Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting three new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, as the province is poised to have 50 per cent of the eligible population vaccinated with at least one dose by the end of the day.
Two of Wednesday's cases are in the Eastern Health region. One is travel-related, while the other is still under investigation, said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald during the province's weekly pandemic update. The third case is in the Western Health region and a contact of a previous case.
There have been eight new recoveries, leaving N.L. with 78 active cases. One person is in hospital.
To date, 140,245 have been tested, including 389 since Tuesday's update.
Fitzgerald noted the majority of the province's new cases are coming from travellers, with limited spread to contacts. She said public health is treating all new cases as variants of concern.
On Wednesday, Fitzgerald announced the Codroy Valley area on Newfoundland's southwest coast would move from Alert Level 4 back to Level 2, with the rest of the province, at midnight.
Last week, Western Health conducted increased testing in the area on the island's southwest coast after three cases of COVID-19 were found in Belanger Memorial School, with a total of nine found in the community, and Fitzgerald moved the region to Level 4, to try to prevent further spread.
Fitzgerald said Wednesday there hasn't been any evidence of widespread community transmission in the area, allowing the lifting of restrictions.
On Tuesday the Department of Health reported a case of COVID-19 Anthony Paddon Elementary in Musgravetown. Testing for close contacts was quickly arranged. Fitzgerald said Wednesday she didn't know the exact number of people tested in relation to that case, but the tests that have been completed so far have returned negative with no indication of further spread.
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Some provinces are still grappling with community spread, said Fitzgerald, but there are signs of improvement across the country, with daily case counts declining in almost all jurisdictions.
"Nationally there was a 22 per cent decrease in cases from the previous week, and in the Atlantic region there was a decrease of 28 per cent," she said.
"While we have every reason to be optimistic that we are turning a corner, we need to remember that we are not out of the woods yet."
Fitzgerald said the province will ease public health restrictions further when deemed it is safe to do so and Alert Level 1 — the lifting of public health restrictions — "is in sight."
"There are a number of factors that we have to take into account, and these include the national epidemiology across the country, the proportion of our population with a first and second dose of vaccine and the real world evidence on vaccines in terms of both transmission and preventing severe illness," she said.
Nearing 50 per cent vaccination
The province is expecting to have administered first doses of vaccine to 50 per cent of eligible residents by the end of the day on Wednesday, something Premier Andrew Furey called a major milestone.
More than 237,000 people have rolled up their sleeves for a first dose. Fitzgerald said more than 36,000 of those happened over the last week, and implored anyone who can receive a vaccine to do so.
"Making the choice to be vaccinated not only protects you from severe illness, it protects those around you and it protects your community," she said.
"The more people who are immunized, the better protected we'll all be from COVID-19. This is our best chance to return to life closer to what we knew before COVID."
As of Tuesday, 86 per cent of people 65 years old and up had received their first dose.
Meanwhile, 1,480 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine are set to expire at the end of the month. Newfoundland and Labrador has suspended the use of that vaccine as a first dose due to the risk of blood clots. Health Minister John Haggie said the province will be returning the doses to the federal vaccine supply chain to be distributed elsewhere.
Victoria Day weekend
With the Victoria Day long weekend approaching, Fitzgerald said the maximum for informal gatherings is still capped at 20 people and noted that police have the authority to charge anyone violating special measures orders.
Fitzgerald also asked parents and guardians to pay close attention to any plans their teenagers have for this weekend, and to also ensure their own plans set a good example, pointing to February's outbreak as an example of how easily circumstances can worsen. When asked about graduation parties, Fitzgerald reiterated the importance of following special measures orders into the summer.
"We are so close. We don't want to have another shutdown because of another outbreak," said Furey.
Meanwhile, the Corner Brook Minor Baseball Association reported that some of its staff and executive members had a recent brush with COVID-19, and are self-isolating after contact with a positive case. The association said in a Facebook post that no players are at risk, and those members are self-isolating.
The association has cancelled its baseball sessions for the week.