Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting one new, travel-related case of COVID-19 on Friday, as regions prepare to loosen some restrictions this weekend, following a sharp decline in active cases since the province locked down in med-February.
Eleven people have recovered since Thursday, leaving the province with 57 active cases, the chief medical officer of health said at Friday's briefing. Three people are in hospital.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald also announced isolation changes for rotational workers returning from jobs outside the province, loosening quarantine requirements on the condition those workers are swabbed for COVID-19 three times over the course of their first two weeks home.
Workers can book a test upon arrival in Newfoundland and Labrador, and begin self-isolating with family members as soon as they receive a negative result, Fitzgerald said. Workers must isolate themselves from family members until their first test results come back.
If negative, and asymptomatic, workers can walk outside, interact with members of their household and spend time at the cabin on the first week of their return home. Workers can also attend medical appointments, if they disclose their status as rotational workers. However, they can't enter public spaces, Fitzgerald said.
On Day 7, workers can book a second test. If they're asymptomatic and test results are negative, they can enter public spaces, except long-term care homes, and interact with other permitted close contacts.
A third negative test result after Day 11 will clear rotational workers, allowing them to end modified self-isolation on Day 14 after their arrival, she said.
Those new rules were prompted by the arrival of variant B117 last month, which sparked the province-wide lockdown and sickened hundreds.
"B117 is a tricky little virus," she said. Frequent testing, her line of thinking went, could catch it before the variant spread through and outside the household, she told reporters.
"We knew we wanted them to be able to spend time with their families. We felt it was best they had testing when they arrived," she explained.
"We're trying to respond to what the evidence has shown us, and this is the policy that we end up with, that we feel balances the risks and benefits the best way."
She urged rotational workers and their households to monitor themselves closely for symptoms throughout the two-week period, regardless of test results, and book a swab at the first sign of infection.
Watch Friday's full briefing:
"If all of these requirements are followed, anyone living in the same household as a rotational worker does not have to self-isolate," Fitzgerald said. "They can attend work, school and daycare."
Rotational workers and their families can also quarantine together if they choose, she said, and don't have to book the three tests. However, in this case, no member of the household may leave the property for two weeks.
The new rules do not apply to international rotational workers, Fitzgerald said, citing federal law governing anyone entering Canada.
Harassment not OK, Fitzgerald says
Fitzgerald also expressed support for families of rotational workers experiencing harassment over travelling for work.
"It is very disheartening to hear of situations where rotational workers and their families are being stigmatized, especially children," she added, embarking on a minute-long plea for parents to help prevent harassment of affected families. "I want to be clear this is completely unacceptable."
Premier Andew Furey, in response to a reporter query, called rotational work an "important part of Newfoundland and Labrador culture."
According to 2016 census data, about 15,000 households in the province depend on income from rotational work in other jurisdictions.
"I hope there isn't a large portion of rotational workers who leave the province. We recognize their importance to who we are."
Vaccination registration expanded
Health Minister John Haggie said Friday the province's vaccination outlook remains on schedule, with AstraZeneca-Oxford shots a little ahead, and now being distributed among front-line health workers and first responders.
Home support workers can also now pre-register for a vaccine, expanding the list of eligible residents preparing to receive a shot. People over 70 are also in the queue.
On Saturday, the Avalon Peninsula will enter Alert Level 4, while the rest of the province will head into Alert Level 3, following a steep decline in active cases in the past two weeks.
Education officials also announced changes for students from kindergarten through Grade 12 on Thursday. Most high school students across the province will be moving fully to virtual learning, while in-class instruction will resume for most K-9 students. However, there are some exceptions for specific schools and regions outlined in the plan.