmission compared to the original bug, she said, “you cannot assume you do not have the virus.”

Fitzgerald also emphasized that mask-wearing is mandatory for anyone entering long-term care facilities, where there are strict visitor restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“If the variant were to make its way into a seniors’ residential facility, we’d very likely have devastating consequences,” Fitzgerald said.

With 1,829 more people tested since yesterday, a total of 92,874 people have been tested to date. Nearly 10 per cent of all tests completed in the province since March have been done in the last week.

Focus now on tracing, testing
As for what other provinces could learn from what’s underway in Newfoundland and Labrador, Fitzgerald said it should be an example of just how fast the virus variant can spread if left unchecked.

“People really should be watching our situation closely and monitoring how quickly it can move through a community,” she said.

Newfoundland and Labrador had some of the strictest border controls and quarantine requirements in Canada, she said, yet “even with all of that,” the variant still managed to find its way into the province to spread rapidly.

“This is just a testament to why you can never let your guard down with this virus,” she said,

“It does not matter how low your case count is today, because tomorrow could be a very different story.”

Contact tracers have still not determined a source for the initial outbreak, Fitzgerald said, adding that it may be some time before that can be discovered, given the public health team’s focus on tracing and testing.

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