Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting 431 new cases of COVID-19 and its 19th COVID-19 death as the year comes to a close.
The province's latest death related to the virus is a man in the Eastern Health region in his 60s, according to the Department of Health.
Friday marks the first COVID-related death in Newfoundland and Labrador since late November.
There are 272 new cases in the Eastern Health region, including 98 people in their 20s or 30s. There are 92 new cases in the Labrador-Grenfell region, 37 in the Central Health region and 25 in the Western Health region.
There are also five cases reported from a private testing lab outside the regional health authorities. One person is in hospital with the virus. All cases are under investigation.
In all, there are 1,746 active cases of COVID-19 in the province, as 113 recoveries were also reported. A total of 392,605 COVID tests have now been completed, up 3,705 from Thursday.
COVID Cases in NL
Public health also announced Friday it will no longer issue COVID-19 exposure notices on a regular basis. They will only be shared in "exceptional circumstances," such as a high-risk exposure that could create a super-spreader event.
As the level of transmission rises, public health said testing resources need to focus on those who are showing symptoms or their close contacts.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 testing challenges are still plaguing parts of Labrador.
Labrador-Grenfell Health said it's is aware of long lines and extended wait times at the drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The health authority said only those who are close contacts of an infected person and those who have been notified by public health will be swabbed on Friday.
Starting Jan. 1, testing will be done by appointment only.
"If you were in the line-up on Thursday, Dec. 30 and were asked to return on Friday, only return if you were contacted by public health," the health authority said in a media release.
Labrador-Grenfell Health also updated its visitor restrictions on Friday, which follows announcements made on Thursday by Eastern Health, Central Health and Western Health.
Effective immediately, all in-person visits to all sites and facilities are suspended until further notice. There are exceptions, however, for labour and delivery patients. Palliative care and end-of-life visitation should be discussed with the patient's health care team, the health authority said.
In a news release, the health authority also said it has moved to preforming emergency surgeries only due to short staffing. Employees are being redeployed to deal with "surge capacity" at the Labrador Health Centre.
Similar changes are coming in the Eastern Health region, where employees are being redeployed to help with the testing and booster doses.
Omicron 'devastating' local restaurants
As cases continue to rise, Brenda O'Reilly says the Omicron variant has dealt yet another "devastating" blow for restaurants in the province.
"December was going along pretty good, and then we just kind of got a big hit over the head with the Omicron," O'Reilly, chairperson for Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, said Thursday.
The arrival of Omicron, and the record-high provincial case numbers that came with it, have prompted health officials to advise against attending large gatherings during New Year's Eve, and limiting informal, in-person gatherings to a group of 20 close, consistent contacts.
"Gatherings should really be as small as possible," Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said during Wednesday's COVID-19 briefing. "Everybody in your consistent 20 contacts will be contacts of each other, so you have to consider that as well."
Restaurants are able to stay open at 50 per cent capacity under Alert Level 3, but bars and lounges are required to close.
O'Reilly, who also owns O'Reilly's Pub in downtown St. John's, says the rapid change in case numbers, alert levels and capacity restrictions has caused New Year's Eve reservations to "drop like flies," and has left restaurant and bar owners with a feeling of uncertainty about whether or not to keep their doors open.
"It's almost like the beginning of COVID, when it started in March of 2020, when there was really no decisions being made by government. We were choosing whether we were going to stay open or not and it was such a stressful time, and it feels like we're back there again," she said.
"We've been two years now losing money.... There's a lot of decisions to make, and they're not easy."
Peter Wilkins, co-founder of The Newfoundland Distillery in Clarke's Beach, operates the business as a lounge, which meant being forced to close as a result of Alert Level 3.
"We could have changed it to a restaurant license, but we felt that just with the sort of level of possible transmissions, it would be much, much better and safer to shut her down," he said.
Whatever businesses decide to do, O'Reilly says restaurants require more support to survive through the early months of the new year, which historically is the slowest period of the year for the industry.
"I'm a profoundly optimistic person, so I hope the Omicron wave will be a very quick one and that there will be very few serious illnesses as a result," Wilkins added. "With any luck by the end of January or early February, everything will be getting back to some kind of normal."