With only one person left in hospital and no new COVID-19 cases to report, Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical officer of health on Friday addressed growing frustration over a continued ban on team sports and other group events.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald nixed group sports following an outbreak last month in the St. John’s region that involved tracing contacts of people involved in school sporting events.
“I recognize that many individuals in the sports community are disappointed that team sports are slower to resume,” she said.
The main reason is B.1.1.7, the variant involved in February’s outbreak, spread quickly through families, social networks and workplaces.
“Our case counts were doubling in slightly less than every two days. We were fortunate to have detected the virus when we did. We were mere days away from this virus spreading across the province and becoming much more difficult to contain,” Fitzgerald said.
“The most critical thing for us right now is to keep our contacts low, and I cannot stress enough the importance of this. We cannot ignore the reality that group activities, including team sports, result in multiple contacts for each individual, and this is compounded by the interaction of different teams and individuals involved in multiple types of sports and activities,” she said. “We recognize the importance of sport and other activities in the health, both mental and physical, of the people who play them, and we recognize the importance of return to play gradually and safely.”
With that in mind, she said her office is accepting “return to play” plans from groups and associations as a prelude to reopening sports activities gradually. She said those plans will have to more stringently address the need to reduce the number of contacts for participants.
Asked whether many cases in the St. John’s region outbreak were directly related to sports, Fitzgerald said yes.
“The link to sports has been clearly made in many cases. It’s not the only link. Absolutely not,” she said, adding that spread through family contacts, gatherings and workplaces also occurred.
“There were so many contacts through the sports. It took a lot to be able to work through that.”
Meanwhile, Premier Andrew Furey was especially upbeat Friday as he talked about how the province was able to reach an agreement to rejoin the Atlantic bubble on April 19.
“What a difference a month can make, indeed,” he said. “Just four weeks ago we had 60 new cases with a total of 417 active. Today we have no new cases, with only 26 active. It’s a real testament to all of you for your hard work and diligence, and to Dr. Fitzgerald and her team at Public Health.”
Furey said the dramatic drop in the number of cases in such a short period is what made the difference between a Maritime-only bubble and one that included this province.
“This is excellent news for our tourism industry heading into the summer,” he said.
The bubble depends on Newfoundland and Labrador reaching Alert Level 2 safely, Fitzgerald added.
With minimum two-week intervals between transitions, that could happen in three weeks.
“We’ve done it safely before. People know what to do and what to expect,” she said.
However, talk of opening up to travellers from other provinces is far too premature, she said, addressing discussions in some circles that it could happen as soon as July 1.
“We need to see what will happen, the effect that vaccines will have on the spread of disease.”
If numbers fall in provinces that have high caseloads, she said, she would have a better idea.
Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram