Newfoundland and Labrador reported 53 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, as well as 32 presumptive positive cases. The vast majority of the people who tested positive were under age 20, health officials said.
It was by far the largest single-day increase since the first case in the province was identified in March. Before Wednesday, the highest single-day total was 32, on March 25.
“I believe that going so long with low case counts of COVID led to complacency and we are now seeing the repercussions,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald during a COVID-19 update Wednesday afternoon.
“This is something we had worried about and cautioned against.”
Almost all new cases were identified in the province’s Eastern Health region, with the exception of one that involved a person who lives in the jurisdiction but tested positive in the Central Health region,
Of the people who tested positive with the new cases, 44 are under 20 years old, four are between 20 and 39 years old, four are between 40 and 49 years old and one is between 50 and 59 years old, Fitzgerald said.
There have been no recoveries since Tuesday’s update, she said. The province has 110 active cases.
The presumptive cases came through rapid testing kits, but those tests are used for screening and not diagnostics, Fitzgerald said. The tests will still have be confirmed through the province’s public health lab.
Closures and cancellations
Fitzgerald announced the suspension of all group and team sports across the province, effective immediately. Group arts and cultural activities that involve gatherings and close contact, including bands and choirs, are also suspended provincewide.
“We will re-evaluate this in two weeks,” Fitzgerald said.
Starting at midnight Wednesday in what’s known as the “metro area” — St. John’s and the surrounding area — funerals, burials, weddings and religious ceremonies are limited to 10 people as long as physical distancing can be maintained.
Retail stores that don’t provide services essential to life, health or personal safety to people or animals are to close for in-person service but can continue with online and phone sales with delivery or curbside pickup. Personal service businesses such as spas, hair salons, tattoo shops and tanning salons are to close. Restaurants will be closed to in-person dining but can continue with take out and drive-thru options. Bar, lounges, bingo halls and cinemas will be closed.
Child-care facilities will remain open, but Fitzgerald recommended keeping kids at home for the next two weeks if possible. Animal day cares and grooming businesses can remain open provided they can ensure contact-free drop-off and pickup, she said.
Watch the full Feb. 10 update
Since Tuesday, 860 people had been tested for the virus, the most in a single day since the pandemic began, bringing the total to 84,220, according to CBC data.
“We are in for a rough period in the days and weeks ahead,” said Fitzgerald. “I believe you have the determination and the desire to do what needs to be done. Hold fast Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Fitzgerald strongly advised against travel in and out of the metro area, saying it should only be done for essential purposes.
As for the alert level system the province had been using to determine what can and can’t operate during the pandemic, Fitzgerald said the targeted measures in place “are what they are” and that it would be irrelevant now to put a number on the plan.
“We’re doing what we feel we need to do. We’ve learned a lot since we were in the those levels,” she said.
“We feel you can’t apply a system that we had back last year in May or June to where we are right now and what we know.”
With so many young people involved in the latest outbreak, Fitzgerald said she’s worried about the long-lasting damage that can be caused by nasty social media posts, and advised people to think critically about what they are posting.
She said this spike is expected to have “significantly more cases” than the Caul’s Funeral Home cluster last year in the early days of the pandemic.
Between March 15 and 17, more than 100 people contracted the virus either directly or indirectly from the St. John’s funeral home.
About 1,000 people have been, or will be, tested in connection to Mount Pearl Senior High School, just outside of St. John’s, said Fitzgerald, and there are hundreds more actively being identified by public health as close contacts.
“If there’s any good news in all of this is that people are now listening to public health advice and getting tested. That is critical to containing the outbreak,” she said.
“We are conducting widespread testing and all contacts of high school students are being tested and self-isolating.”
Students and staff of Mount Pearl Senior High must self-isolate for 14 days from the last day they attended school, or were in contact with a positive case. They must also complete the 14-day period regardless of the test result.
Elections NL announced two positive cases among its poll workers Wednesday, and closed the returning office for Mount Pearl-Southlands.
The agency first said in a news release that a person who attended a training session on Feb. 4 tested positive and that anyone who attended that same session, held at St. Peter’s Church in Mount Pearl, should contact 811 and be tested for the virus.
A second poll worker at the advance polling station in the Conception Bay East-Bell Island electoral district in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s also tested positive, the agency said. That worker “had very limited interaction with the public in their custodial role,” but Elections NL advised anyone who voted in the advance poll on Feb. 6 to contact 811 for instructions.
The outbreak has caused a swift restriction of public life in the most populated corner of the province, with Wednesday marking Day 1 of a two-week tightening of health measures that has seen many businesses and services, from bars to swimming pools, told to shut their doors in an attempt to curtail the community spread.
Positive cases have been identified in myriad places, prompting additional measures to go into effect: St. Clare’s Hospital in St. John’s restricted its visitation and put patients in isolation after the discovery of an asymptomatic staff member, while Mount Pearl’s city hall closed for deep cleaning after an employee there tested positive.
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