Newfoundland and Labrador's top doctor says the province will be moving to Step 2 of its reopening plan on Sunday, 15 days ahead of schedule, because more than 50 per cent of the eligible population have had two doses of COVID-19 vaccine and more than 80 per cent have had at least one dose.
"Our epidemiology continues to be favourable," Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said during a briefing Friday afternoon.
Fitzgerald said public health restrictions will ease, but there is no change to the requirement for mandatory masks in public spaces.
She said masks will continue until the province is two weeks out from reaching the 50 per cent vaccination mark, which will be the week of Aug. 9, and removing a mask mandate would be contingent on continued favourable epidemiology.
"Masking will continue to be strongly recommended by public health, particularly in those situations that are in higher risk for COVID spread," she said.
"Obviously we're paying very close attention to what's happening elsewhere in the country and what that means for travel."
Those places include indoor spaces where distancing might not be possible and where people may not know everyone's vaccination status.
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In Step 2, formal gatherings organized by businesses or organizations can now have up to 500 people outdoors and 350 people indoors as long as distancing can be maintained.
Personal gatherings are limited to the number of people who can fit into space with distancing.
"If you can only fit 10 people with distancing in that space, then that's your limit," said Fitzgerald.
There are now no capacity restrictions at restaurants and lounges, as long as physical distancing is maintained. Dancing is now permitted. Buffets are still off the table.
Fully and partially vaccinated travellers have no testing or self-isolation requirements when entering the province. Unvaccinated travellers and those who don't declare their vaccination status can be tested on Day 7 or later of their quarantine period, and have to self-isolate until they receive a negative test result.
Continued vaccine effort
While the province has reached 50 per cent of the population with two vaccine doses, Fitzgerald said there's still some concern.
"While we are thrilled to have 50 per cent of our population fully vaccinated or doubly vaccinated, I am concerned about the 17 per cent of the eligible population that have not yet had a first dose," Fitzgerald said.
"In some areas the first dose rate is as high as 90 per cent, while in other areas it's as low as 65 per cent."
Fitzgerald said the evidence and epidemiology elsewhere shows unvaccinated people now compose the majority of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Unvaccinated people give the virus opportunity to spread and evolve into a more a severe transmissible variant, she said.
"If you are eligible for the vaccine without contraindication there's really no reason not to be immunized. No one is too young to have severe illness from COVID-19," she said. "We have seen severe illness and deaths due to COVID-19 in young and healthy individuals."
Fitzgerald said regional health authorities are trying to increase the availability of vaccination appointments to reach people who may not have been able to book an inoculation yet.
Meanwhile N.L. reported no new cases of COVID-19 and no new recoveries on Friday, and continues to have two active cases.
Both of the active cases are in hospital and are crew members of ships that were anchored off the coast of Newfoundland earlier this month but have have since departed.
To date, 262,522 tests have been administered in N.L.