Christmas parades and holiday plans up in the air, as N.L. records 0 new cases

·5 min read
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, its third straight day without a new case, although officials expressed caution about how Santa Claus parades and other seasonal celebrations will take place this year.

When asked during a media briefing Thursday if it's possible to hold Christmas parades this year, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said a drive-by parade, where the public drives by floats instead of the other way around, is one solution, but with some restrictions in place.

She said the provincial government already has guidance for parades on its COVID-19 website.

"Obviously you would have to make sure that people who are on the floats together, and that the floats are spaced so bubbles aren't mixing and things like that," she said. "Certainly there will have to be some crowd controls at the beginnings and ends and that sort of thing."

Several municipalities are weighing their options.

St. John's Coun. Debbie Hanlon, who leads the city's special events committee, told CBC News no decision has been made yet on how —or if — the annual downtown Christmas parade this year — one of the largest in the province.

"We're looking at possibilities, but right now we don't know what we're going to do," said Hanlon.

"We have to look at the safety of people first, and of course nobody wants to not have some kind of a parade. ... We're looking to others, and they're looking to us and I think there are a lot of brilliant minds on it. So, I think we will come up with something."

A spokesperson for the town of Conception Bay South said the town is considering options outside of a traditional parade. The town received 900 responses from residents on the topic and expects to make a decision on Nov. 3.

Mount Pearl's parade — which is put off by the Mount Pearl Lions Club — has not yet been announced. When reached by CBC Wednesday, a member said a decision had been made, and wouldn't speak about options being considered. He said a decision would be made early next week.

For the holidays, Fitzgerald has said the public health team is working on ways to ease travel restrictions, while keeping an eye on the epidemiology of COVID-19 in other jurisdictions across the country.

On Thursday, Fitzgerald said there could be an announcement by the week of Nov. 9.

Watch the full Oct. 29 update:

The province currently has four active cases, with four deaths and 283 people having recovered since March. The province's total caseload stands at 291.

To date, 51,876 people have been tested — 347 of those in the last 24 hours.

The weekly update on Newfoundland and Labrador's pandemic response resumed Thursday, after technical problems brought Wednesday's media briefing to an abrupt end.

Fitzgerald, and Health Minister John Haggie, picked up where they left off Wednesday, answering questions from reporters.

Lessons learned this spring, Haggie says

Other provinces are continuing to work through a second wave of the virus. Ontario reported 934 new cases on Thursday.

When asked how prepared Newfoundland and Labrador's health-care system is, in the event of another wave of COVID-19 here, Haggie said lessons were learned during the first wave.

"We do know it takes less than a week to half-empty the capacity we can achieve," he said. "We have done very well. In actual fact I think we lead in the country in our ability to contact-trace and contain identified cases."

Haggie said the worry right now is the coincidence of a flu wave coupled with a COVID-19 spike. He said that's why there's so much emphasis on the influenza vaccine this year.

The health minister said pharmacists have already administered more than 28,000 flu shots, and the number of appointments booked through public health is around 52,000.

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

"We are looking to that as a further way of reducing demand on hospital beds over the winter and allowing us to have more capacity to deal with any potential COVID wave," he said.

Haggie also said there will be an update on COVID-19 modelling from Dr. Proton Rahman, a professor of medicine and a clinical researcher at Memorial University's school of medicine, and his analytics team. Haggie said it will be available on the government's website, but did not say when that would be.

A day ago, Fitzgerald announced public health is changing the criteria for COVID-19 testing.

Until now, people have needed to have two or more of a range of symptoms, but as of Monday, a single symptom of fever or a new or worsening cough is enough to warrant a test.

At least two other symptoms — including headaches, loss of appetite, sore throat or a runny nose — should be present for someone to schedule a test.

Haggie said Wednesday he had received a report about the rotational workers program just prior to the briefing.

He said if there are any changes to be made to the program — which allows workers to schedule a test by Day 5 of their return to Newfoundland and Labrador, and be free to move beyond their home after Day 7, if they have tested negative — those will be announced by the end of the week.

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