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N.L. restores mask mandate amid rise in COVID-19 cases, reports four new cases

Just over a month after health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador lifted the province's mask mandate, rising COVID-19 cases have led them to reinstate the health order in indoor public spaces.

Just over a month after health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador lifted the province's mask mandate, rising COVID-19 cases have led them to reinstate the health order in indoor public spaces.

"We have committed to adapt our public health measures when a change is warranted," chief medical officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald told reporters Friday.

Starting Saturday, masks will once again be required to enter public indoor spaces, including restaurants, fitness centres, public transit, theatres and post-secondary institutions. The mask rule will also be in place for students in kindergarten to Grade 12 in common areas of schools and on school buses. Students in grades four to 12 will be required to wear masks in school at all times, Fitzgerald added.

Changing epidemiology and concerns about stress on the health-care system were behind the decision to reinstate the mask requirement, she added.

"Public health capacity in the regional health authorities is strained and cases have been increasing over the past number of weeks," she said.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported four new COVID-19 infections Friday, bringing the active case count in the province to 38.

Meanwhile, a growing COVID-19 outbreak at a Charlottetown elementary school in Prince Edward Island has led to the closure of another school. 

Health officials Thursday evening reported two new infections connected to an outbreak at West Royalty Elementary School, which has been closed this week. A few hours earlier, they had reported eight new cases in the province, seven of which were tied to that school.

Officials said one of the latest cases involved a student at École La-Belle-Cloche in Souris, P.E.I., and was linked to the outbreak at West Royalty. The Souris school was closed Friday for contact tracing.

P.E.I. health officials reported eight new cases of COVID-19 Friday, including two that involved close contacts of the outbreak at West Royalty. The other six cases involved individuals who recently travelled outside Atlantic Canada. Prince Edward Island has 43 active reported cases of COVID-19.

New Brunswick has also faced a rising number of cases in schools. About 80 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to 20 schools across the province since the start of the school year.

"The growing number of cases of COVID-19 in communities is having a significant impact on public school operations," Education Minister Dominic Cardy said in a statement Friday.

Health officials in that province imposed new measures in kindergarten to Grade 12, including classroom groupings, greater social distancing rules and cancelling assemblies. 

The measures will go into effect on Monday and starting on Wednesday, eligible students born in 2009 and earlier will need to be vaccinated to participate in indoor and outdoor activities. Parents are being asked to drive students to school to reduce possible transmission on school buses.

New Brunswick officials reported 57 new cases of the disease Friday, 41 of which involved people who were not fully vaccinated, bringing the active case count to 370. Chief medical officer Dr. Jennifer Russell said in a statement the breakthrough cases were expected but those who are vaccinated are far less likely to be seriously ill or hospitalized.

Russell also said demand for vaccinations had picked up over the last few days and more than 77 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers were fully vaccinated. 

Horizon Health announced earlier on Friday it had an immediate need to recruit clinical and administrative staff for assessment centres and school clinics in the Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton areas. The authority said it most urgently needed registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, respiratory therapists, medical lab assistants and bilingual administrative staff. 

In Nova Scotia, health officials reported 18 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and noted signs of community spread in the central area of the province among young unvaccinated people. Twelve new cases were identified in the central region, which includes Halifax, and five were in the northern region, where officials have reported a cluster within a "defined" group of unvaccinated residents.

The other new case reported Friday was travel-related and was found in Nova Scotia's western region. The province has 162 active reported cases and six people in hospital.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

The Canadian Press

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