N.L. increases limit on gatherings to 100 people, reports no new COVID-19 cases
100 people or 50 per cent capacity for indoor venues
Newfoundland and Labrador is increasing how many people can gather at organized events, under a new special measure issued by the province's chief medical officer of health.
Effective Aug. 24, gatherings by a "recognized business or organization" may allow up to 100 people — up from 50 — inside a venue for social gatherings such as weddings, funerals and concerts as long as it's still less than 50 per cent of the venue's capacity. Outdoor gatherings will also be capped at 100 people.
What qualifies as "recognized" business or organizations are those that can provide oversight and have somebody responsible for ensuring the number of people in the venue falls within the guidelines.
"It's more about just ensuring that we have a more controlled situation, and that can be a little bit more difficult in a private party," said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald.
"We just want to make sure that right now as we slowly increase gathering size that we will first start with a more controlled environment with someone who is responsible with how that gathering is run."
Backyard family events will still be capped at 50 people as long as physical distancing can be maintained with others outside of your bubble.
Fitzgerald said organizers of gatherings are required to keep a record of those in attendance for at least two weeks following an event, should it be required for contact tracing.
Newfoundland and Labrador also reported no new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, the eighth straight day without an increase to the province's total caseload, which remains 268, with 263 people having recovered and three deaths since March.
In total, 28,884 people have been tested for the virus, 216 of those in the last 24 hours.
The weekly live COVID-19 briefing was moved up a day to make room for premier-designate Andrew Furey's swearing-in ceremony to be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Watch the full Aug. 18 update:
Newfoundland and Labrador's decision to make masks mandatory in public spaces follows decisions in other jurisdictions. Nova Scotia made a similar move at the end of July for public spaces, while some other provinces have mandated masks for use in schools.
Fitzgerald had previously said masks are most effective when there is a high prevalence of the virus. When asked what benefits the province would see by mandating their use now — with few cases of COVID-19 — Fitzgerald said it would be good to introduce them now ahead of a potential second wave.
"At this point we're looking at returning to school, we're looking at people moving about more, we're looking at people having more interaction with others," she said Tuesday.
"This will give people time to get used to wearing them, and hopefully will reduce the spread so that we don't get a second wave. That's what we want, ultimately."
There will be exemptions, however, and people with medical conditions preventing them from wearing a mask will not be required to provide proof for privacy reasons, said Fitzgerald.
When asked who will be policing the mandatory mask measure, Fitzgerald said businesses are encouraged to educate customers on wearing masks in their facilities.
"Our first line of response to that is not going to be severe enforcement," she said. Fitzgerald said there are fines that can be issued but the first response will be education.
Warr fires back at NLTA president
The province and the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District on Monday released a back-to-school plan to some criticism from parents and the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association. The plan includes the mandatory use of non-medical masks in common areas, while the province also issued an order for masks to be worn in all public indoor spaces outside of schools.
Education Minister Brian Warr, who joined Fitzgerald and Health Minister John Haggie for Tuesday's briefing, fired back at the NLTA during his opening remarks over a comment made by the association's president Dean Ingram on Monday in reaction to the back-to-school plan.
"They're safer in the local Walmart than they are in their English classroom," said Ingram on Monday.
Warr said he wanted to be very clear that safety is the primary consideration in the measures being put in place.
"Contrary to what has been stated by the NLTA, our schools are not like Walmart or Costco. Thousands of people may go through a store every day. They are uncontrolled environments," said Warr.
"Our schools are controlled spaces."
Late Tuesday afternoon, after Warr's comments at the briefing, Ingram posted a statement on Twitter accusing Warr of characterizing the concerns of the NLTA as fear-mongering.
"Such a response is disrespectful to all teachers and school administrators on whom any successful return to school will depend," the statement reads.
"With all due respect Minister Warr has not worked in a school and or a classroom and he should not so easily dismiss the concerns of those who do."
When asked if school budgets will increase to add more staff for teaching and cleaning purposes, Warr said the Department of Education is prepared to be flexible in helping add resources where necessary.
Warr said school operations will be regularly evaluated, and the department will be make adjustments on any new guidance provided by public health officials.
Fitzgerald said there will be follow up from public health throughout the year to ensure there is compliance with the mandatory mask rule.
"And the schools themselves are quite motivated to ensure that there is compliance with these measures," she said.
"I mean, none of these schools want an outbreak. That would not be an easy thing for them to have to work through."
As for the Canadian bubble conversation, Haggie said it has been discussed during health ministers' meetings with his counterparts from across the country, but the decision is still in limbo.
"Those decisions are partly outside that table, and would rely on some input from the Council of the Federation or in the case of Atlantic Canada the Council of Atlantic Premiers," he said.
"So there's been no change, no proposal to change at the moment."