N.L. chief medical officer says 'most people' will get COVID-19, reports 519 cases

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador officials are imposing stricter provincewide public health measures as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 strains health-care capacity and drives skyrocketing case counts.

During a press briefing Monday, the province's chief medical officer of health said active case counts have jumped from 30 to nearly 3,000 in about two weeks, overwhelming public health's capacity for case investigation.

"Identifying every case and contact, that is no longer possible, and our objective right now is to slow the inevitable spread," Dr. Janice Fitzgerald told reporters in St. John's.

"The reality of this virus is that it is so infectious, most people will acquire it."

Anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 and is considered a close contact of a known case should forego a polymerase chain reaction test and assume they have the virus, she added.

To prevent everyone getting sick at the same time, the province will move to more restrictive public health measures requiring households to stick to 10 close contacts, Fitzgerald said. Group and team sports are suspended, dancing in clubs and other venues is prohibited and funerals, burials and weddings must have fewer than 50 attendees or take place in a venue operating at 25 per cent capacity.

Fitzgerald reported 519 new cases of COVID-19, as well as the province's 20th death from the virus. There are 2,925 active reported cases and one person is in hospital because of the disease, she said. Test positivity rates are hovering around 10 per cent.

She said 125 of the new cases Monday were in the Labrador-Grenfell Health Authority region, where COVID-19 has reached communities along Labrador's remote north coast for the first time since the pandemic emerged in the spring of 2020. With 502 cases, the region is home to the highest per capita rate of infections in the province.

The Innu communities of Natuashish, along the north coast, and Sheshatshiu, in central Labrador, are both on lockdown.

"Just stay in your own bubble," Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation Chief Eugene Hart urged residents during a local briefing Monday. Hart also asked people from outside the community to stay away.

David Diamond, head of the Eastern Health Authority, said there were 625 health-care workers isolating across the province, either because they're sick with COVID-19 or they've been identified as a close contact of someone who is.

More than 200 other staff from Eastern Health have been diverted to assist with the pandemic response, either to pitch in with testing or administering vaccines, a spokeswoman for the authority said in an email Monday. Some have also been sent to cover shortages from the high number of workers staying home to isolate, she added.

Diamond acknowledged there was already a backlog in services because of a cyberattack launched Oct. 30 that took out the health-care systems' IT networks.

"Had we not had the it outage, most of our backlog from a COVID perspective would have been looked after by the end of December," Diamond said. "... The IT scenario put us behind by two or three weeks ... now we've got another blip, unexpected, and not anything that any of us can do about this."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 3, 2022.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press

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