Nfld. & Labrador

Zero new cases as Alert Level 2 arrives, and with it everything from mass to matinees

More aspects of public life are allowed to get back up and running on Thursday as public health restrictions eased, and the province marked its 28th day with no new cases.

Province hasn't seen a new case of COVID-19 since May 28

Despite the easing of restrictions, all Alert Level 2 guidelines stress the need for frequent sanitization and physical-distancing measures. (Lee Jin-man/The Associated Press)

Life in Newfoundland and Labrador is inching back into the public sphere with the arrival of Alert Level 2 on Thursday, with everything from religious services to cinema screenings to bingo halls allowed to reopen.

There are zero new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province, according to a media release issued at 2 p.m. Thursday. That makes it 28 days in a row with no new cases of the virus.

The total caseload remains 261, and 258 people have recovered. There have been three deaths. To date, 16,901 people have been tested, an increase of 281 since Wednesday's update.

The provincial government has released numerous guidelines covering the sweeping changes, which temper the increased freedom of movement with public health restrictions such as physical distancing and increased sanitation measures.

"The hard work that everybody's put in up to now, was to get us to a stage where we could start living with COVID-19. So we worked towards this from the outset," said John Haggie, the province's minister of health, Thursday morning.

Newfoundland and Labrador has been without an active case of COVID-19 for a week, with the last new case reported on May 28.

For the faithful heading back to mosques, masses and other religious gatherings, it will be a different experience than in March before COVID-19 restrictions took hold. Places of worship can operate, but with no more than 50 people, or at 50 per cent capacity, whichever is less.

The provincial government is encouraging drive-in services, and continued online services, as it highlights that in-person gatherings pose a risk for transmission, particularly through communion, sharing ceremonial objects and singing. Choirs are not permitted, although humming is.

Alert Level 2 does allow for secular gatherings of up to 50 people in outdoor spaces, such as barbecues, with physical distancing in place.

Break a (sanitary) sweat

Anyone looking to work off any isolation weight gain can now do so as gyms, yoga studios and fitness centres can reopen at half capacity or 50 participants, whichever is less.

Facility change rooms can be used, but the guidelines encourage avoiding them, and warn that if they can't be monitored and regularly cleaned, they must remain closed. Water fountains also cannot be used, and people must bring their own water bottles.

As intense group classes like aerobics, spin or Zumba pose a higher risk of transmission, they can only be offered if people can double the recommended physical distancing measures to 12 feet between each other.

Swimming pools can also reopen with fewer people, but any saunas or hot tub areas are off limits.

Arenas can also open, but change rooms at those facilities are entirely off limits, with the regulations stating "participants must come prepared" for their activity, although skates can be put on rinkside.

Playground equipment in municipal parks is now free to use. (Lukas Wall/CBC)

More indoor activities

Other indoor recreation facilities are allowed to open, such as bingo halls — given their entire own set of guidance regulations — arcades, bowling alleys and pool halls.

Bars can also open under strict regulations, which have caused some owners to speak out, saying it will be hard to break even given the circumstances. Daycare owners have similarly voiced their concerns about Alert Level 2's return to full capacity at child-care centres.

At some point, we have to try and come out of hibernation. We can't be hermits.- John Haggie

The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador has released its own exhaustive document detailing its reopening, setting a tentative date of July 2 for in-person court appearances, and Sept. 14 for trials to resume. People in the courtroom will be required to wear masks and gloves if physical distancing can't be maintained.

The document also stated it will continue to prefer teleconference and videoconference hearings for a slate of legal matters.

What some municipalities are greenlighting

The City of St. John's is reopening skate parks, basketball courts and hard surface courts. The Bowring Park Duck Pond will have the orange plastic fence taken down and will be accessible to people again. 

Playgrounds can be used again June 27.

Outdoor pools, splash pads and recreation facilities are not opening at this time.

City council is resuming in-person meetings July 6. However, the public and the media are not allowed in chambers in order to allow physical distancing, according to the city. Meetings will be streamed online.

The Town of Paradise has opened its splash pad, but only 20 people are allowed to use it at one time. Town staff will be on site to make sure people are following the capacity guidelines. (Town of Paradise/Twitter)

The Town of Paradise said it is not possible to open all amenities and facilities, so they're picking and choosing. 

As of Thursday, Paradise Park and Peter Duffy Memorial Park playgrounds are open. The splash pad is open, but only for 20 people at a time. 

Town staff will be at the above locations "to monitor for physical distancing, disinfecting playgrounds and ensuring capacity limits at the Splash Pad," said a media release. 

The Dianne Whalen Memorial Soccer Complex and the Milton Road Ball Field are ready, but sporting associations have to follow public health guidelines. The Paradise Double Ice Complex will open for private rentals as of July 13.

The town hall remains closed, and in-person visits are appointment-only.

A return to Level 3?

Haggie said given the increased movement — and particularly the Atlantic bubble, set to allow people from all Atlantic provinces to freely move among them as of July 3 — new COVID-19 cases are inevitable.

But that shouldn't stop people from living and travelling, he said.

"At some point, we have to try and come out of hibernation. We can't be hermits. And we need to move, and now is a safe time to do it."

Everyone attending Supreme Court when hearing resume will be required to wear a mask. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

For the province to impose greater restrictions, Haggie said, multiple cases would have to be identified and clusters begin to form, "large enough to challenge the health-care system."

For now, he said, the province has an adequate supply of personal protective equipment within the health-care system, to the point that by July there could be a small stockpile of it.

Haggie said the province's contact tracing abilities have so far been above the national average, and he is meeting with the other provincial health ministers Thursday to discuss a contact tracing app.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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