Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. reports 15 new COVID-19 cases, as hospitalizations increase

Seven people have now been hospitalized with COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador, with two people in intensive care.

Total of 135 cases in N.L., 7 in hospital, 2 in ICU

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the chief medical officer of health in Newfoundland and Labrador, has held daily public briefings on COVID-19. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's COVID-19 caseload became heavier Sunday, as officials revealed that 15 more people have tested positive for the highly contagious coronavirus.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health, made the announcement during a public briefing on Sunday afternoon. 

The total number of cases in the province now sits at 135. All new cases are in the Eastern Health region, Fitzgerald said. There have been 2,107 tests done for COVID-19.

Seven people have now been hospitalized, with two people now in intensive care.

"This is something we do not want to see," Premier Dwight Ball said during the briefing, adding that officials have nonetheless been bracing for the COVID-19 situation to become more serious.

Stay inside so the virus stands outside.- Premier Dwight Ball

"We do not want to be alarmist, but we have to be truthful with you. This is how serious COVID-19 is," he said. 

"Stay inside so the virus stands outside."

Health Minister John Haggie said none of the province's ventilators are being used on a COVID-19 patient.

Haggie also cautioned that residents of Newfoundland and Labrador need to prepare for what could be a long haul. 

"We are now in our third week," Haggie said. "What we do now will determine [how] our next three to six to nine to 12 weeks will pan out in terms of the health and well-being of the people of this province." 

He also pleaded with people to stay inside as much as possible, and to shop individually and not in groups, and even then only for essential goods. He criticized people who go to browse at stores that have been allowed to stay open as essential businesses through public health emergency legislation. 

"Stay in your bubble and don't burst anyone else's bubble," Haggie said.

"We are well equipped in terms of ventilators, in terms of ICU beds. We're better equipped than a lot of metropolitan cities, because we have had to be self-reliant," said Haggie, adding that more gear is on the way. 

Troubling week for spread of disease

The last week has been a hectic and often troubling one for Newfoundland and Labrador, where COVID-19 had arrived relatively late compared with most provinces. 

Within the last week, one troubling milestone after another was recorded. Cases moved through the double digits and into the triple digits. 

Saturday marked the first confirmations of cases spread by what's called community transmission. That's when someone has contracted the highly infectious coronavirus, and contact tracing cannot connect it to another confirmed case. 

Haggie said Sunday that the prior day's revelation of community transmission caused a spike in calls to the province's 811 health line, through which public health nurses are assessing patients and, if needed, directing them for tests and other care.

Haggie added that more than 200 people were waiting for a callback from the service, and advised people to pick up when the phone rings from an unknown number. 

Newfoundland and Labrador has not yet recorded the most dreaded statistic: a death due to COVID-19. 

Most of the spike in new cases this week has been attributed to one cluster: people who attended a funeral at Caul's Funeral Home on LeMarchant Road in St. John's, and thus people they contacted.

On Sunday, Fitzgerald said 99 cases so far are connected to Caul's, which is considered the largest single coronavirus cluster in Canada so far.

Refinery to close

In a video posted to Facebook on Sunday evening, United Steelworkers Local 9316 president Glenn Nolan said the North Atlantic oil refinery at Come By Chance will shut down, starting Sunday.

Nolan said the shutdown process will take about five days and the refinery will remain in idle mode until it's financially viable to start up again.

Mail service resuming Monday

Meanwhile, in a statement issued on Sunday, Canada Post said it intends to resume operations at its mail distribution centre on Kenmount Road in St. John's on Monday, and is contacting employees tp provide more information.

The facility closed Monday after Canada Post was informed an employee had tested positive for COVID-19.

In this file image, Canada Post trucks are parked in the lot of the Kenmount Road postal facility in St. John's. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Canada Post said public health officials have completed contact tracing, and any affected people will now remain in self-isolation.

The company said the entire Kenmount Road facility has been sanitized, vehicles will be sanitized by Monday and physical distancing measures will be put in place throughout the facility.

The statement also said that while the delivery of mail and parcels will resume Monday, it will take some time to fully restart operations, and asks the public to be patient and practise appropriate physical distancing with staff.

No update on high school students 

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District said Sunday it has not yet made a decision about what will happen with students from Grade 9 to 12 in light of school closures due to COVID-19, but are close to a "definite decision."

"Hopefully we will get something out this week," said Tony Stack, CEO of the district. "A decision like this has to be carefully considered."

Stack said the focus is on graduating classes. He said the school district has been in conversations with post-secondary institutions in the province as well as the Department of Education to figure out the best way forward.

Tony Stack, the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District's director of education, says he hopes to have an update on high school students this week. (Sherry Vivan/CBC)

However, Stack said graduating students will not be at a disadvantage in their post-secondary education plans.

"We will arrive at a place where the students will be pleased and supported," he said.

Stack recommended the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation online resource for high school students. Students can register online to use the resource for all the high school grades.

Avoid get-togethers outdoors, snowmobilers warned

Meanwhile, Haggie and others continue to step up their calls for people to stay home and go outside only when necessary.

Haggie said people will need to maintain social distancing outdoors as well as inside — and that means an end to beloved outdoor activities. 

Warmup shacks on the T'railway are not really the place to be this weekend.- Dr. John Haggie

For instance, no hanging out in sheds or snowmobiling together. 

"It's a shame if you socially distance yourself at home only to undo that good work by running risks with a whole different group of the boys in the woods," Haggie said. 

"Warmup shacks on the T'railway are not really the place to be this weekend."

Speaking with reporters Saturday, Haggie added, "The virus only moves when people move. If you do not move, the virus cannot move."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

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