30 new cases of COVID-19 in N.L., as Fitzgerald orders ‘circuit breaker’ for St. John’s region

Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical officer is implementing new restrictions for the St. John’s area, after the province announced 30 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.

That marked a huge jump from the 11 announced Monday, with Dr. Janice Fitzgerald acknowledging that a cluster akin to one seen last March is “the likely scenario” playing out now. 

All of Tuesday’s cases are in the Eastern Health region. It’s the second-highest single-day total since the start of the pandemic, just under the 32 cases announced March 25 during the province’s first wave.

“We can now say with certainty that we have community transmission in the metro region, and we will inevitably see more cases in the coming days,” Fitzgerald said at a media briefing Tuesday afternoon.

There are 57 active cases in the province, the highest total since April.

Effective midnight, the St. John’s metro area will be under special health measures for the next two weeks, a so-called “circuit breaker” to try to prevent the virus’s spread.

Fitzgerald said gatherings may not exceed 20 people for that time period. All group activities are suspended, while all gyms and recreational facilities will close. Retail stores and malls can remain open, as well as personal service and animal grooming businesses.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald announced new restrictions for the St. John’s metropolitan area on Tuesday. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Restaurants can remain open, at half capacity, but bars and cinemas will close, she said.

Families must limit contact to within their own households, Fitzgerald said.

“Right now, it appears that most of the cases are within one school,” she said, adding that the virus is largely spreading through close contacts and recreational activities. She confirmed there are no positive cases connected to other schools yet. 

No source identified

It’s also not clear to health officials how the outbreak started.

“At this time we don’t have any information on the source,” Fitzgerald said. “As you can imagine, with the number of contacts that public health is having to deal with at this time, that our focus is really on contact tracing and finding as many cases as we can.”

The update comes a day after Fitzgerald confirmed an outbreak in the St. John’s region, including a cluster of students infected at Mount Pearl Senior High School.

On Monday, there were 11 new confirmed cases, five of them students at the school. Fitzgerald said Monday that the number of people in isolation is in the “high hundreds,” at least, and contact tracing and testing are underway.

Mount Pearl Senior High has been closed, with classes moving online. 

Meanwhile, the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District also announced late Monday night that high schools in the metro area have been closed for at least a couple of days.

Record number of tests

The province swabbed 830 people since Monday’s update, a record number of one-day tests.

Fitzgerald said public health’s increased capacity could be contributing to the spike in cases.

She also said she expects the metro cluster to resemble the previous St. John’s-area outbreak, known as the Caul’s cluster, after a superspreader event at Caul’s Funeral Home last March that infected at least 167 people.

“That is the likely scenario in this case,” she said.

 “We are just a few days into this right now, and we’re already seeing 30 cases. It is a reflection, however, of the amount of testing that we’re doing, and the contact tracing that we’re doing.

“It’s better to find 30 cases than to not find them. This is public health doing its job.”

Fitzgerald said the outbreak isn’t typical of what other jurisdictions have seen from coronavirus variants, and tests have not yet turned up a mutated form of the virus.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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