OHS Canada Magazine

N.L. students will keep masking for another month as province expands booster access


Nearly a month after Newfoundland and Labrador dropped most of its remaining pandemic-related restrictions, health officials are preparing to offer a second COVID-19 booster shot to the majority of the population.

Seniors aged 70 and older are now eligible for a fourth dose of vaccine, while teens aged 12-17 can now get a first booster, the province’s chief medical officer of health announced Wednesday. Seniors in congregate living facilities also qualify for second boosters, as do Indigenous people aged 18 and over.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said she expects second-booster eligibility will open up for much of the remaining population sometime in the next two months.

“Even if you have had a COVID-19 infection, everyone should ensure that they are up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccinations,” Fitzgerald told reporters in St. John’s.

The public briefing held Wednesday was Fitzgerald’s first after officials ended pandemic-related restrictions on March 14, including the mask mandate in public places apart from health-care facilities and schools.

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In that time, the province has seen record hospitalizations, with a high of 47 reported April 6. The disease has killed 61 residents since March 11, which is 45 per cent of the 137 deaths reported since the beginning of the pandemic.

Fitzgerald said she estimated as many as 200,000 people in the province have contracted the disease by now, which is about 38 per cent of Newfoundland and Labrador’s 522,450 residents.

Unvaccinated people account for just 7.8 per cent of the province’s population but 32 per cent of pandemic-related hospitalizations and 28 per cent of deaths, she noted.

“This is a testament to the power of the vaccines,” Fitzgerald said.

Masking requirements will stay in place for students in K-12 schools for another month, she added.

Restrictions were lifted in Newfoundland and Labrador earlier than other parts of the country, such as Ontario, and Fitzgerald said that as a result, the sixth wave of COVID-19 is slightly more advanced in the province than elsewhere. Newfoundland and Labrador, she said, is likely just past the worst of the current wave.

“I think part of the reason we want to hang onto masks for another little while is we want to make sure we’re well and good on that downslope before we stop recommending those measures,” she said.

Health officials reported seven new deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, including the province’s first death involving someone in their 30s. Data posted to the province’s online dashboard indicated 32 people were in hospital due to COVID-19, including six patients in critical care.

Since Monday, officials confirmed 451 new cases of the disease, though testing is only offered to select groups, and the numbers do not reflect the province’s actual caseload.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2022.