Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister John Haggie says he’s repealing the public health state of emergency order put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic effective 12:01 a.m. Monday.
At that point all of the province’s special public health measures will come to an end.
“I’m happy to announce that, given no curveballs, I will be signing a letter repealing that state of emergency,” Haggie said at at COVID-19 briefing Wednesday.
“This kind of blanket approach is lifted, and we go back to using the more traditional tools of public health from a legislative framework,” he said.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said she hopes Wednesday’s briefing will be its last regularly scheduled one, after nearly two years of holding regular media conferences — at one point, briefings were held daily.
Fitzgerald acknowledged the virus is still circulating — the Health Department is reporting 1,131 new cases since Monday and four more deaths, raising the province’s casualty total to 72 — but said it’s the right time to drop mandates. The total known active case count is 3,675, up from 3,612 on Monday. There were 315 recoveries.
“Despite the fact that we have community spread, our hospitalization rate remains stable and manageable and we currently have 20 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 severity,” she said. “This tells us that it’s the right time to take the next step in reopening.”
Of the 20 people in hospital, five are in critical care, according to the Department of Health.
Fitzgerald said a new interactive dashboard will be available Monday on the provincial government’s COVID-19 website, which will replace briefings and media releases. COVID-19 data will be updated Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Fitzgerald said data on the age and vaccination status of people who have died will be updated in groups of 10 to protect their privacy. PCR testing numbers will also not be included.
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Fitzgerald said any changes to public health guidance will be relayed through media releases, social media and the COVID-19 website.
Masking will remain in replace for all of the province’s health-care facilities.
While officials expect more cases, hospitalizations and deaths Fitzgerald said modelling suggests hospital capacity — the protection of which was a key reason to keep the COVID-19 caseload down through public health restrictions — will be able to handle increases.
“Certainly it’s difficult to put a number on it because sometimes it depends on the level of care that’s needed as well, but I think our system certainly would be able to manage between 40 and 60 cases,” she said.
“At the moment, it appears that the capacity will not be overwhelmed.”
Haggie said the ICU capacity is “proportionately greater” than in-patient capacity at the moment, with the occupancy in ICUs at about 80 per cent.
Staffing challenges have also posed challenges over the last two years. As of Wednesday, Haggie said, 867 health-care employees are off work due to COVID-19, but 234 are only symptomatic while 515 are confirmed positive. The remainder are in a mix of work and home isolation.
“The number of staff isolating has fallen. That obviously increases capacity,” said Haggie.
For long-term care and personal-care homes, Haggie said, restrictions may remain in place if there’s a COVID-19 outbreak in a particular unit or facility.
At any point in time, he said, the visitation policy will be altered if needed, to focus on protecting some of the most vulnerable populations.
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