Nfld. & Labrador

11 new COVID-19 cases in central Newfoundland, as region hunkers down amid growing cluster

A stretch of Newfoundland from Badger to Gambo has been asked to stay home and weather out a developing cluster. It's not clear yet if the rapid spread is due to virus variant B1617.

'We're almost at the end game, and now we've got this going on,' says Lewisporte resident

Much of central Newfoundland was pushed to Alert Level 4 this weekend, as officials urged people to stay home. (Matthias Schrader/Associated Press)

Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, each connected to a growing cluster in central Newfoundland.

The province also reported seven more recoveries, three in the Eastern Health region, and two apiece in the Central and Western health regions. There are 93 active cases. 

Tuesday's cases by age:

  • One person under 20 years old.
  • Four people between 20 and 39 years old.
  • One person in their 40s.
  • Four people in their 50s.
  • One person in their 60s.

The percolating outbreak overflowed into more communities in the Central Health region over the weekend, as officials brought in strict rules to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

What is not yet clear is the extent to which a fast-moving virus variant is driving the spread of the disease. 

On Tuesday, the Department of Health said the investigation into the cluster of cases in the Central Health region is ongoing and the source of infection remains under investigation. There are now 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19 associated with the cluster. There is one presumptive positive case in the Central Health region related to the cluster.

Monika Dutt, medical officer of health for Central Health, asked Lewisporte residents to seek community testing, even if they have no symptoms. Other testing clinics are in place to test people with symptoms or anyone contacted by public health workers, she said Tuesday morning.

Dr. Monika Dutt, acting medical officer of health for the Central and Western health regions, asked Lewisporte residents to seek community testing, even if they have no symptoms. (Jing Kao-Beserve)

Morning slots were fully booked. The authority still has afternoon drop-in testing available until 6 p.m. NT for anyone with or without symptoms who has not already been contacted by public health. Community testing is available Wednesday, too, but those appointment times are already taken, Dutt said late Tuesday afternoon. 

However, if someone has symptoms or if they have been contacted by public health because they are a close contact with someone who is a known or suspected case, they will be tested, she said. 

About 700 people lined up for a swab on Monday, in addition to hundreds more on Sunday, some of whom were turned away due to long lines, Dutt said.

She encouraged those people to return.

"Especially if you've had more social contacts lately, if you work in a job where you're in contact a lot with the public, if you've been at family gatherings … in particular we'd like you to come," she said.

Dutt said it's not yet clear whether the rapidly evolving outbreak is due to the B1617 variant first identified in India, saying officials haven't yet found evidence of the B117, P1 or B1351 strains.

Results should come back in the coming days, she added.

"That may help to explain some of how this has been transmitted and potentially how it may have come in the province, because we know where there … are other parts of the country where they are seeing more of that."

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer, held two media briefings over the Victoria Day long weekend to alert the public to the rising caseload.

Communities along the Trans Canada Highway from Gambo to Badger, including Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor, as well as communities along several other central Newfoundland highway routes are all under Alert Level 4. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

On Friday, she tightened public health restrictions in the Lewisporte area. As medical teams discovered more cases — reporting a whopping 20 new infections associated with the rural cluster on Sunday — Fitzgerald on Monday expanded the area under Alert Level 4 to include Grand Falls-Windsor, Gander, Twillingate and other communities. 

Dutt said she doesn't believe the area now under Alert Level 4 needs to be expanded. 

In-person schooling is suspended, while bars, restaurants and gyms have closed in those communities. People are asked to keep contacts within their household bubbles.

To date, 142,381 people have been tested, including 594 since Monday's update.

Lewisporte residents watch and wait

Lewisporte Deputy Mayor Krista Freake waited in line Sunday for five hours. She's proud of the community so far and how they've been dealing with the outbreak. 

"I think for the most part the community is reacting in a positive way. I think people have been very kind," she told CBC News Tuesday. She said people have been dropping off supplies at the doorsteps of neighbours who have tested positive. 

"Being a tight rural community, we are a collective, we know each other, we recognize the needs of individuals and we can quickly aid where it's necessary."

Carolyn Parsons, who lives in Lewisporte, says the unknown elements sparked anxiety in the community over the weekend, as residents watched carefully for updates.

"It's a mixed mood," she said. "It was a surprise to a lot of people, because this is a very big region.… A lot of us hadn't caught wind that anything was going on out there until it hit the news."

Her neighbours and friends were also caught off guard by a cluster that developed despite high vaccination rates in Newfoundland and Labrador. Over 54 per cent of the eligible population had had their first dose as of Sunday.

"I feel like the vaccination is the beginning of the end, but it's not the fix yet," Parsons said.

"It's sort of a mixed feeling of, 'Yay, we've got the vaccination,' but … this is bothersome. We're almost at the end game, and now we have this going on." 

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