HALIFAX -- Prince Edward Island reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and all 27 cases have recovered.

This marks P.E.I.'s seventeenth consecutive day with no new cases, with the last positive case, reported April 28, now considered recovered.

The island has received 255 negative COVID-19 tests since Wednesday, and has tested nearly 4,600 people in total.

All confirmed cases of COVID-19 in P.E.I. were connected to travel.

Nine weeks of hard work

Friday marks nine weeks since P.E.I. began their response to COVID-19.

“It’s been a herculean response, swift, informed and I believe well-delivered,” said Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King. “Our health-care officials and workers have been working around the clock, essentially 24 hours a day for nine long weeks, doing on-call shifts, webinars, media interviews, answering questions for local businesses and organizations and politicians, all the while monitoring this invisible virus with the goal of keeping islanders safe and healthy.”

Phase 3 could begin June 1

The province is also planning to move the start of phase three up to June 1, from its original potential start date of June 12.

P.E.I. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison announced on Friday that phase three, which allows additional businesses to reopen, including restaurants, child-care centres, and campgrounds, will begin on June 1, providing there is not broad community transmission detected in the coming weeks.

“The fact that we have come to this point and not seen the evidence of community transmission despite fairly broad testing, makes us more comfortable to consider moving that phase closer to June 1,” said Morrison. “It is about having us go a little bit faster to allow to movement, and return back to some of our activities carefully while maintaining restrictions at the bridge.”

This would include restaurants and patios, child-care centres and day camps, gyms and fitness centres, nail salons and spas, tattoo and piercing studios, restaurants, campgrounds, hospitality homes, inns and bed and breakfasts.

“Businesses, services and organizations will have to have an operation plan in place. They will need to ensure physical distancing and screening, cleaning and hand washing processes are in place,” says Morrison.

Phase three also allows gatherings of no more than 15 people indoors and 20 people outdoors, including religious gatherings, and organized recreation activities including outdoor sports, day camps, swimming pools, hot tubs and outdoor spaces, bowling alleys, gym and fitness facilities, yoga and pilates studios, arenas and wellness centres, art galleries, libraries, youth and community centres.

P.E.I. announced their reopening plan, titled "Renew P.E.I. together" on April 28, with phase one beginning on May 1.

Phase two is scheduled to begin May 22, and includes the opening of retail businesses and select indoor services, including hairdressers, barbers, pet grooming, retail outlets, greenhouses and nurseries, extermination and pest control, car washes, battle depots, cleaning and restoration services.

Phase two will also see non-contact indoor recreational activities and additional non-urgent health-care services including registered massage therapists, acupuncturists, acupressurists and emergency dental care services.

Clarification on essential workers

Morrison also provided further clarification of essential workers who travel frequently off island for work.

Workers considered essential who frequently travel off the island for work may be exempt from self-isolation if they are tested.

This includes, but is not limited to; construction workers, health care workers, those employed in the transportation of goods and services, workers in the energy sector, fisheries and agriculture.

This does not apply to health-care workers, who must self-isolate for 14 days upon returning to the island.

Changes to health-care visitation policy

The province is also making changes to its health-care visitation policy, announced P.E.I.’s chief of nursing, Marion Dowling.

Starting Saturday, up to two designated visitors will be allowed for patients in palliative care, intensive care, neonatal intensive care, obstetrics, and paediatric care.

Patients who are nearing the end of life are now permitted up to two visitors per day, and six designated individuals can rotate visits on a daily basis, allowing different people to visit their loved ones on different days.

Morrison also says public health is continuing to work towards allowing visitation to long-term care facilities, and hopes to have an update next week.

“I know we are all missing loved ones in long-term care facilities and they are missing you,” said Morrison. “We are looking into options to safely allow visitation with residents, and that work is underway. We hope to have more to announce about that next week.”

Seasonal residents and possibility of travel bubble

For many Maritimers, Victoria Day weekend usually means a visit to the cottage for the unofficial start of summer, and for more than a few, that means a visit to Prince Edward Island for the "May Run."

But not this year, as the island remains closed to visitors, even as P.E.I. eases some of its COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Morrison said Friday that while there are no plans to announce yet, the province is looking at how they could possibly allow seasonal residents to access the island later this summer.

“We are looking at what that would mean, of course self-isolation for two weeks, but also trying to figure out what that could look like, and we hope to talk more about that process, hopefully next week,” said Morrison.

The idea of a ‘tourism bubble,' allowing New Brunswick and P.E.I. residents to enter each other's provinces via the Confederation Bridge has been floated as a possibility, perhaps as early as July. 

“We’re looking closely at that option as we look ahead to easing public health measures. We’re not there yet, as more work needs to be done, but it is an option in the future." said Morrison

Morrison adds that P.E.I. could also be looking to have that bubble conversation with Nova Scotia in the future.

P.E.I.'s next update is scheduled for Wednesday, May 20.