With vaccination target unmet, N.L. holds off on easing COVID-19 restrictions

Newfoundland and Labrador has reported 73 cases of COVID-19 in the month of September so far.

49 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health, says some COVID-19 restrictions will remain in place until 80 per cent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting 10 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, along with two presumptive positive cases.

There are four cases connected to previously known cases in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region, three travel-related cases in the Central Health region, two in the Eastern Health region for which the source is under investigation, and one in the Western Health region, a previously presumptive positive case.

There are now 49 active cases in the province, and one person is in hospital.

According to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, newly reported cases in the Eastern Health region are connected to indoor social gatherings with a high number of contacts. The number of contacts gives a higher risk of exposure, she said.

Fitzgerald also provided an update into the cluster identified in the Roddickton area of Newfoundland. There are now 19 cases connected to the cluster, with Fitzgerald announcing the region will stay in Alert Level 3 until at least next week.

Alert Level 3 requires people to wear masks in indoor public spaces and household bubbles can interact with up to 10 close, consistent contacts from outside. Clusters remain under investigation in the Eastern Health and Western Health regions.

Close contacts of a positive case will be given instructions based on their vaccination status, according to Fitzgerald. About 78 per cent of the province's eligible population has received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, while over 87 per cent has received at least one dose.

Fitzgerald added that vaccination rates have improved slightly in the Roddickton area since the announcement of the cluster, jumping from 54 to 60 per cent of the eligible population now having received at least one dose.

The province also will follow guidelines set by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, offering booster shots to those who are moderately to severely immunocompromised, according to Fitzgerald. More details will be available online Thursday.

Watch Wednesday's update here:

Because the province has not reached its goal of being 80 per cent fully vaccinated by the end of August, along with changing COVID-19 epidemiology, Fitzgerald said the province will stay in Step 2 of its reopening plan for the time being.

Wednesday marked the earliest day the province would have been moved to Step 3. Fitzgerald said a move to Step 3 requires consistent low case counts, a consistent alert level across the province, and a rise in vaccination rates in pockets where rates are lower.

Under Step 3, unvaccinated travellers entering the province would have to self-isolate only until they receive a negative test as opposed to getting tested on Day 7, 8 or 9 of self-isolation. Restrictions on outdoor gatherings would be removed, while workplaces could resume full in-person working provided COVID-19 protocols remain in place.

"We will get there, even if it is a little later than we had hoped, but we can only do it with your help," Fitzgerald said.

Health Minister John Haggie echoed the idea, repeatedly encouraging those who have not been vaccinated to do so. Haggie noted vaccination rates have slowed in recent weeks, and called immunization "the single most important measure" a person can take against COVID-19.

Those who were vaccinated outside of the province can now get vaccination documents recognized in Newfoundland and Labrador through an online portal, according to Haggie. Validation will take about two weeks after documents are submitted.

While Fitzgerald said emerging clusters can be a concern, they are to be expected as a fourth COVID-19 wave spreads across the country. She said health officials are monitoring the situation in Atlantic Canada and are willing to change travel requirements between provinces if necessary.

Newfoundland and Labrador has reported 73 cases of COVID-19 in September.

A total of 283,985 COVID tests have been completed in the province as of Wednesday, including 1,859 tests since the last update.

The Health Department is reminding anyone in the province, regardless of their vaccination status, to get tested if they are experiencing even just one symptom of COVID-19.

Vaccine passport could launch in early October

When asked about the launch of the province's upcoming vaccination passport, Haggie said the government expects the mobile app to launch in the first week of October.

Haggie said the app will serve as an option for businesses to use and could also help businesses and communities stay open if case numbers were to spike.

"Depending on epidemiology and circumstances of case count … public health [may] recommend that we go to a lockdown in a certain area," Haggie said.

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister John Haggie said Wednesday that vaccination is the 'single most important measure' a person can take against COVID-19. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

"I think under those circumstances, there may be conditions where using the vaccine passport could be mandatory under a [special measures order]. But it might allow some businesses who would otherwise have closed under previous lockdowns to stay open."

Haggie said the vaccination passport will also come with guidelines and recommendations business can use during the initial rollout, but added details are still being worked out.

Clusters under control for time being: Fitzgerald

While investigations into the three known clusters are continuing, Fitzgerald said she believes the spread of the virus is under control for the time being.

"I think public health in those regions have gotten a good handle on what's happening. Source detection, unfortunately, we haven't been able to find a source in most of them. That's to some degree not unexpected, but they … certainly reduced the spread," she said.

"But we'll see how things go over the next week or so, especially in the Roddickton area."

Fitzgerald also said contact tracing for a positive case connected to Laval High School in Placentia has been completed and no secondary cases have appeared as of Wednesday.

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