COVID-19: Taking Action

(Note: the following ran in our March 29-April 4 issue, which hit stands March 23rd)

We are living in unprecedented times. That was the message from Premier Dwight Ball on Monday, March 16 as the province closed all schools, child care centres and post-secondary institutions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That’s 64,000 Kindergarten to Grade 12 students and another 7,300 in daycare sent home to their families.

Unprecedented times

It was also an unprecedented day of action on COVID-19 in the nation’s capital. Just minutes after Premier Ball’s address, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – himself quarantined after his wife tested positive from the virus – announced that Canada’s borders were closing to most non-residents. He urged Canadians abroad to come home immediately, a directive that hasn’t been heard from our nation’s leader since wartime.

“I know that these measures are far-reaching,” Trudeau said. “They are exceptional circumstances calling for exceptional measures.”

The world, it seems, is on alert. COVID-19 ravaged countries like Italy and China have offered a harrowing glimpse into what may be ahead in the coming months, compelling other nations to move more quickly.

Social distancing is imperative, a term that has become synonymous with the global pandemic, one that has claimed thousands of lives across the world. Almost every Canadian has been urged to work remotely, if possible. Many restaurants, bars, gymnasiums, recreational facilities and retail outlets have reduced hours of operation, while some have closed their doors temporarily.

Remote news teams

Following the lead of major professional sports in North America, all organized sporting events were put on hiatus. Yes, these are unprecedented times. The virus has altered how our society functions.

At Stirling Communications, the province’s largest multi-platform media organization (NTV, OZ FM and The Newfoundland Herald), there is a mandate to fulfill – an obligation to inform. Measures were quickly taken to protect staff and to ensure the province’s newscasts are still being delivered, as always.

Herald staff, from writers, graphic designers and desk editors to sales executives and management, moved quickly to work remotely. The same can be said for OZ FM where, just last week, Stephanie O’Brien was working from a makeshift studio in her living room while Randy Snow co-hosted the popular program from OZ’s headquarters on Logy Bay Road.

Social distancing

At NTV, a remote news team was quickly assembled, as reporters Jodi Cooke, Kelly-Anne Roberts and Leila Beaudoin, as well as camera operator Darrell Barrington, were dispatched to the field, working from home for the foreseeable future. 

The objective is to provide social distancing from other staff. But it’s a tall order, providing necessary technical equipment to ensure smooth delivery and the ability to go live, when needed.

“Our audience needs information on a timely basis now more than ever,” said NTV senior anchor Glen Carter. 

“It’s why we are taking live news conference from the PM, Premier or health authorities almost on a daily basis. People are understandably worried and they need this information, which, in some cases, could be lifesaving.”

Meanwhile, another team of reporters – legislative reporter Michael Connors, David Salter, Ben Cleary, Beth Penney, Bart Fraize and camera operator Tony Barrington – was then formed and transitioned to another building on the NTV headquarters. It enables Connors to continue hosting NTV Newsday from the new location, as will David Salter with NTV News Checkpoints and OZ FM News.

And, finally, a third team is in position at the station’s main building with lead anchors Glen Carter, Toni-Marie Wiseman and chief meteorologist Eddie Sheer remaining in their familiar confines to provide the award-winning NTV Evening Newshour and First Edition. Entertainment reporter Amanda Mews will be there as well, solo anchoring The Sunday Evening Newshour in the interim. But the measures didn’t stop there. Carter and Wiseman were also positioned on separate news desks to ensure their own social distancing.

“We take very seriously the advice of the province’s Chief Medical Officer and we have done, and continue to do, our part to ensure necessary measures are being taken in a proactive fashion,” says Mark Dwyer, NTV’s Director of News and Current Affairs.

Coronavirus pandemic

We are living in an anxious time. Coronavirus 2019, or COVID-19, is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The disease was first identified in 2019 in Wuhan, China, and then spread globally, resulting in the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the most common symptoms are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. While the majority of cases result in mild symptoms, some progress to severe pneumonia and multi-organ failure. The rate of deaths per number of diagnosed cases is estimated to be 3.4 per cent, but varies by age and other health conditions.

Recommended measures to prevent the disease include frequent hand washing, maintaining distance from others, and not touching one’s face. The use of masks is recommended for those who suspect they have the virus and their caregivers, but not the general public. There is no vaccine or specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19. 

Management involves treatment of symptoms, supportive care, isolation and experimental measures. The World Health Organization declared the 2019–20 coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Presumptive cases

As of The Newfoundland Herald deadline, there were 727 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Canada, spanning every province. The death total was nine.

At the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, security guards have been stationed near the entrances to ensure people clean their hands before entering. Those entering must also identify if they have a cough or fever.

Meanwhile, here at home, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said there are three presumptive positive cases of COVID-19, in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region. To date, hundreds of people are in self-isolation to prevent further spread of the virus within Newfoundland and Labrador. Provincial government employees deemed non-critical to organizational operation will work from home.

The province restricted visits to acute care facilities, with the exception of children who are in-patients, obstetrics and palliative care. Long-term care visiting is restricted to one person, per resident, per day. All elective, diagnostic and surgical procedures have stopped. On a go-forward basis it will be emergencies only. Visitation at all of the province’s prisons has been suspended until further notice.

Any Newfoundlander who had travelled out of the country was directed to self-isolate as soon as possible upon returning to the province.

While the number of presumptive cases of COVID-19 remains low in this province, the reaction from the province and nation to limit the virus’s spread is far-reaching. The steps taken are to flatten the curve and save lives.

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