N.L. reports 2 COVID-19 deaths, announces further loosening of restrictions
First changes will come into effect Saturday
Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting two more deaths due to COVID-19, along with a plan to further loosen restrictions on gatherings and sporting events in the province.
The province has now reported 48 deaths since March 2020. One of the deaths was a woman over the age of 90 in the Central Health region, according to Public Health, while the other was a man in his 70s in the Western Health region.
A total of 210 new cases were reported by Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald on Tuesday afternoon. With 247 new recoveries, the province's known active caseload has dropped to 1,487. Twenty-three people are in hospital due to the virus.
The province said it has completed 748 COVID-19 tests since Monday, with a positivity rate of 28 per cent. More than 490,000 tests have been completed to date.
Fitzgerald said team competition within leagues or regions can resume Monday. Tournaments are still not permitted, but single games can occur.
If cases emerge within a team where physical distancing and mask wearing is not observed, teammates would become non-household close contacts and follow the appropriate isolation protocols.
The changes also apply to school sports, Fitzgerald said.
Also effective Monday, formal gatherings will be able to increase to 50 per cent of a venue's capacity. Informal gatherings will remain within a person's 20 close, consistent contacts.
Restaurants, bars, theatres, bingo halls and other performance spaces can, starting Monday, operate at 50 per cent capacity provided physical distancing can be maintained. Food and drink is permitted but masks must be worn at all times when not eating or drinking. Gyms, fitness facilities and arenas can also operate at 50 per cent capacity with distancing.
Restrictions for faith-based groups are being loosened as of Saturday, allowing churches that require the province's vaccination passport to operate at 50 per cent capacity, but 25 per cent capacity if not using the vaccine passport.
While the provincial government had expected to announce further changes on Feb. 21, said Fitzgerald, the province's favourable epidemiology and vaccination rate allowed them to do that sooner.
"While new restrictions just came into effect yesterday, it has been a week since those decisions were made. And while a week may seem short, in the world of public health and especially COVID, a week of data can help better solidify trends and provide reassurance in the direction we are taking," she said.
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Furey attributed the change to the province's vaccination rates, which he says are among the highest in North America.
Almost 94 per cent of the eligible population in Newfoundland and Labrador are considered fully vaccinated, while over 96 per cent have received at least one dose. Eighty-eight per cent of children between five and 11 years old have had at least one dose.
"Because of the evidence, our epidemiology and your hard work, we are able to open things a little faster than before, learning lessons in the past," the premier said.
The province has also seen a small increase in the rate of booster doses over the past week, Fitzgerald said, adding more than 260,000 booster shots have now been delivered in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Fitzgerald said the province will also stop using its alert level system and will simply list all current public health restrictions in one place on the provincial government's website.
"It's difficult to have that system apply appropriately at this point, and we got a lot of feedback that people were trying to make things fit with the alert levels and it was just causing more confusion," Fitzgerald said.
"We don't want that to happen. We just want people to be aware of what the restrictions are."
As the system changes, Fitzgerald encouraged patience and understanding with people across the province as they make another transition.
"The path ahead is not always clear, but we must walk it regardless," she said. "Everyone is trying to make the best decision for themselves and their families, just as we at Public Health are trying to make the best decisions for the people of the province."
If the province's favourable epidemiology continues, Fitzgerald said, restrictions could be loosened further. However, she said case counts, positivity rate and hospitalizations would all play a factor.
Long-term care changes
Health Minister John Haggie also introduced a number of changes to long-term care homes in the province.
Residents in long-term care and acute care will now be allowed two support visitors, instead of one, effective Thursday, and will be able to leave their care home for family outings or visitation outside appointments.
Hairstylists and volunteers can begin entering care homes again, provided they follow public health guidelines.
Group activities can also happen under guidelines, with the exception of events that include sharing food. However, Haggie said, residents who live in the same unit or on the same floor of a care home can eat together without the need for physical distancing.
All changes will be announced on via media release on Wednesday, the minister said.
Haggie said the changes in long-term care were made possible by high vaccination levels within the senior population. About 80 per cent of people over 70 have had a booster dose, according to Furey.
"We have significant boosting in long-term care and seniors' facilities in general. That has provided that extra layer of protection," Haggie said.
Fitzgerald said the province is also beginning to work on a plan to offer booster doses to teenagers following guideline upcoming guidance changes from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.