More businesses ordered shut as N.L. coronavirus cases soar to 24

More businesses ordered shut as N.L. coronavirus cases soar to 24
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador/Twitter

The number of confirmed or presumed cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador has more than doubled in the last 24 hours, with the province's chief medical officer of health announcing 15 new presumptive cases on Monday afternoon.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said Monday afternoon that of the new presumptive cases, one is in the Central Health region, while the remaining 14 are in the Eastern Health region. There are now 24 confirmed or presumptive cases in the province. Four have been confirmed, with the remainder presumptive.

Fitzgerald said eight of the cases in the Eastern region are linked to a previous case, two are travel-related and all other cases are still under investigation. Public health officials have initiated contact tracing.

She also announced further mandatory closures to spas, esthetic services, hair salons, body piercing and tattoo shops, tanning salons and retail stores unless they provide services essential to life, health or animals.

Watch the full Mar. 23 update:

Stores exempt from closure include those that sell food, pharmaceuticals, medicine, hygiene products, cleaning products, baby-care products, gas stations, hardware stores, computer and cellphone repair businesses, electronic and office supply stores, and pet and animal supply stores.

A spokesperson for Canada Post confirmed Monday that an employee who works at its Kenmount Road facility is a presumptive case. In a statement, Canada Post said employees who work at the facility were informed and sent home.

The spokesperson said mail and parcels will not be delivered in St. John and Mount Pearl on Monday.

"We are working with public health authorities to provide any assistance and will continue to follow their direction to keep our people and the community safe," the statement reads.

"We will continue to evaluate the situation and provide further updates."

The province is also prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people. Cab companies can take only two passengers at a time.

"We are actively considering further actions to reduce our risk," Fitzgerald said.

"Im speaking to all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, it has never been more urgent to do your part."

Premier Dwight Ball said he is baffled to hear about people landing in St. John's after travelling and going into coffee shops and grocery stores. The province is requiring that all travellers self-isolate for 14 days when returning to the province from anywhere in Canada and internationally. 

"This is a critical point for Newfoundland and Labrador," said Ball on Monday at the provincial government's daily update on the spread of the coronavirus.

"You are being completely irresponsible and putting people's lives at risk," he said.

Public testing sites came online over the weekend in eastern Newfoundland. According to Eastern Health, 59 people were tested over the weekend at a drive-thru clinic at St. Teresa's School in St. John's. 

As for the construction industry, where worksites can have large groups of employees working in close quarters, Ball said he has been speaking with contractors and many have said they have been implementing proper social distancing procedures. 

"Inspectors are on site. They visit those sites regularly to make sure they are compliant. If we find ourselves in a situation where they have not been able to be compliant we will make the decisions that are required to protect workers," Ball said.

Calling 811

On Monday provincial Health Minister John Haggie said "the emotional temperature of the province went up" last week when the provincial government declared a public health emergency.

"People were nervous and frightened, and there may even been some elements of panic in certain areas," he said. "One of the things I know from my own experience, when that happens people find it very difficult to think clearly and process. So what I'm going to say now might be a bit counterintuitive, but you need to take a deep breath and then reconsider what it is you need to know about your situation."

Haggie said to trust government sources for information surround the virus rather than social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.

Katie Breen/CBC

He said information shared through the 811 provincial health line and government's online self-assessment tool are the same. However, Haggie said the 811 line is being strained by people inquiring about sick notes.

"You will not get a sick note through 811. You cannot get a sick note through 811, and if you're a government employee you do not need a sick note from any source if you have respiratory symptoms for 14 days as a minimum," he said.

"I would ask people to bear this in mind and help take the load off a valuable resource."

No visitation

Long-term care homes across Newfoundland and Labrador will be closed to all visitors beginning end of day Monday.

Some regions, however, closed off visitation last week ahead of the announcement.

In a news release Monday morning, the Department of Health and Community Services said the decision will be reviewed every day.

"This action is being taken to protect elderly residents, and those with weakened immune systems or underlying medical conditions who are at a higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19," the statement said.

"This decision was not made lightly."

Laura Howells/CBC

The province acknowledges the importance of social connections for elderly residents and their families, and that this decision may be unsettling. However, the department said it is necessary given the worry over COVID-19.

The announcement came on the heels of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees urging facilities to restrict all visitors. 

Union president Jerry Earle said his team was in talks with government officials Sunday night, "pleading with them" to take action. 

"It would only take one incident in a single facility to have a devastating impact on the resident population and the staff providing the care," said Earle. 

"The last thing we need is somebody coming off a plane and walking into a long-term care facility, or somebody has been in contact and leaving then and go into a long-term care facility."

Earle acknowledged this is difficult for families, but said if there is a change in the condition of patients, their loved ones will be notified and exceptions will be made in those circumstances by the appropriate management. 

Last Tuesday, Western Health shut down visitation at the Corner Brook Long Term Care Home, citing a number of residents sick with influenza. 

On Friday, the Happy Valley-Goose Bay Long-Term Care Home decided to stop visitation due to the threat of COVID-19.

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