Double-bubble: 2-household links allowed as N.L. moves to ease COVID-19 restrictions

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical officer of health, unveiled the provincial government’s five-stage plan for relaxing public health restrictions. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Itching for interaction with people outside your home? Effective today, Newfoundland and Labrador residents can expand their household bubbles under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald on Thursday unveiled the provincial government’s five-stage plan for relaxing public health restrictions, including conditions that need to be met as the province progresses from present conditions — Level 5 — to living with COVID-19 — Level 1.

“We chose alert levels as opposed to stages or phases because we want people to remember that although we might be relaxing some of the measures we put in place, we still need to be alert, vigilant and aware,” Fitzgerald said. 

“We must remember that if any of our indicators show a worsening of our situation we can tighten those restrictions again, and we will not hesitate to do so. We can move down through the alert levels, but we can move up as well if we need to.” 

Watch the full April 30 update:

The government’s alert system comes as the province marks the fourth straight day with no new COVID-19 cases, leaving the province’s total caseload at 258.

Active cases remain at 30, with three deaths and 225 recoveries from the virus. There have been 8,376 people tested, an increase of 156 since Wednesday’s update. Four people are in hospital due to the virus, two in intensive care.

The only immediate restriction relaxed is the expansion of the household “bubble” — the immediate group people live and interact with under public health restrictions.

Effective today, households may pick one other household to interact with, and each household may interact only with each other.

“I know it’s been a really hard six weeks and you have been incredibly patient. So I hope that this will help to reduce some of the social isolation that we all feel, especially those living alone,” said Fitzgerald.

Tough decisions will have to made when choosing another household to partner with. Grandparents, for example, with grandchildren in more than one household, or with underlying health conditions, will have to decide whether it’s wise to expand their bubble at all, Fitzgerald said. 

“Families have to think about who they’re joining with, and make sure that they’re making those decisions with the best interest of people in mind,” she said.

“The fewer interactions that you can have outside of your bubble the better.” 

The Newfoundland and Labrador government Thursday unveiled a five-stage alert system for relaxing public health orders under the COVID-19 pandemic. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

The provincial government has set May 11 as the target date for moving to Level 4, provided several conditions are met, including:

  • No new cases where the source of infection is unknown.
  • Testing is widely available.
  • Early detection of outbreaks and imported cases.
  • Capacity in the health system to handle the caseload.

Should the conditions be met, Level 4 includes the relaxation of several restrictions:

  • Low-risk outdoor recreational activities — including golf and hunting — may resume, provided they’re done so safely.
  • Low-risk non-essential businesses — such as law firms, accounting firms, and outdoor businesses like garden centres — can reopen.
  • Resumption of some medical procedures.
  • Funerals with a maximum of 10 people, including the officiant, will be allowed.
  • Limited expansion of child-care centres.

No target date has been set for Level 3 or lower. Level 3 includes further relaxation of public health orders:

  • Private health-care clinics — such as dentistry, optometry and physiotherapy — can reopen.
  • Medium-risk businesses — such as clothing stores, hair salons, pet centres — can reopen.
  • Restaurants can reopen with reduced occupancy.
  • Medium-risk outdoor recreational activities — such as team field sports — can resume.
  • Further expansion of child-care centres.

Level 2 sees further loosening of restrictions:

  • Small gatherings will be permitted, but there will be physical distancing restrictions.
  • Higher-risk businesses — larger retailers, shopping centres, theatres, perhaps performance spaces — can reopen, subject to conditions.
  • Medium-risk recreational facilities — such as gyms — can also reopen, also subject to conditions.

The government is advising the public to be prepared for life without mass gatherings, such as summer festivals, as the risk for outbreaks, without a vaccine yet available, is too great.

“I also want people to understand that we will almost certainly see more cases of COVID-19 as we relax our measures. This is not unexpected, and we do have the capacity in our public health and health-care systems to respond,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said core public health measures will have to be maintained through each level. including maintaining hygiene, physical distancing, using non-medical masks when in public areas, staying home when sick, working from home when possible, shopping online and using curbside pickup.

Self-isolation for anyone entering the province will remain in place, as well as limiting non-essential travel, restricting visits to hospitals, long-term-care homes, personal-care homes and assisted-living homes. Employees of those facilities are still not allowed to work at more than one site.

Mass gatherings are still prohibited.

“It’s not about beating the virus, it’s not about putting it behind us. It’s about living with it, and adapting to it and getting used to the fact we have to be careful and do things differently,” said Health Minister John Haggie.

Schools closed

Premier Dwight Ball said given the plan’s timeline, it’s unlikely schools will reopen by the end of the school year.

“There’s still time here for continued learning until the end of the school year.” 

Cities, towns plan slight reopening

Some municipalities are also set to begin reopening their own resources.

The City of St. John’s said in a news release it will soon announce a plan to reopen municipal parks and residential drop-off at the Robin Hood Bay landfill. The city said Robin Hood Bay will have its own phased approach to reopening, but will not be taking any recycling, yard waste, bulk Items, household hazardous waste or electronics in the first phase. 

The city said it anticipates parks will opened to the public as early as next week, but playgrounds, sporting facilities, skate parks, hard surface courts and dog parks will remain closed.

The Town of Conception Bay South will reopen Topsail Beach Rotary Park and Worsley Park on May 11, but will keep public playgrounds, sports fields, and the Sgt. Ned Nugent’s Dog Park closed for the time being. 

Regular curbside recycling in C.B.S. will resume Tuesday, with a limit of six bags per household.

The House of Assembly will also reopen Tuesday in order to deal with urgent business, with a minimum number of members in attendance.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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