COVID-19 numbers are steadily dropping in Newfoundland and Labrador, but that doesn't mean abandoning safety measures just yet, says the province's chief medical officer of health.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said new infection rates are down — particularly in the over-60 population — hospital admissions with COVID-19 are dropping and work absences are down as well.
She said a number of factors are at work.
"We have a certain level of immunity," she said in an interview with CBC News. "We've been very fortunate here that people have gotten vaccinated and then a lot of people have gotten boosted as well."
But Fitzgerald said there has also been an increase in immunity due to the fact that more people have had COVID-19 and come through it.
"We know that the amount of disease that was spreading in the community certainly was higher than what we were testing. Four to six times higher. So we estimate that a significant proportion of the population has gotten natural [immunity] as well," she said.
Fitzgerald estimates that around a third of the province has had COVID-19 over the last two years.
Beat COVID-19? Keep wearing that mask
Fitzgerald said for the growing number of people who have had and recovered from COVID-19, it may be tempting to assume there is less risk, but that isn't necessarily the case.
"We have to remember that COVID is still really new to us. I know it feels like it's been here forever, but it really has only been here for a couple of years… it's evolving still," she said.
Fitzgerald said it's important to keep following the same COVID precautions, including wearing mask, and to be careful judging the risk in different situations. She said this applies not just for COVID-19, but for a newly resurgent flu season.
"We've had two years with really not much flu," she said. "Flu changes a lot from year to year. We don't have that innate or natural immunity to flu that we would normally have from year to year because we've had two years with essentially none. So, it's really important to protect yourself from flu as well."
Summer lull, followed by a cautious fall
Still, Public Health is taking advantage of the drop in cases to look ahead to future variants.
"I think we're seeing our cases drop now. I think we'll continue to see that over the next few weeks, and hopefully we'll see a summer that has a bit of a lull," said Fitzgerald.
"I do think that we're going to see increased activity in the fall and we may see flu with that as well. February is our first wave, usually, of flu. So we may very well see that along with the wave of COVID, you know, we always see an increase in respiratory illness and transmission in kids once kids go back to school in September."
Fitzgerald, as far as she can tell, has personally avoided a COVID-19 infection, a fact that she attributes to circumstance more than anything.
"I think it's just a factor of not being able to go many places. I've not been anywhere really outside of work and home for the most part," she said.
"This is as far as I know, unless I was one of those lucky asymptomatic people. But yeah, so far… now that I've said it, of course you've jinxed me."