The source of a COVID-19 cluster in central Newfoundland is unknown and under investigation, the province's top doctor said Friday afternoon, prompting her to move communities from Lewisporte to Summerford to Alert Level 4 effective midnight.
"While all these cases appear to be linked at this time, the source is still under investigation," Dr. Janice Fitzgerald told a quickly arranged media briefing Friday afternoon. "This signals to us there is community spread in the area."
No schools appear to be involved in the cluster, Fitzgerald said.
The province has detected seven confirmed cases, seven presumptive cases and one probable case in the region, according to Fitzgerald. In all, Newfoundland and Labrador reported 10 confirmed cases Friday.
Under Alert Level 4, the second-strictest level in N.L.'s pandemic management orders, essential businesses can remain open but restaurants cannot offer indoor dining. Bars, gyms, pools and arenas must remain closed. Funerals, weddings and other services are restricted to 10 people.
Public health officials will establish community testing centres to investigate further.
Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health, asked anyone experiencing even a single mild symptom to seek testing.
All residents of the affected communities must keep contacts to their own households, unless providing essential support to a family member or friend, she said. Residents should enter public spaces only for groceries and medication, she said.
"There does appear to be quite a few contacts that we're tracing.… We want to make sure we're stopping any onward transmission," she said. "In all likelihood, this will be a variant. We don't know that yet, but given the number of variants we're seeing across the country … we know that these can spread very quickly."
While the cases under scrutiny are connected, Fitzgerald said, public health officials are seeing an increase in calls from people in the region reporting COVID-19 symptoms.
Anyone travelling to the Lewisporte area for the long weekend for camping is recommended to stay outdoors as much as possible and keep within their own contacts, while avoiding public places as much as possible.
WATCH | Dr. Janice Fitzgerald answers questions about a new cluster
"We want people to be able to get out and enjoy the weekend. But we do want people to be really careful … wearing your mask, keeping your distance, not going to parties, not going to anywhere where there's crowds."
Fitzgerald also warned the public shouldn't read too closely into a small increase in hospitalizations Friday, calling that "expected" given the number of active cases.
It's also not known yet whether any of the affected people had received a vaccine.
10 confirmed cases Friday
Of Friday's other new cases, two are in the Western Health region — one a close contact of a previous case and one under investigation — and there is one in Eastern Health's jurisdiction. All are related to travel within Canada.
A presumptive case in the Western Health region reported Saturday has been determined to be a false positive.
The province also reported 12 new recoveries on Friday: one in Eastern Health, five in Central Health and six in the Western Health. There are four people in hospital due to COVID-19, up from two on Thursday and the highest number since early March.
There are 70 active cases in the province.
At the weekly COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, Fitzgerald and Premier Andrew Furey implored people to make the May 24 long weekend a safe one, noting it's the unofficial kickoff of summer and traditionally a very social one in the province.
Fitzgerald urged people to keep social interactions to their "steady 20" of close contacts, wear a mask around people who aren't part of that social network, physically distance and practise proper hand-washing.
She also tweeted a reminder that while outdoor gatherings are safer than indoor ones, the legal maximum number for informal get-togethers is 20, and that law enforcement does have the authority to charge anyone in violation of special measures orders.
Parents and teens should discuss weekend plans, she said, noting that it was only three months ago that Newfoundland and Labrador saw a wave of cases that prompted a second lockdown.
To date, 140,911 people have been tested.
Nunatsiavut government wants self-isolating done in Happy Valley-Goose Bay
With the vast majority of new COVID-19 cases over the last month related to travel, the Nunatsiavut government is asking people coming into the province to finish their self-isolation before entering the Inuit territory.
The Nunatsiavut government says it wants to reduce potential spread to the region.
Almost all travellers entering Newfoundland and Labrador have to do two weeks of self-isolation, excluding rotational workers.
The Inuit government wants them to do it outside the territory. They've set up an isolation hub in Happy Valley-Goose Bay for people coming into the province who are en route to Nunatsiavut.
The rooms are free for people travelling for essential reasons. However, if it's not considered essential travel, people will have to pay.