Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the fifth day in a row with zero.
Two more people have recovered, bringing the total number of recoveries to 274, and dropping the province's active caseload to nine.
In total, 49,502 people have now been tested, including 385 in the last day.
Premier Andrew Furey is joining the panel, his first since winning the Humber-Gros Morne byelection on Oct. 6.
Flu shot clinics began opening in all regional health authorities across the province on Wednesday. Furey, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald and Health Minister John Haggie stressed the importance of getting the vaccine to alleviate stress on the health-care system if a second wave of COVID-19 hits the province.
"Protecting against influenza will keep our health-care system ready to handle whatever might come in terms of COVID-19," Furey said. "In the most recent flu season, 2019 to 2020, nine people died from influenza, 17 people were admitted to the ICU and 92 were hospitalized."
Haggie said about 14,000 people had been registered for flu shots through the government's online booking tool as of Wednesday morning.
Watch the full Oct. 21 update:
To help the provincial government reach its goal of vaccinating 85 per cent of the population, Haggie said, medium-sized businesses can apply for a grant to cover the costs of providing flu shots to their employees.
Businesses with 100 or more employees can have access to the vaccine, supplies and personal protective equipment for free. The health minister said businesses that have a health-care provider on staff should "redeploy" them to administer the vaccine to employees.
For businesses without a health-care provider on staff, Haggie said the grant will cover the costs of having someone provide vaccinations, including the necessary protective equipment.
"[It's] something new and innovative to try and broaden access to hit our 85 per cent target," he said.
Haggie also said the province will be getting rapid COVID-19 tests, but he's unsure how many. What is known, he said, is that each box will come with 1,000 cartridges, to be used in the event of outbreaks. The health minister said the machines are expected to be in the province in a week or two, but there are discussions about what level of staff training would be needed to use the tests — whether any health-care provider could administer it or if they would be better left to those with lab training.
"That will hopefully be clarified in the not-so-distant future," he said.
N.L.'s 2nd wave
While other parts of Canada have been experiencing a second wave of COVID-19, Newfoundland and Labrador has just seen a handful of cases — all travel-related, people returning to the province and close contacts of those cases.
Asked what the province's second wave could look like, Furey said new projection modelling will be available in the "not-so-distant future."
"Rght now it's difficult to fully predict," he said. "But it's important to remind ourselves, over and over again, that complacency is our biggest threat when it comes to any outbreak, whether it be a second wave or a series of waves in the future."
Fitzgerald said the province would need to see many more cases, including with community transmission, than what it's seeing right now to be considered to be in a second wave.
"At this moment that's not where we are," she said, adding that if the province looked to be heading toward a second wave, she'd be the first one to say so.
"We have the ability to keep this outbreak a slow burn here. If people follow the quarantine rules, and stay in quarantine for 14 days after they arrive to the province we can keep this as it has been."
Fitzgerald said there are no plans to tighten public health restrictions for being indoors heading into the winter, but the province will be watching the epidemiology across the rest of the country, as well as in Newfoundland and Labrador, to inform decisions.
"Even though it's getting colder we can still go outdoors, and we can do things outdoors. We're a pretty hardy bunch and I think the weather doesn't need to stop us," she said.
As for easing travel restrictions for the Christmas season, Furey said Fitzgerald and public health officials are working on a plan, but it's difficult to predict how things will look by December. He said it won't be before early November before public health has an idea what the province's epidemiology will look like look for the holiday season.
Fitzgerald said public health has a "Christmas squad" on the team right now, and more information will be available on celebrations, such as visits, parties and New Year's Eve fireworks, in the coming weeks.
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