N.L. marks 2 straight weeks without a single new COVID-19 case
Newfoundland and Labrador has hit two weeks without a new case of COVID-19, although officials said Thursday there are no plans to expedite an earlier move to the next stage of loosened restrictions.
"Our collective actions have allowed us to reach this point, and the onus is on each of us to keep this momentum going for the foreseeable future," said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald on Thursday.
"As we've seen in other jurisdictions, and as we've seen here at home, this does not mean that we cannot resume daily routines and things we enjoy. Rather, it just means we have to do so a little differently, slowly and with caution so that we do not undermine the advancements we have each worked so hard to achieve."
The province's total caseload remains at 260 with 253 people recovered, three people in hospital and three deaths. There are four active cases in the province.
As of Thursday's daily public health update, 10,983 people have been tested across the province — 142 in the last 24 hours.
Watch the full May 21 update:
Premier Dwight Ball said the province is beginning to prepare to move to Alert Level 3 — and what that will look like — in its phased reopening plan, which, if all goes well, would happen June 8.
"You could see changes to public spaces and gatherings, recreational activities, health care, potential of even more businesses reopening," he said.
Ball said the provincial government has a team to help businesses navigate the alert levels in preparation for reopening. The team can be reached at 1-833-771-0696, or by email.
Asked why Newfoundland and Labrador is taking longer than other provinces to reopen businesses, Ball said the province is following its own plan based on its own COVID-19 situation. The premier said about 67 per cent of businesses across Canada are still closed while in Newfoundland and Labrador the percentage of shuttered businesses is in the high 70s.
"We're planning to reopen more businesses as it's safe to do so, and as those businesses get a understanding of what their requirements would be to open," he said.
"I would anticipate we would all be at various levels in reopening, but our focus right now is to be able to do so safely.… Opening up early doesn't mean that you're not going to have a setback in the future."
Sticking to the plan
Fitzgerald, Ball and Health Minister John Haggie was pressed by reporters on why Newfoundland and Labrador has been comparatively slow to reopen while neighbouring provinces, with similar recent numbers of low or no new reported cases, are further ahead with their reopening plans.
Ball referenced the national numbers of roughly 80,000 cases and some 6,000 deaths as to why Newfoundland and Labrador is slated to continue with its plan.
"If we were sitting at a table three months ago, saying that within three months there's going to be 6,000 Canadians pass away from COVID-19 in Canada, I think that would have been alarming news," Ball said.
"That's essentially what's happened here. So, we will reopen the economy, but we must do it when it's safe to do so and we must plan for it and be prepared if we have a set back. This is not about being resistant or being stubborn."
Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick have moved well ahead of Newfoundland and Labrador in their respective reopening plans. On Friday retail stores will be allowed to reopen in P.E.I. while in New Brunswick residents can have gatherings of up to 50 people fewer with physical distancing measures in place and the reopening of gyms and swimming pools.
New Brunswick announced one new case of COVID-19 on Thursday, its first in two weeks. It's the only known active case in the province, which has a total caseload of 121, 120 of whom have recovered. Prince Edward Island has not had a new case of COVID-19 since April 28, and all of its 27 known cases have recovered.
Fitzgerald said Newfoundland and Labrador is following advice based on evidence taken at the federal and provincial levels and can't speak to decisions made in other provinces.
Haggie said it can take up to 14 days for a patient to show symptoms of the virus. If that person passes the virus to someone else, it could then take up to another 14 days to present symptoms.
The health minister also noted Newfoundland and Labrador has an older population than other provinces, with some of the highest rates of other chronic illnesses — particularly diabetes, present in 11 per cent of the population.
"If you add those factors together, 28 days is a reasonable period to make sure, from a provincial point of view, you're as good as you can be for this first increment," he said.
In a couple of weeks the province will have new information from the Public Health Agency of Canada that could change the plan, said Haggie.
"If it still needs to be 28 days to Level 2 from 3, if we can do it, then we'll make that case, and if it's different then we'll make that case too. There is no playbook for this."