13 April 2020

Number of active COVID cases in NL declines dramatically #nlpoli

Newfoundland and Labrador is already emerging from the first wave of the COVID-19 infection.

The data from the provincial government’s daily COVID-19 media briefings is clear.

Starting on April 6,  the number of new cases detected was less than the number of recovered cases.  As the week progressed,  the number of recovered cases increased as rapidly as the infections had increased two weeks before. 

The result, shown in the chart at right, is that the number of active COVID-19 cases (cumulative total less cumulative recovered and deceased) has been declining steadily.  

By the end of this week,  the number of active cases should be about the same as they were before the massive increases started on 23 March 2020.

The most likely thing that could change that forecast drop in active cases is an increase in the number of tests conducted by provincial health officials.  But to produce a dramatic increase in the number of new cases – on the order of what we saw in the middle of March – the province would have to test thousands of people a day.

That’s because a consistent testing effort yielded a steadily declining number of new cases. An average of 177 daily tests the week of March 23 produced an average number of 18 new cases daily. 
The following week 208 daily tests yielded an average of 12 new cases per day.  In the first full week of April, though, an average of 178 tests a day produced only an average four new cases.

Any increased rate of testing is unlikely to turn up a massive number of new cases.  Wide-spread fear of the disease ensures that people who are ill are likely to contact health authorities for testing.  The existing testing policy screens for high-risk patients in a province full of people with existing conditions that don’t go well with COVID-19.

The drop in new cases is proof that a combination of early restrictions under the government’s health emergency powers coupled with a tradition of winter holiday travel that this year would have happened in April limited  the disease’s impacts on the province.

Provinces like Ontario and Quebec were in the middle of March break when Canadian governments started to respond to COVID-19.  In Newfoundland Labrador,  the winter break is tied to Easter which this year happened in April.  The result was that when large numbers of Canadians began returning home from the United States the week of March 15,  there were significantly more going to other provinces than returned to Newfoundland and Labrador.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Newfoundland and Labrador increased significantly the following week and the number of new cases continued to grow.  But two weeks after the influx,  the number of new cases started to drop off as limits on public spaces and self-quarantine orders limited the chances for the disease to spread.  With travel limited and travelers subject to a two-week quarantine, there was no new source of infection to prompt another flare up.

The restrictions also helped to limit the spread from the Caul’s cluster.  But what that cluster really shows, though, is that if the sources of new infection from travel had been the same in Newfoundland and Labrador as in other provinces,  then the local impact of COVID-19 would be the same as the one currently experience in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec.

Many people in Newfoundland and Labrador are wondering how long the current restrictions will last.  Last week’s government dog and pony show didn’t really give any information that would help the public figure that out or indeed figure out very much of anything about what the provincial government is doing.  It seemed intended merely to repeat the message that people need to stay home and limit their movements. 

The suggestion that there will be a resurgence of disease in November – the so-called peak – or the claim that a peak in hospitalizations in the summer will outstrip  available intensive care spaces seems to come more from assumptions by government analysts than anything else. 

And since those assumptions aren’t in public, there’s no way of judging whether health minister John Haggie’s forecast that the current restrictions will still be in place until the end of the year is justified or is a misreading of the current situation.

At the very least, though, it seems likely that developments in Newfoundland and Labrador will be driven by events in central Canada.  Until Ontario and Quebec and other provinces currently struggling with the first wave of COVID-19 get through their first wave,  Newfoundland and Labrador will not relax its restrictions.