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UPDATED: Three more cases new cases of COVID-19; Morrison relieved as backlog clears

P.E.I.'s chief health officer Dr. Heather Morrison addresses the media during a briefing about the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic on Wednesday, April 8, 2020.
P.E.I.'s chief health officer Dr. Heather Morrison addresses the media during a briefing about the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. - computer screenshot

A backlog of 464 local tests awaiting results from the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg has been mostly cleared, resulting in three new cases of coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) on P.E.I.

The results from these tests yielded three new positive cases of COVID-19 on P.E.I. as of Wednesday, and 449 negatives.

But to the relief of chief health officer Dr. Heather Morrison, the three new positive cases are not related to community transmission on P.E.I. Public health officials have conducted more than 1,500 tests on P.E.I., of both travelers and non-travellers exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

The total number of cases on P.E.I. is at 25. Two of the three cases announced Wednesday were a man in his 20s and a woman in her 70s. The third case was the first on P.E.I. related to inter-provincial travel, Morrison said. Details of the third case have not yet been released. All three cases self-isolated upon their return. Seventeen of the 25 local cases have recovered so far.

COVID-19 Testing Numbers April 7

  • Positive: 22
  • Negative: 996
  • Pending: 464
  • Recovered: 8

COVID-19 Testing Numbers April 8

  • Positive: 25
  • Negative: 1,445
  • Pending: 105
  • Recovered: 17

The backlog of tests awaiting results had climbed from 264 last Friday to 464 on Tuesday. Morrison did not hold a media briefing on Tuesday due to the lack of new results to report from Winnipeg. Although a small number of results trickled in from a newly created testing lab on P.E.I., the lack of results over a five-day period essentially left public health officials blind to whether community spread of the virus may had occurred.

"I think we all are breathing a sigh of relief with these results in many ways because it, again, currently indicates that there is no widespread community transmission in P.E.I.," Morrison said during a media briefing on Wednesday afternoon.

"But I would say that we are doing many things that we should do. But we know it's really, extremely important that we continue to do them."

Morrison said it was important for Islanders to continue physical distancing practices, to wash hands and to self-isolate in case of travel outside of P.E.I.

There remain 105 tests awaiting results.

Morrison suggested local processes may have played a role in the delays.

“The process of trying to get our lab results to the national microbiology lab had some challenges over the weekend,” Morrison said.

Morrison said these processes have been improved, allowing for a smaller batch on weekends.

Watch Dr. Morrison's speak to media during a news briefing on Wednesday, April 8, 2020:

Morrison had spoken in recent weeks with optimism about the establishment of a local testing lab. On March 31, she suggested that within two weeks the lab could conduct almost all tests locally, with only presumptive positive cases to be sent off to Winnipeg. Last Thursday, Morrison confirmed the lab had processed thirty tests over the previous day.

But by Wednesday, Morrison said the lab had processed a total of 50 tests so far, focusing largely on healthcare workers and individuals in long-term care. She said the number of kits for testing was limited, but that a supply of 180 additional kits had been received Tuesday evening.

"New test kits have arrived today or last night for the lab. So we anticipate being able to do two or three times the amount we were able to do last weekend in the days ahead," said Morrison.

"That's exactly what was expected from the lab in terms of that capacity of the lab. That capacity in terms of test kits would start small and then increase."

When Morrison was asked Wednesday how the Island would keep another large backlog from developing, she suggested testing labs in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick may help with obtaining quicker results with tests submitted over the weekend.

"We've been working with our neighbouring provinces if we need help over the weekend. So I anticipate going forward that not happening again," Morrison said of the large backlog.

Morrison did not raise the possibility of having all or most tests completed in a lab on P.E.I., either within the coming week or later.

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