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UPDATED: Three more COVID-19 cases confirmed as authorities warn of crucial weeks ahead

Dr. Heather Morrison and Health P.E.I. Chief of Nursing Marion Dowling during a media briefing on Tuesday
Dr. Heather Morrison and Health P.E.I. Chief of Nursing Marion Dowling during a media briefing on Tuesday - SUBMITTED

The number of cases of COVID-19 is continuing to increase on P.E.I., with three new cases announced on Tuesday afternoon.

In a media briefing March 31, Chief Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said the new cases bring P.E.I.’s total confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) to 21. All three were individuals who had travelled abroad. One was a man in his 20s while the other two were women - one in her 30s and the other in her 40s.

“All have been self-isolating upon their return,” Morrison said.

"Again, examples of how important self-isolating immediately after any travel outside the province is."  

P.E.I. has yet to see any cases of community transmission of the coronavirus, and there have been no hospitalizations or deaths. All cases have been related to travel. The number of positive cases on P.E.I. has grown from three last Tuesday to 21 a week later. 

Both Morrison and Marion Dowling, chief of nursing, emphasized that this week and next will be a crucial test of both the capacity of P.E.I.’s health system to deal with the pandemic and of whether Islanders have followed social distancing guidelines.

On Monday evening, an appeal was posted on the provincial government’s website asking for donations from businesses of personal protective equipment for health workers, such as N95 masks, face shields and protective gowns.

Dowling said Health P.E.I. had received questions about donations from several businesses.

"This is really an effort to try and co-ordinate some of that and have a central access point for people to look at that and identify if there are supplies that we can use," Dowling said, adding the department has enough equipment for current needs but is attempting to conserve as much as possible. 

Health authorities across Canada and in the U.S. are facing shortages of personal protective equipment.

Dowling said recently established drive-thru testing sites in Charlottetown and Summerside have allowed staff to conserve equipment. The sites have allowed staff to avoid changing personal protective equipment after each test.

As with other jurisdictions, P.E.I. is currently awaiting orders for ventilators, including 53 of the potentially life-saving machines from three different sources. The Island currently has 19 ventilators.

Dowling said she expects 26 ventilators, available through the federal national emergency strategic stockpile, to arrive within the next week. Fifteen additional ventilators have been requested through a federal bulk purchasing program, while the province has made an additional order of 12 through another supplier. Dowling said the provincial order is expected “within the next month or so".  

P.E.I. health authorities have also faced delays, sometimes as long as three to four days, in receiving test results back from the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg. 

Morrison said an existing provincial lab will have the capacity to do some testing, focusing on individuals in long-term care and health-care workers, as early as Thursday. But this local testing lab will not be at full capacity this week. The province will still rely on the national lab in Winnipeg in the immediate future.

"Within the next one to two weeks, we'll have further equipment in for the provincial lab which will hopefully mean we'll be able to do all of it here," Morrison said.

But the effectiveness of the health system’s response to the virus will still depend on the actions of Islanders, Morrison said.

"If we don't physically distance, self-isolate, more people will get sick,” Morrison said.

“More people will end up in hospital and our health-care system will not be able to manage."


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