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N.L. reports 48 new infections, 46 presumed cases as outbreak fears hit Labrador

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COVID-19 cases in Newfoundland and Labrador are ballooning. Ross Lord explains how a contagious new variant is fuelling the spike, why hundreds of health care workers aren't on the front lines, and how Labrador is calling for a bubble – Feb 17, 2021

Newfoundland and Labrador health authorities reported 48 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, while a Labrador mayor asked for calm and compassion after a presumed positive infection was identified in his town.

Officials said the 48 new cases are in the eastern health region, which includes the St. John’s metro area – the epicentre of a growing outbreak. They also reported 46 presumed positive cases.

The province had largely enjoyed low, single-digit daily case counts since last spring, but numbers began spiking early last week. Health officials said the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, is behind the outbreak. The province has been in full lockdown since Friday.

Read more: Tam warns that COVID-19 spread can occur suddenly in places used to low cases

Until Wednesday, the outbreak seemed mostly contained to the southeastern side of Newfoundland. That changed Wednesday evening, when Makkovik Mayor Barry Andersen got a call from health officials saying there was a presumed positive case in his community.

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“It was a shock,” Andersen said in an interview Thursday. “We were very, very fortunate not to have a case or presumptive case before now … Community members are taken aback.”

Makkovik is a fly-in community of about 400 people on Labrador’s north coast. The presumed positive case involves someone who had travelled for medical care to St. John’s, Andersen said.

People in Labrador, particularly in fly-in communities, are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because health-care access is limited and travel for specialized care is weather-dependent, he said.

The case in Makkovik was detected with a rapid COVID-19 test conducted at the community clinic, Andersen said, adding that since the outbreak in the capital, all Labradorians who travel to St. John’s are required to be tested when they return.

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Positive results from rapid tests in Labrador are shipped to St. John’s for verification. Andersen said he hopes the recent case is a false positive.

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Makkovik was one of the first communities in the province to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and Andersen said about 75 per cent of residents have received their second of two required doses. Save for a few scattered cases, Labrador health officials have so far managed to keep the disease out of the region.

Earlier on Thursday, health officials said inmates and staff at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s will be tested for COVID-19, after a close contact of a correctional officer tested positive. The Justice Department said the officer is isolating and that no cases have so far been detected among staff or inmates at the jail.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2021.

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