Newfoundland and Labrador return to its new normal Saturday after successfully quelling a COVID-19 variant outbreak that infected hundreds of people in February.
Six weeks after banning all non-essential activities and issuing lockdown orders, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said Wednesday she would lift those restrictions, basically restoring life to pre-outbreak quality, with restaurants, gyms, and movie theatres allowed to open across the province.
However, she cautioned of adjustments to Alert Level 2 this time.
“We will almost certainly see another variant case,” Fitzgerald said.
With increased contagiousness, public health directives now strictly insist on limiting close contacts to fend off another widespread outbreak.
Here’s what you need to know about the new version of Alert Level 2.
February’s outbreak has greatly been about the spread of variant B117, a more contagious version of the coronavirus.
Public health officials have said the variant spread fast because of high levels of interconnectedness among those infected. Kids on multiple sports teams, for example, sent household contact numbers skyrocketing.
To prevent another massive outbreak, Fitzgerald urged the public to keep contacts as minimal as possible, unveiling the concept of a ‘steady 20’: the maximum number of close contacts per home, not including a child’s class group.
Those include family members or friends you would invite for dinner or share a table with at an eatery, said Fitzgerald. Masks are not necessary around these contacts.
Small gatherings, such as birthday parties, among those contacts are also allowed, but larger gatherings are possible to some extent. The aim is to reduce non-essential interactions, she said.
She also lifted visitation restrictions inside retirement homes, once again allowing up to 6 registered guests per resident.
In addition, Fitzgerald encouraged outdoor events whenever possible.
All businesses can open
Non-essential retail stores and salons opened on the Avalon, and eateries welcomed customers elsewhere in N.L, at the last alert level change on Mar. 13.
On Saturday, the Avalon joins other regions in allowing indoor dining at restaurants, whereas bars and entertainment venues can open across Newfound and Labrador.
There’s a caveat in that one, however, as 50% capacity and 2m distancing between groups of patrons must be maintained anywhere.
Recreational facilities such as gyms were given the go-ahead, but with capacity restrictions too.
Fitzgerald, however, is still encouraging a widespread work-from-home policy, and anyone who can work outside their office should do so.
Sports slow to come back online
Sports and arts activities can restart across N.L, but cautiously, she said.
Individuals on the same team are allowed to practice and play together, but events between sports teams require institutions to submit a “return-to-sport” application.
There will be a template for that application to help simplify the requirement, Fitzgerald added. Officials want to know how teams intend to reduce contact between players, she said.
Once all the applications are submitted and qualified, regional competitions could resume.
Tournaments featuring teams from all around the province will not be allowed yet, Fitzgerald said but could resume at some point in Level 2.
Teams training together should avoid using the same changing rooms, the chief medical officer said, and players should arrive fully dressed if possible. The wearing of masks is highly encouraged.
The chief medical officer also struck down any idea of an after-practice party, which officials have earlier blamed, partly, for spreading the variant this year.
“There should be no social activities … such as socializing in change rooms,” Fitzgerald said.
Masks a must
Masks are already being enforced in all indoor activities across N.L, but those rules require additional tightening because of variant transmissibility, she cautioned.
As such, masks must be worn anywhere indoors, even while seated in a theatre, and removing them only to eat or drink.
Anyone doing light exercise in a gym or fitness place should as well try to wear a face mask as long as possible.
“The more time we have our mask on while around others the better,” Fitzgerald said. “I know that returning to Level 2 is welcome news, but we need to proceed with caution.”
If the coronavirus or its variant starts to spread widely again, another lockdown is possible, she concluded.