On Sunday night, before the tiny town of Harbour Breton on Newfoundland’s south coast asked businesses to temporarily close following two confirmed cases of COVID-19, Mayor Georgina Ollerhead got a call from the mayor of Deer Lake, about 430 kilometres away.

Deer Lake Mayor Dean Ball was calling to offer support and a few pro tips. He’d had to shut down his town a few weeks earlier as a cluster of cases emerged, and he knew it wasn’t easy to ask businesses to close and people to stay calm in the face of a pandemic.

“It was actually quite an honour to have the conversation,” Ball said in an interview Wednesday.

Shortly after Ball phoned, the town of Harbour Breton posted its public notice urging residents to stay home as much as possible and calling on non-essential businesses to close.

“Mayor Ball certainly put us on the right steps to proceed forward,” Ollerhead said. “We’re small communities. We need to nip these things in the bud.”

Taking on the arrival of a global pandemic is a massive job for the province’s towns, said Sheila Fitzgerald, president of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador. She’s also the mayor of Roddickton-Bide Arm, a town of just under 1,000 people on the Northern Peninsula.

Newfoundland and Labrador has about 520,000 people and more than 270 municipalities. Almost all are small towns, and many have just a few dozen residents, Fitzgerald said. Like Ollerhead, their mayors and councils are all volunteers.

“In some of these small communities, they get a turkey at Christmas,” she said. “Yet they sign on to be leaders in their communities and they don’t look back.”

In the past month or so, COVID-19 clusters have bloomed in Grand Bank, a town of about 2,000 on the Burin Peninsula, and in Deer Lake, a western Newfoundland town with about 5,000 people. Harbour Breton has about 1,600 people and two cases. As of Wednesday, the number of cases in the area had held steady at two, with no new infections announced since the weekend.

“If there was ever a time where things would break down and there would be chaos, it would be at a time like this, but that’s not what we see in this province,” Fitzgerald said, adding: “Nobody has said, `I’m done with this, this is not what I signed up for.’ ”

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