Nfld. & Labrador

3 presumptive COVID-19 cases in N.L. now, says chief medical officer

The school district, Memorial University, Metrobus and Northeast Avalon municipalities are implementing new restrictions to curb COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador, while the chief medical officer warns, "We are not overreacting."

School district now says no students or parents allowed back in to get their belongings

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister John Haggie and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald say it's critical that people stay home as much as possible. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Three people in Newfoundland and Labrador have now tested positive on initial tests for COVID-19, according to Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health.

The two new patients are known to the person from the original case in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region. Fitzgerald said the positive tests were expected.

They are two women and one man.

"What we see with our case here, in particular, we've seen household contacts that are affected, and that is not unexpected," Fitzgerald said Tuesday afternoon.

All three results need to be confirmed by a national lab in Winnipeg. There are 193 people in isolation in this province, while 494 have been tested so far. 

Contact tracing is ongoing for all three patients.

"There have been other people tested in relation to this case, so we may see more positive tests," Fitzgerald said.

'We are not overreacting'

Fitzgerald called for all public spaces, including bars and gyms, to be closed, and for any St. Patrick's Day celebrations to be cancelled. 

"Our biggest worry is mass gatherings," she said. 

About an hour after Fitzgerald's update, the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District said students would not be allowed into schools to get their belongings — an about-face from Monday.

No students or parents are allowed in. If critical items such as medication have been left behind, the district asks parents to contact school administration to make arrangements.

The same restriction applies to schools under the province's French school board. 

Fitzgerald reminded people it is still safe to be outdoors, but urged people to keep two arm's-lengths from each other. Restaurants should reduce capacity by 50 per cent, and buffets should be halted. 

"These measures are no doubt inconvenient, [but] we are not overreacting," Fitzgerald said.

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen is speaking with about two dozen other mayors, who are part of the Big City Mayor's Caucus, to discuss financial options for businesses affected by closures. (Gary Locke/CBC)

You don't need to stay cooped up in your house, says Fitzgerald, who says fresh air is fine. 

"We encourage playing in your backyard, going for hikes … but please respect the principle of physical and social distancing," she said. 

'Long haul' ahead: health minister

The province's health minister says the changes enacted over the last few days to deal with COVID-19 will likely last at least into early summer. 

John Haggie said that includes a reduction in hospital services, including the cancellation of all non-urgent appointments and surgeries. 

"We need to settle down for the long haul," Haggie said at Tuesday's news conference. 

He said every single person has a role to play in fighting the pandemic.

"It is not possible for the health-care system to do this by itself," he said.

Watch Tuesday's update from Health Minister John Haggie and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald

The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association is urging patients not to assume doctor's appointments are cancelled. If physicians change their clinic hours, or move to telephone appointments, patients will be notified. Some offices may ask patients to wait in their car until their appointment.

On Tuesday, Haggie said there is another wrench that the health-care system is dealing with: an annual spike in the number of flu cases. 

Eastern Health issued a statement Tuesday evening saying it will begin to reduce the number of entrances to some of its facilities to allow for people to be screened for COVID-19 upon entry through a series of questions.

The health authority is also scaling back the hours that building entrances will be open and is closing its business office and health information services and infomatics offices in Mount Pearl Square to the public. 

Anyone needing to visit the offices are asked to use the reception drop slots, payments can be made online and release of information requests can be e-mailed or mailed, Eastern Health said.

Leadership race

Meanwhile, Liberal leadership candidate John Abbott is calling for the suspension of the election process for the time being. 

"The election of a new leader is important, but not as important as the public health and economic issues facing us
today," Abbott said in a news release late on Thursday. 

"In my view, the public's interest is best served by having both campaigns placed on hold while people tend to their more immediate personal situations."

Northeast Avalon councils halt services

Also on Tuesday, Memorial University said it is accelerating its suspension of classes, which will now happen by the end of the day.

Metrobus said it was suspending routes 13, 24, and 26 as of Friday because some large-scale employers have announced work-from-home arrangements. 

The City of St. John's said all public meetings and events hosted by the city are cancelled. That includes the East Coast Music Awards, which were to be held in the capital city from April 29-May 3.

Memorial University is moving up its suspension of all classes to Tuesday evening, instead of Wednesday. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

City hall will stay open, but people are asked to call 311 or email the city instead of visiting. After-school programs are cancelled. Council meetings are closed to the public but will be streamed online. 

Mayor Danny Breen said other critical services that will continue include garbage collection, snow clearing and waste water treatments. The Robin Hood Bay landfill will still be open for drop-offs. 

Breen said it's been a double whammy for N.L. businesses in 2020, so far, citing losses suffered during the massive blizzard in January. 

"The impact is significant, so we feel that assistance should be rolled out quickly," Breen said. 

He said he is joining a conference call on Tuesday night with about two dozen other mayors, who are part of the Big City Mayor's Caucus, and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland to talk about financial assistance for businesses. 

Corner Brook, Mount Pearl, Conception Bay South, Paradise, Holyrood and Torbay all announced similar restrictions and are also closing the city/town halls. In all of the municipalities, garbage collection will go ahead as planned, but recycling collection is suspended.

The Town of Carbonear has closed its town office to the public. Nearby Harbour Grace has closed all town facilities except for the council office.

Qalipu First Nation offices in Corner Brook are closing at 4 p.m. Staff will continue to work from home.

The RCMP are telling people not to come to detachments for in-person, non-urgent services. Crime and car crash reports should be done via the phone. 

The City of St. John's says city hall will remain open, but is telling people to call or email instead. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

The Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador is limited its operations as of Monday. 

"If you are not in custody and you have a criminal court appearance in the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Court from Monday, March 16, 2020 to Friday, May 22, 2020 you do not need to attend court," the court said in a statement Tuesday evening. 

All in-custody matters will go ahead, which includes; bail hearings; sentencings; preliminary inquiries and trials; youth criminal sentence reviews.

The Department of Transportation and Works said it will let passengers remain in their vehicles during crossings on provincial ferries, unless it's unsafe to do so.

Ferries are equipped with additional cleaners, sanitizers and soap, on top of captains and crews being directed to increase their cleaning schedules.

Premier Dwight Ball announced Monday afternoon that all schools across the province are closed, including the College of the North Atlantic.

Regulated daycare centres are also closed; however, regulated daycare homes are exempt as they have fewer children in one place.  

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Stephanie Kinsella and Peter Cowan

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