Nfld. & Labrador

No new COVID-19 cases in N.L., says chief medical officer of health

The province's one presumptive case of COVID-19, announced Saturday evening, was confirmed to be living in the Labrador-Grenfell health region of the province, according to Janice Fitzgerald

MUN to suspend classes, Marine Atlantic crossings limited to 250 people

Provincial Chief Medical Officer of Health Janice Fitzgerald says there are no new cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

There are no new cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health, announced Sunday afternoon.

Fitzgerald says 121 people are in isolation in the province as of Saturday night. 161 people had been tested for the disease as of Sunday morning and 105 people have tested negative, with the province waiting for the rest of the results.

The province's one presumptive case of COVID-19, announced Saturday evening, was confirmed to be a woman living in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region of the province, according to Fitzgerald. No other information could be disclosed due to privacy concerns.

While Fitzgerald expects there will be more presumptive positive cases, she said measures put in place, such as social isolation and postponing mass gatherings, will help limit the spread of the disease.

Fitzgerald also clarified that a presumptive case of COVID-19 does not mean a confirmed case. Test results will be sent to the National Lab in Winnipeg, where a second test will be done.

However, many precautions remain in effect, including the suspension of in-person classes and labs at Memorial University for the rest of the semester.

In a statement Sunday afternoon, the university announced the suspension of classes as of the end of Wednesday, March 18, with instruction set to resume remotely on Monday, March 23.

"It's really an issue of guaranteeing the health and safety of the academic community, while insuring that we can provide academic obligations to our students," Mark Abrahams, co-incident commander of the university's emergency operations committee, said.

Mark Abrahams is the co-incident commander of the emergency operations committee at Memorial University. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

MUN said there are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the university, but action is being taken "to further protect the health and safety of students, faculty and staff and the people of the province." Abrahams calls the move to suspend classes "an unprecedented decision."

For classrooms that will house classes and lectures on Monday and Tuesday, Abrahams said the university has already begun heightened cleaning efforts.

The university said residences will remain open, but students who are able to move out should do so as soon as possible between now and March 22. Those who move out will receive a prorated refund.

Students who cannot return home will continue to be provided with accommodations and support services, including food services.

University staff will still be working during the suspension of classes, as university operations are continuing, including facilities like libraries. The number of staff on campus will be looked at once student issues have been addressed. 

Abrahams said the "next big challenge" comes with how the university will handle exams remotely.

Following the suspension of classes at Memorial University, Fitzgerald said schools in the province will remain open.

The province has been speaking with schools on ways they can reduce the mass spread of the disease, but the decision of how to move forward is up to individual schools.

Fitzgerald said Saturday that closing schools would likely not reduce the spread of COVID-19 at this point. 

Ferry capacity limited

Marine Atlantic is adopting new measures to try and curb the spread of COVID-19.

Following recommendations from health care professionals over the weekend, new screening initiatives are in place at terminals and ferries will carry a maximum of 250 passengers.

If you have been out of the country in the last 14 days or potentially been in contact with someone infected with the virus and are showing symptoms, you will not be allowed to board a Marine Atlantic vessel.

Marine Atlantic ferry crossings will be limited to 250 passengers, until further notice. (Marine Atlantic)

Things work differently if there are no symptoms, says Darrell Mercer, spokesperson for Marine Atlantic.

"They will be permitted to travel on the ships," Mercer said. "However, they will be placed in isolation while at the terminal and onboard our ship."

Mercer says that with a regular capacity of about 1,000 passengers, a limit of 250 per crossing ensures ample room for both isolation areas and social distancing practices.

One of those who will be self-isolating will be Transportation and Works Minister Steve Crocker, who travelled to Florida on Thursday afternoon during the House of Assembly's constituency week break. After learning of the country's new travel advisories, he will return to the province and begin to self-isolate.

Carol Anne Haley, Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, is suspending all walk-ins to her constituency office in Grand Bank as of Monday. Her employees will still be available to contact if needed.

Anyone who has travelled and returned to work prior to Saturday's announcement should continue working unless they begin showing symptoms.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of the disease, like fever, cough or difficulty breathing, should call 811 for further info

In a statement Sunday, Liberal leadership candidate John Abbott called for an immediate reconvening of the House of Assembly, and to immediately propose an all-party committee to address health and economic concerns surrounding COVID-19.

His opponent, Dr. Andrew Furey, encouraged the public to follow the advice of medical professionals, and to practice social distancing where possible.

ECHL season cancelled

In a statement posted on the ECHL website Saturday night, league Commissioner Ryan Crelin announced that the remainder of the 2019-2020 hockey season would be cancelled, keeping the Newfoundland Growlers off the ice for the coming months.

The ECHL announced the cancellation of its season on Saturday, following a vote by its Board of Governors. The Newfoundland Growlers had already secured a spot in the now cancelled playoffs.

Growlers Chief Operating Officer, Glenn Stanford, says the news comes as a disappointment to teams and fans alike, but says we should all be understanding of the necessity for tough decisions when trying to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The 2019-2020 season was cancelled, leaving the Newfoundland Growlers off the ice. (Newfoundland Growlers/Twitter)

"I think everybody, from where we're sitting - our fans, our corporate partners - are very understanding of the situation that everybody's in,"Stanford said. "It's all unfortunate, but we all have to go through it and hopefully we all come out better for it on the other side."

The ECHL and the Professional Hockey Players' Association are in talks to secure a deal regarding player income now that the season has been suspended.

Many events to celebrate the St. Patrick's Day weekend have also been cut down around the St. John's area.

A number of churches on the northeast Avalon cancelled services Sunday, in line with the province's directives to cancel or postpone events that can bring large groups of people together.

The province has recommended foregoing any event with more than 250 people.

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