Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting 23 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the majority of them in the Central Health region and linked to a growing outbreak in the Baie Verte area.
Dr. Rosann Seviour, acting chief medical officer of health, said 21 of the new cases are in the Central Health region. One of the new cases is a contact of a previous case, one is related to travel within Canada and the other 19 cases are under investigation.
Thirteen of the 21 new cases in the Central Health region were previously presumed positive, Seviour — filling in for Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, who is on vacation — told reporters during an unscheduled briefing Wednesday afternoon.
Seviour said 42 cases in total are now linked to an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Baie Verte area.
"We can confirm that there is community spread of COVID-19 in this area," Seviour said.
"Central Health is working very hard and diligently to trace all contacts and cases. If you are in the region and just have even one symptom and that symptom is mild, please get tested."
Seviour said the outbreak is related to the coronavirus's delta variant, adding it's not a surprise as the variant is becoming the dominant strain across Canada, spreading rapidly and causing more severe illness than the original strain.
By midnight on Wednesday all towns and communities along routes 410 to 419 on the Baie Verte Peninsula moved to Alert Level 3 in an effort to clamp down on the spread of the virus. Seviour said moving the area to the stricter Alert Level 4 is not under consideration at the moment.
Seviour said vaccination is the most important means of protection and reiterated the need for more people to get two doses.
"The vaccination rates in this region need to be higher in order to provide an effective barrier from COVID," she said.
"Vaccinations are a very effective way of preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and death. We also know that areas with higher vaccination rates have better protection against COVID-19 outbreaks."
Watch the full Sept. 22 briefing:
Vaccine clinics are open in Baie Verte and La Scie, with additional clinics opening on Thursday in Middle Arm at the town hall between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and on Friday at the College of the North Atlantic campus in Baie Verte during the same hours.
Seviour said people who are unvaccinated are 12 times more likely to get COVID-19, are 34 times more likely to be hospitalized by COVID-19 and are eight times more likely to die from COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people in same age group.
The Health Department said there are 12 females and nine males among the new cases, including two under 20 years of age, five between the ages of 20 and 39, four in their 40s, five in their 50s, four in their 60s and one 70 years of age or older.
Two of the cases announced Wednesday, one female and one male, are in the Western Health region. One is related to travel within Canada and the other is under investigation. One is in their 50s and the other is 70 or older.
Keeping schools open
There are now 77 active cases in the province, and one person in hospital due to the virus.
There have been three recoveries, all in the Eastern Health region.
The province is also reporting 15 new presumptive positive cases, all in the Central Health region, according to Seviour.
Keeping schools open is a priority, Seviour said, for the physical and emotional well-being of children.
She said there are no COVID-19 cases in school-aged children in the Baie Verte area as of Wednesday, and there's no reason schools in the area cannot continue to operate.
"Additional measures were implemented in the schools today. If this changes at any point in time, or public health's investigation shows there is increased risk or transmission within the school, then we would certainly change this approach," said Seviour.
"COVID in the community can be reflected in the school. So we watch that diligently and at the moment we see transmission in the school we operate differently."