A new cluster of COVID-19 cases has been found in western Newfoundland, as communities in the Stephenville area and on the Port au Port Peninsula will move to Alert Level 4 on Sunday.
The increased public health measures will come into effect as of 4 p.m. Sunday, as 11 confirmed cases and three presumptive cases have now been tied to the cluster.
Communities moving into Alert Level 4 include St. George's, Stephenville, Stephenville Crossing, Port au Port East and all towns on the Port au Port Peninsula. Communities along Routes 460, 461, 462, 463 and 490 will also enter Alert Level 4.
According to Medical Officer of Health Dr. Rosann Seviour, travel into these areas should be avoided unless essential. Those returning to another part of a province from a community moving into Alert Level 4 should monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days.
We need people to stay in their household bubble. - Dr. Rosann Seviour
Seviour said it is unclear how long Alert Level 4 will last in the area, but expects to know more as more information becomes available.
"We need people to stay in their household bubble," she said. "I know how difficult this has been for people, I know the separation has been difficult.… But now we have to ask you to really stick with that household bubble in this area."
Seviour said public health is not yet aware if the new cases are of a COVID-19 variant of concern.
As part of Alert Level 4, precautionary measures are in place at some Western Health hospitals and care centres. Visitation at Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital, Bay St. George Long Term Care Centre, Emile Benoit House and personal care homes will be limited to one designated person for each patient and resident.
Lab work and medical imaging will continue by urgent appointments only. The health authority will contact patients if their appointment will proceed or be cancelled.
All other appointments and services will continue virtually, unless contacted by Western Health.
The provincial court in Stephenville will also close for five days beginning Monday. All criminal appearances, trials, hearings and sentences will be pushed back one week. Virtual hearings will take the place of in-person hearings. Civil matters and traffic court cases will be adjourned indefinitely.
Two notifications of a potential COVID-19 exposure were also released. People who visited Dominion in Stephenville on Wednesday, May 26 between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. or Walmart in Stephenville on the same day between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. should get tested for COVID-19.
Watch the May 30 briefing here:
Newfoundland and Labrador reported a total of seven new positive cases of COVID-19 on Sunday.
Two of the reported cases are in the Eastern Health region — a man and a woman over the age of 70 — and are connected to the cluster previously identified in the Lewisporte area. They are close contacts of a previously known case and are connected to an exposure advisory asking anyone who visited Subway on Hamlyn Road in St. John's on May 23 to get tested for COVID-19.
Seviour said the cases present no risk to the people in the St. John's area at this time.
There is one new case in the central region connected to the same cluster, a woman under the age of 20. There are now 63 confirmed cases and one probable case connected to the Lewisporte cluster, which Seviour said remains under investigation.
There are four new positive cases in the Western region. Three are women under the age of 20 and one is a woman between 20 and 39, and all are close contacts of a previous case.
There are now 104 active cases across the province, with three people in hospital due to the virus.
Over 146,000 people have now been tested for COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador, including 441 in the past 24 hours.
Seviour also alerted rotational workers of an outbreak at the Mary River Mine operation in Nunavut. Any rotational workers returning from the site in the past two weeks must isolate away from family members for 14 days, regardless of test result.
Expanded testing in Stephenville beginning Monday
As testing ramps up as a result of the new cluster, Seviour said a total of five cases have emerged between two Stephenville schools. Four of the cases are in the same cohort at one school, with a fifth case at another school.
According to the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, schools — with the exception of Stephenville Primary — will remain open for in-person learning on Monday after the district was advised there is "no cause to alter any other school operations at this time."
Stephenville Primary will remain closed as staff and students await COVID-19 test results. An announcement from the school will be made Monday regarding Tuesday's classes, the school district said.
"Our goal is to balance keeping everybody safe and keeping children in school where they're best served," she said.
Testing will also begin at the Stephenville Dome beginning Monday. Seviour said those who get tested will likely have to wait between 12 and 24 hours for their result after a test is completed.
Vaccinations to be done in west coast schools
In a news release issued before Sunday's briefing, health officials encouraged anyone in the Stephenville and Kippens area to get tested, especially those from ages 12 to 30. Western Health said testing is part of the public health investigation to determine if there has been community transmission in the area.
The health authority also encouraged those between 12 and 30 years old to book a vaccination appointment if they haven't already. Vaccination clinics will remain open in the area, with Seviour telling those who have booked appointments not to cancel.
The news release said public health will also visit each K-12, junior high and high school in the region once between June 1 and June 19 to vaccinate students. Vaccinations will not provided at school for students aged 12 and older who attend elementary schools, however.