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Southwest Coast Shuts Down

A temporary testing facility was set up at St. Ann’s Centre last week after a Belanger Memorial student tested positive for COVID-19. By Wednesday, May 12, Public Health authorities called upon all residents in the region to get tested. – © Hermann Kollinger / Pixabay

SOUTHWEST COAST – At a local grocery store last Thursday morning, May 13, a senior struggles to pack her own groceries. She’s relying on a cane and smiles apologetically to the next person waiting in line, then slowly shuffles to the door. She has to make a couple of trips to get to the door, because staff won’t help her. They aren’t allowed because the store and the entire region are under more restrictions. At midnight the night before, Southwest coast had been elevated to Alert Level 4.

“As part of a Public Health investigation, we have had someone of school age who has tested positive for COVID-19,” confirmed Dr. Monika Dutt, Chief Medical Officer for Western Health.

The student attends Belanger Memorial School and although the positive result wasn’t announced until Tuesday, social media had announced the presumptive positive result two days before.

That was enough to concern Martha Luedee, who works at Joe’s Service Station, located across the school on Monday. Neither she nor the owner received a heads up about the presumptive positive case and what extra steps, if any, they should have taken.

“I’m doing everything. I’m doing a mask. I’m doing a hand wash. I don’t know what else to do,” said Martha, who learned of the case through word of mouth. “We might shut the restaurant down.”

By Wednesday, May 12, the province had announced that two more cases had been confirmed. All three cases were linked to previous known cases. Public Health asked everyone from South Branch to Rose Blanche to get tested as a precautionary measure.

“I don’t have evidence that there’s broader transmission in the community that we don’t know about,” stated Dutt.

A temporary testing centre was set up at St. Ann’s Centre in the Codroy Valley and in Port aux Basques a steady stream of residents were observed entering the Main Street facility.

Brady Aucoin was among those who chose to get tested. He works at the Valley Pharmacy, where all the staff were encouraged by owner Craig Walters to go get tested.

“I haven’t been in close contact. It’s just precautionary measures, so it’s just to make sure everything is going smoothly,” said Aucoin, who wasn’t particularly worried. “I’ve been doing everything that they recommend – just keep my mask on, and staying behind the counter, and washing my hands, making sure there’s as little contact as possible.”

Sandra Taylor was another who planned to get tested just as a precaution.

“It’s scary but it’s manageable if everybody watches what they’re doing, stays safe.”

Outside the grocery store in Port aux Basques, the senior with the cane is still struggling to get her bags over to her car until another shopper decides to help.

Further down the street, the Salvation Army has closed its doors and suspended its Community Kitchen program until further notice. The cold plate fundraiser planned for May 20th has also been cancelled.

Back in Codroy Valley, St. Ann’s Parish cancelled its public mass. Libraries around the region also closed but continued to offer curbside pickup.

On social media, parents expressed confusion that only Belanger Memorial was closed for students, who switched to online learning. Cheryl Gullage, Manager of Communications for the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) responded to inquiries via e-mail early last Wednesday evening.

“Public Health has not advised the District of any increased risk to schools, or any reason to adjust school operations within the Alert Level 4 area announced today. We have not been advised of any current cases connected to those schools. Schools within the area will therefore continue to operate as they are, with continued enhanced safety protocols in effect,” explained Gullage.

“The one exception is Belanger Memorial. Although Public Health has not advised that the school should close to in-class instruction, with students and staff being tested this week, the District determined it was possible that isolation requirements for some students and staff could prove problematic for normal in-school operations. We therefore determined, for operational reasons, the school would move to a Scenario 3 model (full-time online instruction) today, with a further update to be provided Friday (May 14). Meanwhile, should the Public Health advice to us change, the District is prepared to adjust as necessary.”

By Thursday, none of the province’s seven new cases were within the Western Region, although there were three recoveries reported. The province also opened its vaccination portal to include those 40 and older, and on Friday to those 30 and older. All other residents, including those 12 and older, were advised they would be able to register starting Monday, May 17.

In addition to longer wait times at the grocery store, many small businesses closed to the public. In Port aux Basques the town office remained closed, except by appointment. The Bruce II rolled down its shutters once again, and the Fire Department cancelled training until further notice.

Under Alert Level 4, more restrictions surrounding health care and senior residences were quickly implemented.

Visitation at Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre and personal care homes is currently limited to one designated person for each patient and resident. Laboratory and Medical Imaging at LeGrow Health Centre will provide urgent and emergency appointments only for the next week. The department will contact each patient to advise if their appointment is proceeding or cancelled.

All other appointments/services offered by Western Health staff in this area (including at LeGrow Health Center) will proceed either in person or virtually. Individuals will be contacted to advise if there are any changes to their appointment. Vaccination clinics will continue in the area.

At this time, there are no restrictions in place to eliminate travel within the area or within the region for essential services like vaccination appointments or other in person medical appointments for area residents.

As of publication deadline, there were eight confirmed cases related to the Codroy Valley outbreak, but no new cases linked to Belanger.

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