Bye-bye double bubble, hello 'tight 10': What you need to know about alert level changes

·4 min read
The province's top doctor, Janice Fitzgerald, downgraded the province's pandemic restrictions Wednesday, with a variant outbreak losing steam. (Submitted by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - image credit)
The province's top doctor, Janice Fitzgerald, downgraded the province's pandemic restrictions Wednesday, with a variant outbreak losing steam. (Submitted by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - image credit)

Effective March 13, lockdown measures will recede in Newfoundland and Labrador, as the province emerges from a month-long battle with coronavirus variant B117.

The outbreak, which sickened hundreds — mostly in the St. John's metro region — triggered the reinstatement of strict stay-at-home orders, closing schools and most businesses across the province on Feb. 12.

On Wednesday, the province's chief medical officer of health said her team hasn't unearthed any unknown sources of infection for some time. That's a key indicator for reopening, and means, for now, the province largely has its outbreak under control.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said any further reductions in restrictions will happen slowly, with at least two weeks between level downgrades.

Most of the province will enter Alert Level 3 on Saturday, and the harder-hit Avalon Peninsula will drop to Alert Level 4.

But, as Fitzgerald cautioned at Wednesday's announcement, those alert levels entail changes from the restrictions seen last summer.

Here's what you need to know.

Alert Level 4

In Alert Level 4, households still have to maintain their bubble whenever they're not at work or school. Variant restrictions have changed the "double-bubble" rule instituted last year, wherein two households could merge.

This time around, Fitzgerald emphasizes having as few contacts as possible.

The single bubble can expand, however, to include immediate family "when necessary," such as bringing in caregivers or supporting isolated people, according to the Department of Health.

Informal gatherings aren't allowed, though: the level change isn't an excuse for a large Sunday dinner, Fitzgerald has said.

Gatherings at funerals, burials, weddings and religious and cultural ceremonies are expanded to 10 people, as long as attendees stay two metres apart, but no wakes are allowed.

Malls, retail stores and grooming services — hair or tanning salons, for instance — can open now in the Avalon at reduced capacity, but don't expect to make a dinner reservation any time soon; in-person dining at restaurants remains suspended, and bars and cinemas are still closed.

Liquor stores are open at Alert Level 4 this time around.
Liquor stores are open at Alert Level 4 this time around.(CBC)

Fitzgerald said Wednesday that until most people have a vaccine, people should work from home whenever they can. But with more people returning to workplaces as businesses open, daycares are now admitting all their wards, running at full capacity — but with adults in masks and face shields at all times.

Anyone looking for a workout on the Avalon is limited to solo outdoor activities. Gyms, pools and all recreational facilities aren't yet allowed to open, and group sports or classes are a no-no. Kids can now enjoy outdoor playgrounds, though.

Some health-care services can resume, but it's not clear yet what Eastern Health plans to prioritize. Private health clinics, like dental offices, are allowed to open.

Liquor stores will open for in-person service, but will continue to accept online orders.

Avalon residents can also now travel for leisure beyond the isthmus, but shouldn't be making unnecessary stops on the way to their destination. Fitzgerald also encouraged residents to travel throughout the province "infrequently." Staying at home, she said, remains the gold standard.

Residents of nursing homes can also now welcome two visitors, in addition to anyone who is deemed essential for a patient's care and well-being.

Alert Level 3

Everyone living outside the Avalon has already spent almost two weeks at Level 4, and will now move to Level 3 on Saturday.

For those residents, households may have a total of 10 close contacts, which Fitzgerald on Wednesday dubbed a "tight 10."

"Determining who [those] are is a conscious and deliberate decision," she emphasized, noting keeping those contacts in check will lessen the impact of any future outbreaks. Fitzgerald encouraged teenagers and children to "be a part of this conversation."

"Outside of your tight 10, your school-age children should only be interacting with their class cohort at this time," she said.

"As we saw in the last outbreak, public health capacity can quickly become overwhelmed when each family has a significant number of close contacts."

The kids won't be hitting the ice any time soon.
The kids won't be hitting the ice any time soon.(Colleen Connors/CBC)

That means no hockey team parties or neighbourhood play dates if the household's 10-person limit has been reached.

There's good news for anyone wanting indoor exercise, though. Gyms can open, along with arenas, pools and other recreational facilities. All those workouts need to be done solo, however, with group classes and team sports still off the table. No more than 20 people can enter a facility, and they have to keep masks on, even while exercising.

Just like facilities in Alert Level 4, residents of nursing homes can also now welcome two visitors, in addition to anyone who is deemed essential for a patient's care and well-being. Most people in those homes are now vaccinated, Fitzgerald said Wednesday, with that campaign slated to finish in two weeks.

Restaurants can also open their dining rooms, but Fitzgerald emphasized patrons need to stay two metres apart, and implored operators to heed that guidance. Bars and cinemas won't open yet.

Funerals and religious gatherings can now welcome 20 people, with masks on at all times.

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