P.E.I. reports four new cases of COVID-19; two previous cases identified as variants

Prince Edward Island health officials are reporting four new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, as the active number of cases in the province increases to 22.

Tuesday's new cases involve:

  • A man in his 20s that is a close contact of a positive case related to a cluster of cases in Charlottetown. Morrison said he originally tested negative, but then developed symptoms and tested positive on a second positive test. As a close contact, he had been in self-isolation since his initial test.
  • A man in his 20s, ‘likely’ related to travel. The case remains under investigation and the individual is now self-isolating
  • A man and a woman in their 20s, likely related to each other. Public health is investigating if they are related to the cluster of cases in Charlottetown or Summerside.

“During the last week we have been dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19. A cluster of about 11 cases in the Summerside area, all involving individuals in their 20s, and a cluster of six cases in the Charlottetown area, with five individuals in their 20s and one in their 50s," said Morrison.

Prince Edward Island has identified a total of 136 positive cases of the virus since the pandemic began.

As of Tuesday, 114 cases are considered recovered, and the province has 22 active cases of COVID-19, the highest number of active cases in the province since the pandemic began.

As of Tuesday, P.E.I. has completed 104,135 negative tests.

Morrison says that between Saturday and Monday, over 10,000 tests were collected across P.E.I., including 2,800 rapid tests taken at the clinic at Stratford and Three Oaks. According to Morrison, just over 2,000 tests are still pending as of Tuesday morning.

"Thank you to all the young people across the province who responded positively to the recommendation of being tested. Your willingness to help us get the current outbreak under control is encouraging, and is an excellent example to everyone in our province," said Morrison during Tuesday's news update.

VARIANT CASES IDENTIFIED

During Tuesday's news briefing, Morrison revealed that a pair of cases identified last week have been confirmed to be related to the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom.

Last Wednesday the province reported that two females in the Charlottetown area had tested positive after travelling outside of the province to elsewhere in Atlantic Canada.

Morrison says on Monday, P.E.I. health was informed by the National Microbiology Labratory that the cases were related to the B.1.1.7 variant.

“Although not unexpected, the presence of a variant of concern is a reminder that we are susceptible to variant strains of COVID-19. Variants are known to be more infectious, meaning they can lead to exponential spread,” said Morrison during Tuesday's news update.

Morrison said all positive samples are being sent to the National Microbiology Labratory in Winnipeg for genetic sequencing, and results are typically available within seven to eight days.

"In the meantime, out of an abundance of caution, we will continue to manage all cases as they are variant strains," said Morrison.

P.E.I. TO DELAY SECOND DOSES OF VACCINE

Health officials in Prince Edward Island say they will shift their focus to getting a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to all adults by July 1, even if it means delaying the second shot for some.

P.E.I. public health will begin delaying the second doses of COVID-19 vaccines, in an effort to administer at least one dose to every Islander over the age of 16 by the end of June.

“Based on emerging evidence and population level data the National Advisory Committee on Immunization is anticipated release guidance on extending the second dose of the mRNA vaccines,” said Morrison on Tuesday.

Morrison says the change is based on research and data about how well the vaccine works after the first dose.

All individuals over the age of 80 will continue to receive both doses based on their existing appointments.

“Two weeks after the first dose, individuals will have very good protection,” said Morrison. “All individuals over the age of 80 will receive the two doses based on their existing appointments. However, going forward, others will receive a longer time interval in between their first and second doses. This approach will allow us to achieve herd immunity more quickly, thereby protecting more islanders from COVID-19.”

As of Saturday, 12,176 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to P.E.I. residents, including 5,165 second doses.

"Despite the spike in cases and associated increase in testing and contact tracing, our vaccine distribution plan continues uninterrupted," said Morrison on Tuesday. 

Morrison also said they expect doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to begin arriving 'in the next few weeks', although she does not know the exact number of doses.

"We would be targeting AstraZeneca to healthy younger individuals who are working frontline essential in certain frontline essential services," said Morrison during Tuesday's briefing, while adding that there will public health will release more guidance next week.

Morrison says P.E.I. expects to receive approximately 100,000 doses of vaccine between April 1 and the end of June. 

Morrison said that between April and June, public health will focus on those in phase one who are not completed, people over the age of 60, beginning in five year increments with those over the age of 75, as well as first responders, and other frontline essential workers ages 18-54 who cannot work virtually including teachers, public transit drivers, grocery and retail clerks, and seafood and meat plant employees.

"Beginning in July second doses will start to be administered, youth aged 15 and under will be immunized as vaccines are approved for their age groups and non permanent residents international workers and students will also be immunized," said Morrison.

CIRCUIT BREAKER LOCKDOWN

Prince Edward Island entered a 72-hour, provincewide lockdown Monday meant to stop two clusters of COVID-19 cases from spreading.

Effective Sunday at midnight, P.E.I. moved into the red level for at least 72 hours.

“These restrictions will allow us time to do additional targeted testing of asymptomatic Islanders, and gain a better understanding of the extent of our outbreak. In particular, it was strongly recommended that young people ages 12-29 without symptoms of COVID-19 be tested,” said Morrison.

Officials said the three-day lockdown will help public health officials contact trace and ramp up testing. Schools and most non-essential businesses are closed until Thursday. The new rules also require Islanders to practise physical distancing with anyone outside their immediate households. Exceptions are being made for people who live alone or require essential support.

COVID ALERT APP

Canada's COVID-19 Alert app is available in Prince Edward Island.

The app, which can be downloaded through the Apple App Store or Google Play, notifies users if they may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

COVID-19 SYMPTOMS

Prince Edward Island provides a list of possible COVID-19 symptoms on their website, which include:

  • new or worsening cough
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • fever/chills
  • sore throat
  • runny nose, sneezing, congestion
  • headache
  • muscle/joint/body aches
  • feeling unwell/unusual tiredness
  • acute loss of sense of smell or taste

Other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea have been reported, but typically along with other COVID-19 symptoms, and may be seen more often in children.