All of N.L. moves to Alert Level 3 as province adds 60 new cases of COVID-19

·10 min read
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald announced 60 new cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday.  (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - image credit)
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald announced 60 new cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - image credit)
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

All of Newfoundland and Labrador is moving to Alert Level 3 effective midnight, as the number of COVID-19 cases in the province continue to skyrocket.

At a media briefing Wednesday morning, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald reported 60 new cases of the virus have been found since Tuesday's update — all of them under investigation.

It ties for the second-highest number of new cases the province has seen in a single day, and brings the province's active case count up from 30 to 223 in just one week.

It's the highest number of active cases in N.L. since mid February.

Fitzgerald said 37 of the new cases are in the Eastern Health region, 10 are in the Central Health region, 12 are in the Western region and one is in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region.

There are now active outbreaks in western, central and eastern portions of the island Fitzgerald said, noting health officials anticipate the numbers will continue to rise given the infectiousness of the Omicron variant.

"Our fear is that if we start to see severe illness, it will overwhelm our health-care system which is already stretched," she said.

"We are pulling health-care staff from other areas to work on COVID response, and we cannot risk a surge in hospitalizations."

Watch the full Dec. 22 update:

There have been 12 new recoveries, and no one is in hospital due to COVID-19.

Testing across all regions is ramping up, and 3,458 swabs were completed in the last 24 hours.

Fitzgerald said the government's ongoing response to a pandemic approaching two-years long hasn't been for nothing.

"The last thing we want is for people to think the work we have put into the last two years is all in vain. We've benefited from a largely favourable epidemiology and very few restrictions compared to other jurisdictions," Fitzgerald said.

"But most importantly, we've saved lives. Today we need to face things as they are, not as we want them to be. We will reassess where we are on Jan. 10, to determine if we can change the alert level."

Bars, concert venues to close

The move to Alert Level 3 means public health restrictions are tightening up.

The restrictions close bars, cinemas, bingo halls and performance spaces across the province a day before Tibb's Eve, which tends to draw large crowds to drinking establishments across Newfoundland and Labrador.

They also reduce restaurant capacity and reinforce the "steady 20" rule, which limits household contacts to a maximum of 20 people outside the household.

"None of us want to be delivering this news. We do think it's the right time to introduce these measures to hopefully protect the economy long-term. There may be some short-term pain," said Premier Andrew Furey.

"It's not ideal timing, but COVID doesn't know that it's Tibb's Eve or that it's Christmas Day."

Under Alert Level 3, visitor restrictions are in place at old-age homes, but malls and businesses can remain open at full capacity.

Watch | Dr. Janice Fitzgerald urges residents not to be disheartened

Funerals, burials, and religious ceremonies are limited to 100 people, or 50 per cent capacity of the venue, whichever is less. Wakes are prohibited.

Fitness centres, pools and yoga studios are limited to 100 people at a time, or 50 per cent capacity per room.

Sports organizations are limited to training only and no competitions, and working from home whenever possible is recommended.

With regard to travelling within the province to celebrate the holidays, Fitzgerald reminded the public to keep contacts low and think about whether travelling is essential or not.

"You should not be travelling to another area of the province to have a party with people who are not in your close, consistent 20 [household contacts]," she said.

"The more movement of people we have in the province, the more spread of the virus we will see eventually."

MUN, CNA beginning winter semester online

Following the briefing, Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic announced it will delay the beginning of the winter semester — and move classes online.

The semester will now start on Jan. 10, four days later than planned, and most teaching will be done online until Jan. 31.

CNA's semester will also start on Jan. 10, with online learning in place until Jan. 21. Students will receive their start dates as soon as they are confirmed, said the college.

In a statement published in MUN's Gazette, the university's academic vice president Florentine Strzelczyk said they made the move to allow for employees and students returning from holiday travel to have time to self-isolate.

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

On-campus gatherings scheduled before Jan.10 are suspended, but in-person classes at both MUN and CNA involving labs, fine and performing arts programs and practicums will take place in person.

The university's Marine Institute will open on Jan. 4, while university buildings on the St. John's and Grenfell campuses will open Jan. 5.

Strzelczyk said they're planning for students to return to campus on Jan. 31, but that will depend on risk assessments and guidance from public health.

Supports are available for students and staff if needed.

Omicron spread, Exposure notices

Dr. Monika Dutt, medical officer of health for central and western Newfoundland, told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning on Wednesday Omicron cases are now starting to be found on the west coast of the island.

"We're still at the very beginning of our investigation there," Dutt said.

"We have started to see a small number in western Newfoundland."

Western Health is adding additional vaccine booster clinics through the end of December. About 2,000 additional appointment slots were added for next week, with 2,000 appointments already booked for the last two weeks of the year. A testing clinic will also be operating on Dec. 23 and 24 from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. Corner Brook Civic Center Studio.

Darla King, Western Health's regional director of community health, advises the public to watch the provincial government's vaccine booking website as appointments become available.

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

Health Minister John Haggie echoed what King said for other health regions in the province.

Haggie said 107,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine were sent to the province's regional health authorities Tuesday afternoon. He said there are about 270,000 people eligible for a booster before the new year and at the very beginning of 2022. The province has 214,000 doses ready, and Haggie said 100,000 more will arrive in the next week or so.

Possible exposure notices are continuing to trickle in across the province. One, issued by the Health Department, is for passengers and crew who travelled on the Labrador Marine Ferry that departed Blanc Sablon for St. Barbe last Friday at 6 p.m. The Department of Health is asking anyone who was on board to seek COVID-19 testing.

Potential COVID-19 exposure notices have been shared by all regional health authorities throughout the day. Anyone who visited the below locations at the times listed should be tested for COVID-19:

Labrador-Grenfell Health region

  • Walmart, 500 Vanier Ave, Labrador City on Monday between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.

  • The Well Bean Cafe, 222 Amherst Avenue, Labrador City on Monday between 11:30 a.m. and noon.

Western Health region

  • Jennifer's Restaurant, 50 Broadway, Corner Brook on Dec. 9 from 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

  • Best Coast Restaurant, 55 West St, Corner Brook on Dec. 12 from Noon to 1 p.m.

Central Health region

  • The Valley Restaurant, 19 Cromer Avenue, Grand Falls-Windsor on Dec. 15 from Noon to 1 p.m.

Eastern Health region

  • The Newfoundland Distillery, 14 Conception Bay Highway, Clarke's Beach on Dec.17 from 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

  • Kelly's Landing, Water Street, Bay Roberts on Dec. 17 from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

  • The Seaside Lounge, 307-309 Conception Bay Highway, Spaniard's Bay on Dec.17 from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

  • Winner's Circle Pub & Eatery, 325 Conception Bay Highway, Spaniard's Bay on Dec. 17 from 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

  • The Chalet Sports Bar, 271-275 Crane's Road, Upper Island Cove on Dec. 17 from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

  • Spiderman: No Way Home 3D Movie Cinema 6, Cineplex at the Avalon Mall, on Dec. 17, 10 p.m. show

  • Spiderman: No Way Home 3D Movie Cinema 6, Cineplex at the Avalon Mall on Dec. 19, 9:30 p.m. show.

  • The Newfoundland Embassy Pub & Eatery, 79-81 New Gower Street, St. John's, on Dec. 16 from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

  • Waterwest Kitchen and Meats, 720 Water Street, St. John's, on Dec.16 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Dec.17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • Goodlife Fitness at Atlantic Place, 215 Water Street, St. John's, on Dec. 17 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

  • Baccalieu Trail Brewing Company, 1 Conception Bay Highway, Bay Roberts, on Dec. 17 from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

  • Christian's Pub, 23 George Street, St. John's, on Dec. 17 from 8 p.m. to midnight.

  • Cojones Tacos & Tequila, 195 Water Street, St. John's on Dec. 17 from 4:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. and Dec. 18 from 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

  • The Celtic Hearth, 300 Water Street, St. John's on Dec. 17 from 8 p.m. to midnight.

  • Green Sleeves Pub and Eatery, 14 George Street, St. John's, on Dec. 17 from 8 p.m. to midnight.

  • The Merchant Tavern, 291 Water St., St. John's, on Dec. 18 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

  • Boca Tapas Bar, 189 Water Street, St. John's on Dec. 18 from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.

  • Pure and Simple Restaurant, 1641 Topsail Road, Paradise, on Dec. 18 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

  • Mad Rock Theatre Group, St. John the Evangelist Church Event, Coleys Point, Bay Roberts, on Dec. 18 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

  • Goodlife Fitness, 141 Torbay Road, St. John's, on Dec. 19 and 20 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

  • Starbucks, 12 Hebron Way, St. John's, on Dec. 20 from 7 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

The Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador issued its own notice Wednesday morning, saying the provincial court in St. John's is closing for the day because of a likely COVID-19 exposure.

All cases scheduled for Wednesday will be called at the same time Thursday, and public health will contact anyone who may have been exposed for further assessment.

The Health Department says there will be no COVID-19 update over the weekend, while on Monday and Tuesday they will release numbers on their twitter account. A media release on the latest COVID-19 data is expected again Wednesday.

If the circumstances change significantly, the Health Department said advisories will be issued and they will possibly hold a briefing if required.

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