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Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador suspended team sports and group recreational and cultural activities in St. John’s Monday after reporting 11 new infections and evidence of community spread.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said three clusters without an identified source had been detected in the capital region. “This signals to us that we have community spread in the (St. John’s) metro area, the extent of which we do not know at this time,” she said.

Fitzgerald said she was immediately suspending team sports, group recreational activities along with group arts and cultural activities such as dance and music classes. “Based on the epidemiology of our current cases, we know that these are the primary areas of risk right now,” she told reporters.

She also limited visitations at long-term care homes, personal-care homes and assisted living facilities in the St. John’s area, to two designated visitors per resident. Group activities inside and outside the facilities were also suspended.

Fitzgerald said three of Monday’s new cases were related to a previously reported case, while the eight others, she said, remained under investigation. The cases involved five people under 20 years old, four people in their 40s, one in their 50s and one person over 70. The province has 27 active reported cases.

Fitzgerald urged people to come forward to be tested. “Community spread is what we have tried to avoid for so long. We have it in our power to bring this back under control but we can only do so if we know about all the cases in our province.”

Earlier on Monday, the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association said it was concerned about the potential for community spread of COVID-19 after two people tested positive for the disease at Mount Pearl Senior High School.

Association president Dean Ingram said in a statement that health precautions for schools are less stringent than for other public places in the province.

“Closing the school was the right decision in the circumstances,” Ingram said. “However, we all know that students and staff do not live their lives in a school ‘bubble.’ The interconnectedness of metro-area school communities is a reality that must be considered in the ongoing response and decision making around this situation.”

Meanwhile, the RCMP said its headquarters in St. John’s was temporarily closed Monday after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The Mounties said the employee was in isolation and authorities were conducting contact tracing. Police said their office building was being cleaned and that no decision had been made on when it would reopen.

The large number of COVID-19 infections in some places makes it more likely for new variants of the virus to emerge. Science Reporter Ivan Semeniuk explains how vaccines may not be as effective against these new strains, making it a race to control and track the spread of variants before they become a dangerous new outbreak.

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