Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting eight new COVID-19 cases since Wednesday, with Dr. Janice Fitzgerald holding an unscheduled live briefing Friday afternoon to discuss public health measures.
Fitzgerald said all of the cases — five in the Eastern Health region and three in the Central Health region — are contacts of previous cases.
The province also marked 10 new recoveries — six in eastern Newfoundland and four in central Newfoundland — leaving the province with 99 active cases, down two since Wednesday. One person is in hospital.
Fitzgerald said students in kindergarten through Grade 3 across the province, as well as staff in regulated child-care centres will, effective Monday, now be required to wear masks indoors, including when seated in classrooms.
The chief medical officer of health noted a current outbreak in the Marystown area happened in a school, and said previous cases in schools have occurred because of community spread. The outbreak has closed two schools to in-person learning: Donald C. Jamieson Academy in Burin Bay Arm, and Sacred Heart Academy in Marystown. Both schools serve students from kindergarten to Grade 7.
Several other Canadian jurisdictions have seen the same thing, she said, and a rising proportion of COVID-19 cases are being found in children under 12 — who are ineligible for vaccinations — because of the delta variant.
The Marystown cluster investigation is continuing. As of Friday it had 77 cases, the majority of them children under 12.
Fitzgerald said cohorting will also now be required indoors and as much as possible outdoors for regulated child-care centres and for students from kindergarten through Grade 6.
"Limiting the interaction between classes will reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the event that it makes its way into a school or daycare," she said.
"We are not recommending any changes for Grade 7 and above, as a very good proportion of that population is fully vaccinated, and at this time there's no indication of increased COVID-19 spread in those grades through school activities."
Fitzgerald said restrictions for school sports are being discussed. She said the province is also looking into using rapid testing in schools, but planning and logistics are still being worked out.
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She said the public health measures could be relaxed once all school-age children have had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated.
"We are hopeful that Health Canada will soon grant approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged five to 11, and once approved we will be rolling out our immunization program for this age group, which is about 35,000 children in our province," said Fitzgerald.
"Until then we need to ensure a balanced approach that reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission for the well-being of children."
Fitzgerald also offered advice on staying safe on Halloween weekend. When handing out treats, Fitzgerald said, people should wear a mask and sanitize their hands. She said people should drop treats into bags themselves, rather than having a common container for children have to reach into.
If you are unwell or self-isolating, Fitzgerald said, do not hand out treats. Children who are feeling unwell should also stay at home.
"Be respectful of households that are not handing out treats, and skip any home that has a sign on the door saying they're unable to participate in Halloween," she said.
"Remind children to wash their hands before they leave to trick or treat and when they return home before eating any treats. Parents should also remind children to physically distance as much as possible."