Newfoundland and Labrador on Monday extended public health restrictions in central Newfoundland as an outbreak now affecting the spread of the community threatens a larger area.
All communities along the Trans Canada Highway from Gambo to Badger, as well as communities along Highway routes 320, 330, 340, and 350 – including Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor, the largest cities in the region – will be transitioned to Alert Level 4 effective immediately. The four regional highways provide passage to New Wes Valley, Gander Bay, Twillingate and Botwood.
“We’re really hopeful when we bet [this order] on the spot that we don’t need to expand it, and that through today’s expansion to that extent, it will help keep things in check and really, really help us control it to stop this transmission “Chief Medical Officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald told reporters at a briefing Monday morning.
Under alert level 4 As the second most stringent level in NL’s pandemic management orders, key stores can remain open, but restaurants cannot offer indoor dining. Bars, gyms, pools and arenas must remain closed. Funerals, weddings, and other services are limited to 10 people.
Four new cases were reported on Monday. There are also nine suspected positive cases and one probable case.
Three of the new cases announced on Monday are related to the cluster that erupted in the Lewisporte area last week. One is a person between 20 and 39, one is a person in their forties, and one is a person in their fifties.
The fourth new case is of a person in their forties in the Eastern Health area and relates to travel.
There are now 32 confirmed cases related to the central Newfoundland cluster and several more suspected cases pending results. Investigators have not yet found a source.
Three people have recovered from COVID-19 since Sunday, leaving 88 active cases.
During Monday’s emergency briefing, Fitzgerald said travel to and from the region should be limited to essential travel only.
Virus spreads through sports, gatherings
Fitzgerald said those who traveled to the area now listed under Alert 4 for the long Victoria Day weekend can return home, but should watch for symptoms for two weeks and get tested for symptoms of the Show virus.
The cluster is still evolving, Fitzgerald said, but there is evidence that the virus has spread through social gatherings and sporting events.
She said schools in the area are closed for professional development days, which is preventing the virus from spreading in schools.
Based on screening so far, the cluster-related cases don’t appear to be variants B117, B1351, or P1, Fitzgerald said, but public health is waiting for tests to see if they are cases that they are a variant that was first identified in India.
Health Secretary John Haggie said testing at Lewisporte, as well as Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor on Monday, was still ongoing. There is also an option to expand the testing on Tuesday, he said, and public health and the health authority are looking at possible locations.
“The challenge is to have their contacts spread over a large geographic area,” said Haggie. “There are sporting events, family gatherings, and social events that have resulted in a list of possibly 300 contacts.”
He noted that the officers are a “young” cluster with an average age of 38 years. Looking ahead, the return-to-game plans put forward by sports associations could potentially be tweaked, he added.
“I think sometimes the challenge isn’t in the sport, but in what happens before and after the sport,” said Haggie.
It is not yet known how many of those infected received a vaccine dose, Fitzgerald said.
“This is of great interest to us. If this turns out to be a variant … we will be very interested to know how the vaccine can help prevent the spread.”
Long lines to test in Lewisporte
The Ministry of Health reported 23 new cases on Sunday, the highest one-day case in over three months.
The call for increased community testing in the Lewisporte area also led Central Health to issue a notice on Sunday evening filling in all current time slots and placing those who need testing on a waiting list. The health authority said it would open more clinics later in the week to meet demand.
Summerford Mayor Kevin Barnes noted residents queued for hours over the weekend for a swab at the only clinic in Lewisporte, some of which were turned away without a test.
“It could have happened in different areas,” he said. “We were unprepared … I don’t think we were really prepared for a situation of this magnitude in this area.”
Describing a twinge of fear in the city, Barnes said most residents stay close to home.
“You don’t know how far it will go yet,” he said.
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In Lewisporte, Deputy Mayor Krista Freake said the city as a whole had moved “well” to Alert Level 4 restrictions, with companies closing or reducing capacity.
“People were quick to do this and eager to do the right thing to … contain this virus,” said Freake.
Public health officials are also asking anyone who has worked or visited a Loblaws pharmacy in the grocery store at 252 Main Street in Lewisporte on Wednesday or Thursday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. or on Friday between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. to schedule a test .
Public health said the potential exposure was identified as part of the cluster’s investigation.
A total of 87 cases are active in Newfoundland and Labrador, with four people in hospital.