It was another day with no new cases of COVID-19 to report in Newfoundland and Labrador Wednesday, though provincial government officials in their daily media briefing remained steadfast in maintaining that people need to treat seriously all restrictions put in place to contain the coronavirus.
On that front, the government announced some measures concerning a cluster of positive test results elsewhere in Canada that could have implications for this province. As of Tuesday, there were 23 COVID-19 cases linked to Imperial Oil's Kearl Lake oilsands site, located 130 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, Alta.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, chief medical officer of health for the province, announced Wednesday new measures specific to workers based at the relevant oilsands camp returning home to Newfoundland and Labrador. Anyone who has returned from the Kearl Lake site since March 29 must isolated themselves for 14 days, she said.
Those workers are being asked to call 811 for appropriate follow-up, after which they will be referred to public health officials for testing, whether or not they're symptomatic. Those who test negative will still need to self-isolate for the remainder of that period, and people living under the same roof as the workers will also need to self-isolate while those workers await test results.
"One of the challenges we have had with people coming from outside the province is even with information provided by some of the carriers, they really don't grasp the difference between the province they're leaving and the one they're coming to, and I would urge family members who have kin coming back from anywhere to make contact and to tell them what the situation is back home," Health Minister Dr. John Haggie said.
Wednesday represented the fifth straight day of no new cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador.
A new case of COVID-19 had been previously reported last Saturday, but Fitzgerald announced Wednesday this was due to a clerical error and was not in fact a positive test result. She cautioned it was not a false-positive result.
Haggie attributed the ongoing lack of new cases in the province to public diligence in adhering to physical distancing and public health measures put in place to flatten the curve.
"I think we're due a pat on the back," he said. "It's been a hard period. But it's not over yet."
There have now been 256 cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador, with six people remaining in hospital as of Wednesday, with two of them in intensive care; 199 people have recovered from the virus and 6,662 people have been tested. Three people have died.
As for the potential to relax some of the measures put in place to protect public health in the province, Fitzgerald acknowledged people are eager to return to day-to-day life as it used to be, but cautioned the province is not in a position to do that yet.
She did, however, state public health officials are already investigating how to appropriately relax those public health measures in anticipation of reaching a point when it is appropriate to do so.
"We're trying to achieve a balance between protecting the public and giving back some of the freedom that we have all temporarily lost due to COVID-19. We want to get this right," Fitzgerald said.
When the government does begin to relax some of these restrictions, it will be done deliberately and with careful evaluation, she said. Some new measures may even be necessary, specifically in relation to how businesses reopening are permitted to operate to ensure optimal safety, she said. Travel would be another area requiring further attention, she added.
"There will come a time, though, in the near future when we will be able to relax some measures," Fitzgerald said. "This does not mean things will go back to normal as we know it, as this is not likely to happen for quite some time, and normal may look a little bit different than it did before the pandemic. For now, we will have to learn to live in a new way. What this looks like exactly is still unknown, but what we do know is we have made great strides in slowing COVID-19 in our communities, and we will remain in this together, supporting one another until a vaccine is available."
Haggie, who was hesitant to refer to what's yet to come as a new normal, said this will be a slow process.
"Each step will have to be evaluated to make sure that it doesn't produce a further rise in the number of cases. The virus is with us. It's in our communities. It's still there, and it can only reproduce if we move and allow it to host. Those kinds of restrictions and requirements are likely to be among the last to go."
In other developments Wednesday:
• Premier Dwight Ball said Thursday's news conference will feature Bill Woolridge, who tested positive for COVID-19 and has since recovered. He will talk about that experience.
• Ball acknowledged Canada Takeout Day, a new initiative that encourages people to order takeout each Wednesday to support local restaurants. He thanked those businesses, noting they play a vital role in supplying meals to many, including essential workers and people self-isolating.
• Fitzgerald said the coronavirus's current reproductive rate in the province — how the virus moves from one person to another — is approximately 0.4. This means for every 10 people infected, four more are infected. From those four, there would be a further 1.6 cases. From a disease-control perspective, she said, a figure less than one is good, but warned that the coronavirus can spread rapidly and this figure should not give the government incentive to become complacent about the risks at hand.