Nfld. & Labrador

'The timing couldn't be worse': 27 new COVID-19 cases in N.L. as Omicron's impact spreads

A wave of COVID-19 cases in parts of Newfoundland has put a damper on holiday activity across the province.

Province has 154 active cases, with Omicron variant numbers ticking up

People line up for a COVID-19 booster shot at a Shoppers Drug Mart on Lemarchant Road in St. John's. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting 27 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday as people scramble to get their next shot of protection against the virus. 

Thirteen of the new cases are located in the Western Health region of Newfoundland, including six people under the age of 20, according to a media release from the Department of Health on Monday afternoon. Nine cases are contacts of previous cases, while four are under investigation.

There are 10 cases in the Central Health region, all contacts of previous cases.

Four cases are being reported in the Eastern Health region. Two are contacts of previous cases and two cases are under investigation.

With no new recoveries to report, Newfoundland and Labrador's active COVID-19 caseload rises to 154. There are 67 cases in the Western Health region, 47 in the Central Health region, 39 in the Eastern Health region and one in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region.

No one is in hospital due to COVID-19 and a total of 362,655 tests have been completed, up 1,478 from Sunday. 

Long lines for booster

On Monday, a walk-in clinic at a pharmacy in Shoppers Drug Mart on Lemarchant Road in St. John's saw dozens of people hoping to get their COVID-19 vaccine booster. On Friday the province shifted wait times for a booster to 22 weeks after receiving a second dose of vaccination. It's a reduction of about four weeks from the previous six-month wait.

In central Newfoundland, the pandemic is rearing its ugly head once again, and Gander Mayor Percy Farwell is reminding residents to follow public health rules. 

"The timing couldn't be worse, obviously. Nobody is delighting in putting restrictions on this time of year," Farwell told CBC News on Sunday, shortly after another unexpected COVID-19 briefing from provincial government and health officials.

Officials reported 61 new cases on Sunday, with nine confirmed to be the Omicron variant, and 34 more presumed to be the fast-spreading variant. More than half of those new cases are in the central Newfoundland area.

Badger, Twillingate, Gander and Grand-Falls Windsor are now in Alert Level 3, while the rest of the province is under Alert Level 2.

As a result, health officials have reduced capacity at most public spaces in the central Newfoundland communities to 50 per cent, while bars, bingo halls and performance venues are closed. Grand Falls-Windsor has closed municipal buildings and depots to the public. The YMCA, Corduroy Brook building, heritage society, ski chalet and arenas remain open with restrictions. 

"It's going to be tough. It's going to be tough on some of the businesses that rely on a bit of a boom during Christmas," Farwell said. "At the end of the day, public health has to come first."

Travelling into or out of the region is also not recommended. 

Gander Mayor Percy Farwell says capacity restrictions will be tough on businesses but are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Farwell said heading into the weekend — ahead of Sunday's unscheduled briefing — people there were already feeling a little apprehensive as COVID-19 cases continued to climb in the province. 

Farwell said case counts aren't something to be "terrified of" but it's the reality of exponential spread of the coronavirus, and something that needs to be addressed.

"Public health officials are directing that we take quick action again. It has worked before when we've had clusters in other areas," he said. 

"I think the thing is, right now, the timing of this is so bad."

Meanwhile, the Health Department is pushing people to get tested even if they have only one symptom. 

Public Health is running number of COVID-19 testing clinics for residents in the region.

The clinics include:

  • Fraser Road United Church, Gander, Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Salvation Army Church, 27 Park St., Grand Falls-Windsor, Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Twillingate United Church, Monday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m, Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Monday also marked the last day of classes for students in the province, as the holiday break was pushed forward as a precautionary measure. Schools opened Monday to allow for kids to say goodbye to classmates and teachers and gather their things in the event of a move to online learning in the new year.

"There is a level of uncertainty, but one thing we are certain about, whatever mode we have to operate in come Jan. 4 we'll be ready," Newfoundland and Labrador English School District president Tony Stack said Monday.

"We may have to make some geographical decisions. There may be some schools virtual, some not, it all depends on the circumstances."

'Most unfortunate'

Jeff Pope, owner of Third Place Café in Grand Falls-Windsor, told CBC News it's a busy time of year for his business, which relies on the holiday season to make it through the winter.

With the fear of the fast-spreading Omicron variant and changing public health restrictions, Pope said he's already seeing a steep drop in revenue since the alert level change came into effect.

"A lot of people are not going out. They want to stay home, they're very nervous," Pope said. "We've seen a lot of cancellations."

Outside central Newfoundland, restaurants and bars in other areas are also facing capacity restrictions taking effect right in the middle of the busy holiday season.

Bars are back down to 50 per cent capacity, while restaurants will have to operate at 75 per cent.

Lorne Loder, co-owner of Boca Tapas Bar and Cojones Tacos and Tequila in downtown St. John's, said the news isn't unexpected, but disappointing given the time of year.

"It was most unfortunate. It's not what anybody wanted to hear," Loder told CBC News on Saturday.

"The month of December and the Christmas season is very important to restaurants and many industries. So yeah, it was disappointing, to say the least."

Todd Perrin, owner and chef at Mallard Cottage, says he hopes his business will be able to make it through the winter. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Todd Perrin, owner and chef of Mallard Cottage in St. John's, agrees the timing of the news isn't ideal. Under harsher public health restrictions, he said, the hospitality industry is always hit hardest.

"The revenue that we generate between now and the first week of January is the money that we need to get through this winter," Perrin said.

"We rely on people being in our spaces. We can't just shift to online or shift to working from home. It's not an option for our business. So it's an unfortunate reality of our style of business that as this goes on it tends to impact us in a way it doesn't impact lots of other things."

Both Perrin and Loder say physical distancing has been their main focus since the province's return to Alert Level 2 in June.

Loder said his entire staff is fully vaccinated, with some even having had a booster shot. He said other precautions have been taken as well, so he hopes people won't cancel en masse in the coming weeks.

Perrin agrees, and said he hopes no further restrictions will be put in place so the holiday business won't be affected too much.

"We're hopeful that we'll get through the next few weeks with as close to a normal operation as we can and hopefully will be able to last the winter," he said.

"If something happens to make business limited over the next few weeks, then it's really going to be an issue for a lot of folks.… It'll be hard to see our way through to the spring."

Eastern Health issued several exposure notices in St. John's throughout Monday. The places and dates include:

  •  Fionn MacCool's, 199 Kenmount Rd., St. John's on Dec. 17  between 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to get tested. This does not include those who picked up takeout.
  • Konfusion, 391 Duckworth St., St. John's on Dec. 18 between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.
  • No. 4 Restaurant, 4 Cathedral St., St. John's on Dec. 14 from 9 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
  • Merchant Tavern, 291 Water St., St. John's, on Dec. 14 from 3:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Dec. 15 from 3:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., Dec. 16 from 3:45 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. and Dec. 17 from 3:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.
  • Café Madras, 183 Duckworth St., St. John's on Dec. 17 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

There are also a number of new exposure notifications in the Western Health region. 

They include: 

  • Connection Café, 8 Mount Bernard Ave., Corner Brook on Dec. 3 from 5 to 6 p.m.
  • Best Coast Restaurant, 55 West St., Corner Brook on Dec. 10 from 6:45 to 9 p.m., and Dec. 11 from 8:30 to 10 p.m.
  • Corner Brook Civic Centre, 1 Canada Games Dr., during the general skate on Dec. 12 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.
  • Williams Building Supply, 68 Wights Rd., Deer Lake, on Dec. 14, 15, 16 and 17 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Forever Young Fitness Centre, 1 Canada Games Dr., Corner Brook on Dec. 13 from 4 to 5 p.m.
  • Shoppers Drug Mart at the Millbrook Mall in Corner Brook on Dec. 17 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Dec. 18 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Subway, 52A Broadway, Corner Brook on Dec. 17 from 12 to 12:30 p.m.

Public Health is asking anyone who was at these locations during these times to arrange for testing.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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