HALIFAX -- Prince Edward Island has announced additional screening and enforcement at the Confederation Bridge for travellers arriving on the island, as the province implements stricter measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Starting tonight, we will be thoroughly screening all travellers coming across the bridge,” said Transportation, Infrastructure, and Energy Minister Steven Myers.

“Travellers who are not essential workers commuting for work … who are not in the trade and transportation sectors moving goods and people across borders, Islanders returning from travel out of province or medical appointments, students returning home or individuals coming for compassionate grounds, will be turned away from the bridge.”

Myers says the province is doing everything it can to flatten the curve and contain the spread of COVID-19.

“Any unnecessary travel to our province is a concern that we all share,” said Myers.

“Islanders should take comfort in knowing that, with the expert guidance of Dr. Morrison (P.E.I.’s chief public health officer) and her team, our government is taking action and putting measures in place with the sole intention of keeping Islanders safe as their health and well-being is our primary concern throughout all of this.”

Only those individuals who meet the following criteria will be screened through:

  • essential workers commuting for work
  • essential workers in the trade and transportation sectors who are moving goods and people across borders (such as truck drivers)
  • Islanders returning from out-of-province travel, coming for medical appointments or students returning home
  • Individuals coming to P.E.I. on compassionate grounds.

No new cases of COVID-19 were identified in Prince Edward Island on Wednesday, keeping the province’s total number of cases at 21.

“Although we don’t have any new cases to announce, this is not a time to slow down or become complacent,” said Morrison, during a news conference Wednesday.

“It’s actually when we need to keep going with our messages and our actions around physical-distancing and self-isolating if you have returned from out of province or out of country.”

As previously reported, all of P.E.I.’s cases are related to international travel.

Morrison wants to remind those who have returned to the island following travel that self-isolating means you stay on your property.

“I want to be clear that, if you are on self-isolation following travel, you should not be visiting banks. Anyone else visiting banks should really be doing only essential transactions and I want to thank the banks for the measures they have put in place to protect the clients,” said Morrison.

“Those islanders who are not self-isolating should be at home as much as possible and if you are going out for necessities, then practise physical-distancing.”

The province has conducted 870 tests to date, with 665 negative results.

Three of the reported cases are now considered recovered.

Forty-eight per cent of the cases on Prince Edward Island are female. Sixty-two per cent of the cases are in Queens County while 28 per cent of the cases are in Prince County.

“The staff at our Prince County Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital and all facilities are working to move patients to locations where they can be cared for appropriately and safely,” said Marion Dowling, Health PEI’s chief of nursing, allied health and patient experience.

“This is creating space for patients who may need hospital care at the QEH and PCH, or the surge in patients that we are expecting. Our initial plan around this is to have patients who require hospitalization with COVID-19 being admitted to the QEH and further bed management plans are developed and will be implemented if necessary.”

Morrison says the most common symptoms of the cases on Prince Edward Island are similar to those across the country.

“The presenting symptoms are cough, chills, and headache,” said Morrison.

“The loss of taste and smell is still a minority, or small percentage of symptoms -- certainly less than 10 per cent -- but it has been noted in, I believe, at least one of our cases here.

Morrison says anyone who is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, regardless of travel history, should call 811 for a referral to one of the province’s cough and fever clinics to get assessed and tested if necessary, or be referred by a family doctor or nurse practitioner.

The cough and fever clinics now have drive-thru testing available in Charlottetown and Summerside.

“When arriving at the clinics, we do ask that you remain in your vehicle until you are notified otherwise by staff to enter the clinic and this is to ensure infection control measures are followed,” said Dowling.

Personal protective equipment is in low supply globally and Dowling says P.E.I. is competing with countries around the world to get the supplies they need.

“Our logistics team has done an excellent job of sourcing personal protective equipment, and so far we have been able to maintain the supplies for our immediate need,” she said.

“However, we do have a need to continue to conserve our personal protective equipment as a province and as a health system. We need these supplies for when we see COVID-19 patients in hospital and this is when the demand will increase significantly. Everyone in our system has a responsibility to each other and their patients to conserve personal protective equipment so it is available when it is needed to protect our staff and patients.”

Although that has yet to happen in Canada, hard-hit areas such as Italy and New York have been forced to ration life-saving resources like ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dowling says discussions have already begun on how those decisions will be made should they be faced with that type of dilemma.

“We actually had some of those discussions when we were dealing with H1N1 a number of years ago,” says Dowling.

“Those are things that we are currently looking at again and revisiting that and putting a plan in place around what that looks like. We have a clinical and organizational ethics committee which works with the Nova Scotia Health Ethics Network and their ethicists who will be offering us some guidelines and advice around what are plans are for that approach should we need to get there.”

Health PEI has opened a psychiatric urgent care clinic at the Hillsborough Hospital in Charlottetown.

“This clinic will see patients who need urgent psychiatric care, but do not require the medical care of an emergency department,” said Dowling.

“Patients will be redirected to this urgent care clinic and we’re starting with this service in Charlottetown as an important step in both helping maintain capacity for our emergency departments, while also providing care and keeping some of our most vulnerable patients safe.”

On a lighter note, Morrison says she recently heard a song written by island musicians Tara MacLean and Catherine MacLellan and she connected with the lyrics, which she says are relevant to all of us.

I know it is going to be alright

It is going to take some time

So hold on through this storm

And soon we will be together

“I feel that way as we go into this storm, that we will get through this, but we are in for some rough days ahead,” she said.