Three schools on the Northern Peninsula will remain closed until next week while Labrador-Grenfell Health officials conduct contact tracing in the area.
And Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said communities in the region must revert to Alert Level 3 effective immediately.
The Department of Health reported three confirmed COVID-19 cases and seven presumptive positive cases in the area on Monday. The number of confirmed cases in the cluster rose to eight on Tuesday.
Cloud River Academy in Roddickton, H.G. Fillier Academy in Englee and Mary Simms All Grade in Main Brook will delay opening because of the presumed cluster.
Administration day will be Monday, Sept. 13, with doors opening to students on Sept. 14.
“As this is considered a delayed opening, there will be no virtual learning provided at this time,” Cloud River Academy announced on its website.
Fitzgerald said the communities dropping back to Alert Level 3 include Roddickton-Bide Arm, Conche, Englee, Croque, St. Julien’s and Main Brook.
“The rationale for this decision includes several factors,” Fitzgerald explained during Tuesday’s live COVID-19 briefing. “We are continuing to find cases in all groups of contacts, indicating community spread. There are several large gatherings indicated in the investigation, leading to large numbers of high-risk contacts. The outbreak is related to the highly infectious Delta variant and, most important, there is a low vaccination rate in communities in the area.”
She later said less than 60 per cent of eligible residents in the region are fully vaccinated, compared to the provincial average of 76 per cent.
The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District confirmed Tuesday all three schools will be in “high-risk” mode when they reopen next week. That could mean masks will be mandatory on buses and in common areas of the school, as well as other precautions.
The health authority offered testing Tuesday at the White Bay Central Health Centre until 3:30 p.m. Anyone could get tested and no appointment was necessary.
The combined Roddickton-Bide Arm/Englee area has a population of about 1,500.
Altogether, the Department of Health reported 15 new COVID-19 cases in the province over the long weekend.
Investigations into two other clusters, in the Eastern Health and Western Health regions, are ongoing. So far, those clusters amount to five and seven cases, respectively, and have not climbed significantly in days.
Fitzgerald said Tuesday the number of breakthrough cases — positive tests in people who have been fully vaccinated — from July 1 to Sept. 7 was 28 out of total of 76 positive cases reported. That doesn’t include several cases contained on ships that were in port over the summer.
That’s a higher ratio than 31 breakthrough cases out of 1,150 cases reported since vaccinations first began in December 2020.
Fitzgerald said all recent cases involve the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
“As I’ve said before, the goal is not to stop cases from coming into the province,” she said. “Cases will come through travel and we need to realize this is part of living with COVID-19. But our goal is to find a way to live with it, and we can do this in two ways: one, by increasing our vaccination rate, and two, by practising our tried-and-true health measures.”
She also assured that her office is in close contact with education officials about the situation in schools.
“Public Health maintains regular communication with the Department of Education and the school districts, and if the situation changes, make no doubt that we are prepared to take action and move quickly to keep our staff and children safe.”
Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram