N.L.'s active COVID-19 caseload drops to 3, lowest level in more than 2 months
Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting no new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, its third straight day with zero, and a new recovery.
There are now three active cases — the lowest caseload since Nov. 4 — with one of those in hospital.
The potential for increased spread over the holidays had been a concern for health and government officials heading into December. On Wednesday, just under two weeks after New Year's Eve, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald thanked people who adhered to public health guidelines at the end of a tumultuous year.
"You all stepped up your efforts, and it's paying off," she said during the provincial government's regular briefing.
"I also want to thank the individuals who could have travelled to the province, but chose not to.… I know for each of them that this was a difficult decision, but also a selfless one."
As vaccinations continue for priority groups — including front-line health-care workers, long-term care residents and people in isolated Indigenous communities — Fitzgerald said the province is following national recommendations.
"With a limited amount of vaccine currently available to us right now, we must ensure this precious resource is allocated in the most effective way," she said.
"We must continue to focus on those who are most at risk for severe complications of COVID-19 and those who are key for maintaining the integrity of our healthcare systems."
Watch the full Jan. 13 update:
Health Minister John Haggie said the vaccination plan — including groups that will be prioritized for inoculations — will be published on the provincial government's COVID-19 website so people will know what to expect. The data hub will also include vaccine numbers, updated weekly, broken down by type, number received, number administered (including first and second doses) and geographic distribution.
Fitzgerald said the goal is to get through the highest-priority groups by the end of March.
Haggie also noted an increase in national availability for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination — 20 million more doses — and said he hopes to get an update during a health ministers' conference call later this week on when Newfoundland and Labrador can expect its share, which would be 1.4 per cent, or about 280,000 doses.
"Which will be sufficient to completely vaccinate around a third of our eligible population. So we're looking forward to hearing about that," Haggie said.
In total, 75,412 people have now been tested, including 309 since Tuesday's update.
Air Canada routes important for tourism: Furey
On Tuesday, Air Canada announced it would be suspending three more routes in the province, including in Labrador, which is now left with only PAL Airlines.
When asked on Wednesday if the province would provide financial support for the airline industry, Premier Andrew Furey said it falls under federal jurisdiction.
Furey said he spoke with Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Wally Andersen and Gander Mayor Percy Farwell on Wednesday morning, and moments before the COVID-19 briefing he spoke with new federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, along with Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan.
"I'm confident that they will continue to work with that industry, and Air Canada in particular, to find a resolution to protect those routes as we emerge from the pandemic, which is most important for industries like tourism for Newfoundland and Labrador," Furey said.
The Department of Health has provided some clarity on the use of face shields, after recommendations made earlier this week by Fitzgerald.
During Monday's briefing, Fitzgerald said she worries "a little bit of complacency" is setting in when it comes to the use of face masks to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
"Non-medical masks do not replace physical distancing or handwashing, and when worn properly they add a layer of protection when physical distancing is not possible or if you unexpectedly are unable to physically distance," Fitzgerald said.
The Health Department recommends wearing a cloth mask of at least two layers, with three layers preferred. Masks should cover the mouth, nose and chin without gaps, and plastic face shields, or masks with air valves, are not recommended.
"Face shields are not an alternative to masks, as they are open and let droplets escape. They are an option for those with a medical exemption from wearing masks to reduce risk, but they are not as effective as a mask at reducing droplet spread," Fitzgerald said.
"Face shields should not be worn instead of masks when worn in public places and would not meet the mandatory mask requirements. I do ask, however, that people do not confront or demean anyone who is not adhering to the mask requirements — there are individuals who are exempt from the requirement due to physical or other challenges, and remember that you do not know another person's circumstances."
Plastic face shields are being worn by some workers in places like grocery stores and restaurants.
The Department of Health said face shields are, in fact, allowed to be used by those workers in place of a face mask in those circumstances.
"While Public Health's recommendation is to wear a mask, we recognize that not everyone can wear a mask," the department said in a statement Tuesday. "If an individual chooses to wear a face shield instead of a mask, some level of protection from COVID-19 is provided."
The Health Department's website says face shields "are generally less effective than properly worn masks" and should not be worn as a replacement, unless there are reasons a mask cannot be worn.