Stop spreading rumours, health officials say

Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical officer of health says officials extended contact tracing of a person in the Central Health region Wednesday, but would not offer any details.

However, a comment on radio station’s VOCM’s Facebook page seems to indicate it involves someone who recently travelled back to the province and was supposed to self-isolate.

“The news around the area, and it’s very reliable, is that he’s been hanging with his friends, been at the Irving … and been seen playing baseball,” the commenter said. “That doesn’t sound like self-isolation.”

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald raised the case in her opening remarks at Wednesday’s COVID-19 update, but would only confirm that further contact tracing has been initiated.

“I can’t really speak to specifics because of the privacy issues, but more information did come forward that suggested that perhaps we have to look a little further for contacts and that’s what Public Health is in the process of doing right now,” Fitzgerald said when asked. “So anyone who is considered a close contact during the infectious period — that’s very important to remember — will be notified that they are a close contact and that they have to quarantine and advised that they have to get tested.”

The incident gave Health Minister Dr. John Haggie another opportunity to explain how sharing rumours on social media is a bad idea.

A hoax video posted in March gave viewers the impression screening measures weren’t in place at the St. John’s airport.

“That sucks an enormous amount of oxygen out of the department, trying to pin down what was essentially a hoax,” Haggie said.

Social media is also full of suspicions about out-of-province licence plates, most of which are innocuous.

“People have a responsibility to follow the rules and, equally, I think we all have a responsibility on social media to be very careful about sharing rumours,” he said.

“From a public health point of view, we spend significant manpower and effort chasing down these rumours.”

The way to report anything, he said, is the online complaint form.

“Social media, Facebook is not the place to report these. We have no mechanism to monitor everyone’s posts. It is clear on the website how information can be conveyed and it will all be acted upon.”

Fitzgerald also emphasized the importance of showing compassion and tolerance online.

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“Please consider how these individuals may be feeling as they cope with the diagnosis, only to face harsh public criticism, particularly on social media.”

Harassing people online may deter others from coming forward, she said.