N.L. to pull out of Atlantic bubble for 2 weeks, says premier

Effective Wednesday, anyone arriving in the province from within the Maritimes will have to self-isolate for 14 days. Andrew Furey says the province will monitor the situation to see if the break will be extended.

'The situation has changed,' says premier

Premier Andrew Furey says Newfoundland and Labrador will break from the Atlantic bubble for two weeks and the province will reevaluate its position at that time. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Newfoundland and Labrador is withdrawing from the Atlantic bubble for a two-week break.

Effective Wednesday, says Premier Andrew Furey, anyone arriving in the province from within the Maritimes will have to self-isolate for 14 days.

"The Atlantic bubble has been a source of pride … but the situation has changed," Furey said during Monday's COVID-19 briefing.

"I have made the tough decision to make a circuit break. People arriving from within the Atlantic bubble will have to self-isolate for 14 days."

Furey said the province will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation in the other Atlantic provinces to see if the two-week break will need to be extended. Travel to and from Newfoundland and Labrador will only be for essential reasons, he said. But people travelling to Newfoundland and Labrador from elsewhere in Atlantic Canada will not have to file for a travel exemption, said the premier, and under extenuating circumstances may apply for earlier COVID-19 testing to shorten the self-isolation period.

Restrictions on travel to Newfoundland and Labrador from outside Atlantic Canada remain unchanged. 

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said the province will monitor outbreaks in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for two weeks before making a decision to rejoin the bubble. She said Nova Scotia has confirmed cases of community transmission. 

"We will be looking at the levels of non-epidemiology cases that they have. We'll be looking at the trajectory of their case numbers … and looking at sort of a seven-day average," she said. "Those are all things we would consider with regard to whether or not to lift those isolation measures at that time."

The province reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, both in the Western Health region. The province has 23 active cases.The province's total number of cases since March is now 321 with 294 recoveries. Both people who had recently been hospitalized with COVID-19 have been released.

Elementary school student tests positive in Deer Lake

A student at Elwood Elementary in Deer Lake is one of two new cases of COVID-19 being reported.

It's the province's first case of COVID-19 in a school and is a close contact of a previous case, said Fitzgerald.

"As with any case, contact tracing starts with identifying close contacts of the child. This will include the school cohort, or class of the child," said Fitzgerald. 

"The parents of this class cohort have been notified, and the children have been self-isolating and testing has been arranged."

The teacher is also self-isolating with testing arranged. 

Classes at Elwood Elementary have been suspended for Monday and Tuesday, according to the Department of Health.

Watch the full Nov. 23 update:

Fitzgerald, Education Minister Tom Osborne, and the head of the province's school district addressed the media on Monday as concerns around schools swirl.

The second case reported on Monday is a man, also in the Western Health region, between 20 and 39 years old. The case is travel-related. The man returned to the province from work in Manitoba, and the case is unrelated to the previous cluster in the region. In a media release the Department of Health said the man is self-isolating and contact tracing is underway.

In an earlier media release, the Department of Health said it's asking passengers who travelled on Air Canada Flight 8880 from Halifax to Deer Lake that arrived on Thursday to call 811 to arrange COVID-19 testing, connected to a case of COVID-19 in the Western Health region announced Sunday.

In total, 59,270 people have been tested as of Monday's update, an increase of 290 since Sunday.

As the province is now seeing three small clusters, Fitzgerald said contact tracing is completed for the Grand Bank cluster. But, she added, identified contacts can develop symptoms until the 14-day mark, so the province will continue to monitor that cluster. 

Fitzgerald said all contacts have been identified in a small St. John's cluster but noted things can change within two weeks. She said there the contacts identified are in isolation so there should be "little onward future spread." 

In Deer Lake, "it's still in early days, really," Fitzgerald said.

"Certainly we're comfortable with where we are, now that we've been able to trace everybody in this cluster back to that origin."

Towns and businesses tighten up

Monday's news conference comes on the heels of daily increases of cases of COVID-19 in the province, and the Town of Deer Lake asking residents to limit contacts and non-essential businesses to close for the next 14 days.

There are 10 active infections in the Western Health region of Newfoundland and Labrador, six of which are connected and believed to be centred in Deer Lake, as the town has said it's dealing with rising cases in the community. 

Mayor Dean Ball says the action being taken now is precautionary, with hopes of having a normal Christmas. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Dean Ball, the town's mayor, said the situation is being assessed hourly by his council, and they'll be shutting down town buildings until at least Dec. 7.

"People have really bought into this. We have no objections. When we look at Dec. 7, yes it's two weeks away. That won't be long going and I think will look back at this in a couple of weeks — I certainly hope so — and say for the information we had this was the best decision," Ball told CBC News. 

"We need to be kind. This is no time to be pointing fingers."

Fitzgerald said more restrictive measures — such as a lockdown — aren't being recommended for the Deer Lake area right now. 

"We don't have evidence of widespread community transmission in Deer Lake. All of the cases that we've seen to date have been able to have been traced back to either travel or related to this cluster that was initially related to travel," she said. 

On Sunday, the Bigs Ultimate Sports Grill on Freshwater Road in St. John's closed its doors, announcing that a customer earlier in the week later tested positive for COVID-19. Staff are being tested, and the restaurant is awaiting guidance from public health officials.

On Monday the city of St. John's announced it will not be going ahead with its Christmas market on Water Street or its different version of a Christmas parade planned to be held inside Mile One Centre. 

Breen told reporters city council felt it was in the best interests of keeping residents safe that the city not proceed with those events, following the changes to the province's participation in the Atlantic bubble. 

"We were concerned of moving forward when there's certainly a big concern on where we'd be in the pandemic at that time," he said. 

Asked if he had a message for business owners who might feel an economic squeeze during a break from the Atlantic bubble, Furey said the change is to protect them. 

"We're enjoying this level of freedom, and we're the envy of a lot of other places around the country. We want to keep it that way," he said. 

"This is an effort to protect their businesses, to protect the economy. The last thing we want is a full lockdown." 

Rotational workers facing backlash

Meanwhile, the mayor of Grand Bank said the town is grappling with a great deal of anxiety, but now that contact tracing is complete, they're hoping to have turned the corner.

"The uncertainty — one day is great, the next day is not so great," said Rex Matthews.

Matthews is hopeful the virus will be contained to the six cases already confirmed by public health officials. Two of those cases are senior citizens residing in the community's nursing home.

Grand Bank has been a hotbed for rumours and speculation about the source of the infections. It's led to a flurry of online comments condemning rotational workers who travel back and forth from places like Alberta.

In a social media group for rotational workers, some people report having the RCMP called on them for doing mundane tasks around their own property, like putting up Christmas lights.

"They do sacrifice," Matthews said. "You know they travel to other provinces of this country for employment, they leave their families, they leave their home, they leave their community, and it helps our economy. So under normal circumstances there's no issues, but these are extraordinary times."

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