N.L. schools go virtual starting Jan. 4 as province reports 312 new cases of COVID-19

·7 min read
Residents in parts of Labrador are continuing to get tested for COVID-19 after presumptive positive cases continue to crop up.  (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Residents in parts of Labrador are continuing to get tested for COVID-19 after presumptive positive cases continue to crop up. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

COVID-19 cases continue to spike in Newfoundland and Labrador, with the province reporting 312 cases — another single-day record.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said during Wednesday's briefing that 216 of the cases are in the Eastern Health region, 49 are in the Central Health area, 30 are in the Western Health region and 16 in the Labrador-Grenfell Health area.

Fitzgerald said there were 44 recoveries since Tuesday's update, leaving 1,111 active cases in the province.

"The cases we are reporting this week are the result of transmission that took place just prior to and during Christmas," she said.

"The last thing anyone wants is another lockdown, and we're trying strike a balance between reducing spread and allowing people to engage in activities for their wellbeing."

No one is in hospital at the moment due to the virus and 3,018 tests were completed since Tuesday's update.

The province's COVID-19 website will now include positive test results for those who have gotten a test. Fitzgerald said it's to expedite the process as hundreds of new cases are being reported over the last few days. Those who have tested positive will be given a letter — with detailed instructions — to send to individuals who were close contacts as far back as 72 hours before symptoms started.

"If you see that your test is positive, self-isolate and wait for a call from public health with further instruction," she said.

Watch the full Dec. 29 update:

Heading into New Year's Eve, health and government officials are asking the public to keep contacts low and refrain from hosting or attending large parties or gatherings.

Fitzgerald said the ongoing outbreak — reaching across the entire province — stems from personal gatherings, many downtown St. John's establishments and some sports teams. She added it's hard to pinpoint the source of many infections given the influx of cases transmitted within the community.

Following the briefing, Eastern Health issued more exposure notifications. Anyone who visited the following locations at the dates and times listed should book a COVID-19 test:

  • Tim Hortons, 275 Kenmount Road, St. John's, Dec. 22 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

  • St. John's Fish Exchange, 351 Water Street, St. John's, Dec. 21 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

  • GoodLife Fitness, 141 Torbay Road, St. John's, Dec. 21 from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., Dec. 22 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Dec. 23, 27 and 28 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

  • The Nook and Cannery, 69 Harvey Road, St. John's, Dec. 20 from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.

  • Orangetheory Fitness, 70 White Rose Drive, St. John's, Dec. 22 from 9:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

  • Gahan House Harbourview, 135 Harbour Drive, St. John's, Dec. 22 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

  • The Rec Room, The Avalon Mall, St. John's, Dec. 20 from 4 p.m. to midnight, Dec. 21 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Dec. 24 from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Dec. 27 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Dec. 28 from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.

  • Blue On Water, 319 Water Street, St. John's, Dec. 23 from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Schools going online

Meanwhile, students are just around the corner from returning to school after the holiday break, but Premier Andrew Furey said classes will be going virtual starting Jan. 4, with reassessment happening on a week-to-week basis.

"Now is the time for precaution, not for panic," Furey said.

Education Minister Tom Osborne said getting students back in class, in person, remains the priority as soon as it's safe to do so. He said an update will be provided to schools every Thursday starting Jan. 6 regarding how the following week will look.

Mike Moore/CBC
Mike Moore/CBC

"Some changes to our approach were required. Obviously this is a significant shift in our school communities," Osborne said.

"I know that it's not ideal and I appreciate everybody's patience. We are, and we fully anticipate, that there will be some bumps in the road in the new year. However, this is the eventuality that we prepared for in the final two days before Christmas break."

Hospital unit closed to visitors

The Health Sciences Centre in St. John's has suspended visitation on 5 South B, which typically houses neurosurgery and urology patients, as occupational health is conducting contact tracing for all employees. Contact tracing for inpatients is already completed, according to an Eastern Health media release.

In a statement to CBC News from the Department of Health, officials can't confirm if additional positive cases have been identified in the unit due to the low number involved but said it has not been deemed an outbreak site.

Health Minister John Haggie said "a significant number" of health-care workers are contacts of a COVID-19 infection and are being required to self-isolate. However, he said the data is incomplete because the system used to collect information is still offline from the IT outage earlier this fall.

"We have 487 health-care workers currently isolating, and that's a low estimate," he said.

"The visitor restriction is a public health measure to safeguard visitors and staff, as well as patients."

New cases in Labrador

The Nain Inuit Community Government is urging residents to stay home and within their bubbles unless it's absolutely necessary to venture out as new cases are cropping up in the area. The government is also asking travellers to stay away from the community unless it's for essential purposes.

In its own media release, the Nunatsiavut Government said it's continuing contact tracing and anticipates finding more presumptive positive cases in the coming days, although health workers have encountered challenges getting their hands on supplies.

Flights resumed Tuesday, but on Wednesday morning, Air Borealis tweeted that flights to coastal Labrador were on hold because conditions remain poor across the region.

The Health Department said Fitzgerald, Labrador-Grenfell Health and the Nunatsiavut Government are continuing to monitor the situation.

Furey said "a healthy number" of test kits are being shipped to Labrador that should meet the demand. He said he spoke with Johannes Lampe, president of the Nunatsiavut Government, about the volume of tests that will be needed, and it's his understanding that kits are already on the way.

"We are confident that we can continue to supply that level of testing that's needed," said Furey.

"Weather aside, we're confident in the supply chain and ensuring that Labrador is kept safe."

Tests carried out in other Labrador Inuit communities on Monday have all returned negative results, the government said, adding, effective immediately, all Nunatsiavut Government offices in Nain are closed to the public.

Non-essential travel to, from and between Labrador Inuit communities is also being discouraged.

Lockdown in Sheshatshiu

Officials in the community of Sheshatshiu are implementing measures of their own Wednesday, including a town lockdown beginning at 7 p.m.

As part of the changes, the town will implement security to limit travel in and out of the community. Residents are able to move in and out of Sheshatshiu, but are encouraged to limit non-essential travel. Non-residents can only enter the town if work requires them to do so.

Social community gatherings, including New Years Eve celebrations, are cancelled. Visits between family members are allowed, but residents are asked to limit their contacts.

A booster vaccination clinic will take place Thursday in the community starting at 10 a.m. at the North West River Community Centre.

Presumptive cases in Natuashish

In Natuashish, Innu Nation Deputy Grand Chief Mary Ann Nui issued a statement on Facebook Monday night saying three presumptive positive cases have been found in the community.

Nui said the presumptive cases stem from the four Air Borealis flights last week that had exposure notices issued for them and from a bar at Trappers' Cabin in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Dec. 17.

Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

"We should not panic; these are only presumptive cases," Nui wrote. "The individuals are isolating tight and respecting the community."

COVID advisories from the Health Department will be issued on Dec. 30 and 31, a spokesperson said. On Jan. 1-3, updates will be provided through the department's Twitter account. Advisories will then be issued daily for the week of Jan. 4.

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