Pick 6 more: Expanded bubbles now allowed, as N.L. loosens COVID-19 restrictions
Province reports zero new cases on Friday
Effective today, each double bubble in Newfoundland and Labrador can expand by up to six more people.
New members of a bubble do not have to be from the same household, but cannot be changed once decided, the provincial government announced at its Friday COVID-19 briefing at Confederation Building.
The government first allowed for the expansion of bubbles, to two households, on April 30.
The expansion comes a day after Newfoundland and Labrador reported its first case of COVID-19 in almost three weeks.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said it is not mandatory for anyone to expand their bubble. Instead, she encouraged keeping close contacts as low as possible to keep the risk of spreading the virus low.
"Expanding your bubble is not about randomly looking for others to join," she said.
"We all have people in our lives who we look to for friendship and support, and who prior to COVID we saw several times a week. As I was talking I'm sure one or two people jumped into your head as to who that would be. So, these are the people we're talking about."
Watch the full May 29 update:
Fitzgerald reported there have been zero cases since Thursday's update, where the province saw its first case of COVID-19 in three weeks. Fitzgerald said the case is travel-related from a permanent resident returning home from Africa, adding the person has been isolation since his return.
The total caseload stands at 261.
The number of recovered cases is 255, and as of Friday's briefing 11,907 people have been tested — 152 more than the preceding report.
On Friday, Fitzgerald advised anyone who travelled on Air Canada Flight 8018 departing Montreal at 6:25 p.m. on May 22 to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and consider contacting 811 for testing.
"While the risk of exposure for COVID-19 on this flight is very low, out of an abundance of caution we are making this recommendation," she said.
Fitzgerald also said residents of the province who work on a rotation shift within Canada outside Newfoundland and Labrador will no longer be required to remain on their property during self-isolation upon return to the province provided they are not symptomatic and not returning from a site involved in an outbreak.
They are not permitted to enter public buildings at this time, Fitzgerald said, adding they will have to remain in their household bubble but may go for walks, bike rides and drives.
Matter of discretion
Health Minister John Haggie said the provincial government received some inquiries in April to make decisions for families as to who to include in their bubbles.
"We can't do that, and I think it's in incumbent on everybody to [consider], as Dr. Fitzgerald has said, do you really need to increase your social circle? You have your double bubble," Haggie said.
"If you do, and these friends and supports are important to you, bear in mind they too have bubbles of their own, and you have to do it in a responsible way, and that is a matter of your choice and your discretion."
Haggie said personal discretion will be even more important as the province aims to open further in what's called Alert Level 3, which is tentatively scheduled for June 8.
"It's really going to be a matter of exercising discretion around travel, and whether or not this is something you would like to do [or] you would need to do," he said.
"But the option is there, and it's there for you to exercise and it's there to help stimulate the economy and bring us a little bit nearer whatever our future normal will be."
Fitzgerald said there will be more more information and recommendations about travel provided upon entering Alert Level 3.
Dr. Proton Rahman joined the briefing Friday to deliver an updated presentation with the province's latest COVID-19 projection model.
Rahman said Newfoundland and Labrador is in "very strong epidemic control" as opposed to where it could have been if not for a quick response by public health officials with contact tracing, isolation and a high degree of physical distancing.
As of Friday, about 0.1 per cent of the province's population has been infected by the virus.
Rahman said it will be difficult to model the risk of expanding bubbles by six more people using the approach his team is using at Memorial University.
"But what we could say, relatively confidently, is that having more than six contacts outside your double bubble results in a really small risk in reinstating Alert [Level] 5 over the next year," he said.
"The risk of community spread, given the model right now, is very, very low."
Rahman told CBC News four weeks ago that having no new cases is good for the province, but bad for predicting the future.
"We have no trend. It's been flat, right, so when you have zeros it throws off the model and you have to use a fudge factor because it means there is no disease," said Rahman at the time.
Fitzgerald said the province is well above 90 per cent in terms of contact tracing, adding it is likely closer to 100 per cent.
The province will issue COVID-19 updates by news release over the weekend, before resuming live briefings three times a week on Monday.
Expanded child care
Meanwhile, the Compensation Grant Program for regulated child-care services and the Essential Worker Child Care Program will continue until June 26, the provincial government announced in a news release Friday afternoon.
The government is spending about $17 million for these programs, including $14.7 million in compensation to regulated child-care services to pay for all spaces and $2.3 million for child care for essential workers.
Regulated child-care services are operating at 50 per cent capacity under Alert Level 4 and will expand to 70 per cent when the province moves to Alert Level 3, expected on June 8, the release reads.
"As the province moves to Alert Level 3, and further restrictions are eased, capacity within regulated child-care centres and family child-care homes will continue to increase."
- A previous version of this story reported each household could add six people to its bubble. In fact, each double bubble can add up to six people.May 29, 2020 4:21 PM NT