Newfoundland and Labrador's COVID-19 death toll is now in double digits.
The provincial Department of Health announced two new deaths on Friday: a man in the Central Health region and a woman in the Eastern Health region. Both people were age 70 or older.
The province also reported 41 new cases since its last update, on Wednesday. Ten of the cases are in the Eastern Health region. Six cases are contacts of a previously known case, two are related to travel within Canada, one is related to international travel and one is under investigation.
Three of the cases are people under 20, two are between 20 and 39, one is in their 40s, three are in their 50s and one is in their 60s. There are six females and four males.
There are 31 new cases in the Central Health region. One case is related to travel and the rest are under investigation.
Five of the cases are people under 20, four are between 20 and 39, two are in their 40s, five are in their 50s, four are in their 60s and 11 are age 70 and older. There are 18 females and 13 males.
The province is also reporting two presumptive positive cases.
With 23 new recoveries — four in Eastern Health, 18 in Central Health and one in Western Health — there are now 180 active cases in the province. There are seven people in hospital due to COVID-19, three in non-critical care and four in critical care.
Public Health says there are 87 cases of COVID-19 connected to a cluster in Baie Verte, 57 cases connected to a cluster in the Twilingate/New World Island area, and 43 cases connected to a cluster in the Bishop's Falls/Botwood area. among a group that are "closely socially connected."
The source of all three clusters are under investigation.
Public Health says the investigation into the cluster in the Labrador Grenfell region is ongoing. There are 21 cases of COVID-19 associated with the outbreak so far.
A total of 308,013 tests have been administered, including 3,248 since Wednesday's update.
Public Health is advising of three more potential COVID-19 exposure locations in the Central Health region. Anyone who visited the following locations at the dates and times listed are asked to arrange for testing:
Tai Sun Restaurant, 14 Cromer Ave., Grand Falls-Windsor on Sept. 19 from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Mcdonald's, 472 Main St., Lewisporte on Sept. 22 from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Lily's Landing Restaurant, 210 Airport Blvd., Gander on Sept. 25 from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Anyone who visited those locations and has symptoms is required to self-isolate until 24 hours after their symptoms have resolved and they have received a negative test result, said the department. People who visited the locations but don'tt have symptoms are not required to self-isolate but should monitor themselves for symptoms and self-isolate if any develop.
As of Wednesday, just over 88 per cent of the province had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while just over 80 per cent had received two doses.
Bishop's Falls cluster
Despite the increase in cases, Dr. Monika Dutt, chief medical officer of health for the Central Health region, said Public Health is not considering placing a larger area in a higher alert level at this time.
"We're trying to address specific situations in specific ways," she said.
Dutt would not comment specifically on what "socially connected" group is at the centre of the cluster.
Leroy Gee, the pastor of the United Pentecostal Church, said a number of the cases in the cluster are connected with his congregation of about 40 members. He said the virus was likely circulating through the congregation for two weeks.
"We could have probably avoided a lot of things if we'd had known earlier, but no one knew," he said in an interview with CBC News.
Gee said the whole church has been tested, with both positive and negative results. He said some church members with COVID-19 are vaccinated while others are not.
He said he is vaccinated and has encouraged his congregation to get the shot but also said the vaccine doesn't seem to have changed "anything" about the outbreak. Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is proven to reduce risk of getting the virus and reduce the chance of severe illness.
Bishop's Falls mayor Bryan King said the cluster is a "reality check."
"We have to keep in mind that this is real and we need to do our best to keep ourselves safe," he said.
More cases in schools
Five more schools are reporting positive cases of COVID-19 in central Newfoundland, according to the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District.
District CEO Tony Stack told CBC News on Friday morning that positive cases were reported at Riverwood Academy in Wings Point, Copper Ridge Academy in Baie Verte, Botwood Collegiate and Memorial Academy in Botwood on Thursday evening.
A district spokesperson told CBC News later a positive case was reported at Twillingate Island Elementary on Sunday.
The cases raise the number of schools with positive cases to at least 10. Cases have also been reported at New World Island Academy in Summerford, MSB Academy in Middle Arm, Lakewood Academy in Glenwood, MacDonald Drive Elementary in St. John's and Laval High School in Placentia, according to the district.
Stack said the district is working with public health officials to monitor cases and determine how to handle learning in each school.
"When it's a COVID case linked to a school, we take immediate action based on their recommendations," Stack told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning on Friday.
"Their recommendations consider a number of different factors...it involves things like vaccination rates, the amount of spread, the amount of contacts. Those types of things."
Stack said the recommendations also determine whether schools are moved into a high-risk scenario in the classroom or online learning, adding that every school is in a different situation.
"Every school has a bit of a nuance," he said. "For example, there may be high risk adopted inside the building, but Public Health says it's OK to be in a low risk type of framework on the playground. So every single school has different instructions based on public health advice."
Stack said he hopes high-risk scenario measures put in place by public health — like encouraged mask-wearing, an emphasis on cohorts and physical distancing and reshaping extracurricular activities — will allow schools to stay open to students.
While he added the district is ready to move to online learning if needed, moving everything would come with an "intense conversation" with public health.
"We want our schools to be open, and we're doing whatever we can to keep them open. There's a balance here between mental wellness and the situation that we're dealing with," Stack said.
As of Friday, students at all affected schools are remaining in the classroom, except at New World Island Academy, which has moved to exclusively online learning.