Public Health announced a record number of COVID-19 cases in New Brunswick on Tuesday and a rollback of every zone in the province to the orange phase.
The rollback will take effect at midnight Tuesday night.
There are 27 new cases in the province, with active cases in every region of the province, Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Russell said at a briefing Tuesday.
Both Russell and Premier Blaine Higgs spoke at the briefing, and both repeatedly stressed the urgency of the escalating cases facing the province.
“The situation is very serious,” Russell said. “We had hoped this would not happen but we expected it might and we are ready for it now that it is here. This is why we are acting quickly and decisively … to prevent the outbreaks now underway from spreading across the province.”
Higgs called the situation “alarming,” with more than 50 cases in the past three days alone, and said the health-care system faces especially worrying risks.
Enforcement of self-isolation to be stepped up
Premier Blaine Higgs took a stern and outspoken tone in Tuesday’s briefing, admonishing some New Brunswickers for behaving “selfishly” and saying others had “lied” to Public Health contact tracers.
“In spite of aggressive messaging prior to and during the holiday season, we knew that some would selfishly ignore the rules,” he said, noting that some people who are symptomatic have been going to work — in one case exposing “up to 150 others.”
These deliberate actions, combined with wild cards such as the highly contagious U.K. variant of the coronavirus, could put the province in danger, Higgs said.
“There is a risk that our health-care system could be faced with hundreds of new cases each day and would quickly be overwhelmed. To say this would be devastating is an understatement.”
He stressed the importance of not travelling outside of your zone other than for “essential” reasons such as work, school and medical appointments, and said enforcement of the “full 14-day self-isolation period” will be stepped up.
“We will be increasing our health and safety checks on self-isolating travellers,” he said. “Officers will also continue making in-person visits.”
Later, he added: “If you don’t care about yourself, please care about others. We are indeed talking life and death at this time.”
Record number of new cases
Public Health reported 27 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the highest single-day number since the pandemic began
The cases break down this way:
Moncton region, Zone 1, nine cases
- an individual 19 and under;
- six people 20 to 29;
- an individual 30 to 39; and
- an individual 50 to 59.
Saint John region, Zone 2, three cases
- an individual 19 and under;
- an individual 40 to 49; and
- an individual 90 or over.
Fredericton region (Zone 3), 11 cases
- two people 19 and under;
- an individual 20 to 29;
- two people 30 to 39;
- two people 40 to 49;
- three people 50-59; and
- an individual 60-69.
Edmundston region (Zone 4), two cases
- an individual 20 to 29; and
- an individual 50 to 59.
Campbellton region (Zone 5), two cases
All of these people are self-isolating and their cases are under investigation.
The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick is 662 and 572 have recovered. There have been nine deaths, and the number of active cases is 80.
One patient is hospitalized and is in an intensive care unit. As of today, 155,253 tests have been conducted.
Dozens of health-care employees off work
The rising case numbers are taking a toll on the ranks of health-care workers, a development that Dr. Jennifer Russell says is “very, very concerning.”
There are 60 health-care employees off work in the province for COVID-related reasons — including 49 Horizon employees, nine Vitalité employees, four extramural and Ambulance New Brunswick employees — and that number is expected to rise, Russell said Tuesday.
Russell made the comment when asked about a memo sent by Horizon Health Network CEO Karen McGrath to Horizon staff and physicians.
The memo said that Public Health is currently investigating three confirmed cases in the Upper River Valley region, a situation it refers to as “high-risk.”
Russell did not confirm whether the three cases are health-care workers, but she is “very concerned” about the number of health-care workers currently impacted.
Within the past few days alone, she said, 16 non-urgent surgeries have had to be cancelled at Waterville’s Upper River Valley Hospital.
“We are continuing to see a rise in the number of cases and expecting to see more as a result of New Years Eve gatherings,” she said. “So there are 60 employees impacted right now, but I do expect that number to increase and that is very, very concerning.”
Push is on for more vaccine doses
New Brunswick’s ability to vaccinate its residents is being hampered by the availability of vaccine doses, Premier Blaine Higgs said Tuesday.
“We have the capability of vaccinating 4,500 a week at a minimum,” he said.
To date, New Brunswick has received only 850 doses, with another 6,500 coming next week.
“At this level, we won’t be able to vaccinate our population to herd immunity until mid-summer,” Higgs said. “We can do it so much faster … we could do it in 10 weeks, but we need vaccines to do that.”
Higgs said the government is “pushing the federal government to provide more vaccines to New Brunswick.
Risk of rollback to red phase
New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health is not ruling out the possibility of rolling some or all regions back to the red level of COVID-19 recovery.
Dr. Jennifer Russell said Public Health officials have several new risks to consider.
In addition to the province recording the highest number of cases in a single day Tuesday since the beginning of the pandemic, the U.K. variant of the virus poses “quite a danger to our continued success in managing outbreaks and containing COVID-19 in the future,” she said.
New Brunswick is also at a “critical juncture” with the introduction of its immunization campaign, said Russell. Impacts on the health-care system could affect the rollout of the vaccine to high-priority groups, such as long-term care residents, over the next three months.
“So we have a lot of different variables that we’re taking into account now when we’re having these discussions and it is a rapidly evolving situation.”
Public Health, its partners and the COVID-19 cabinet committee are continuing to discuss the issues and will make any decisions in the next few days, she said.
New $5K grants for small businesses
More help is coming for small businesses impacted by COVID-19, Premier Blaine Higgs announced on Tuesday.
Non-repayable grants of up to $5,000 will be available through Opportunities New Brunswick for businesses that have been subject to more restrictive orange or red-alert level measures for at least one week between Oct. 10, 2020 and March 31, 2021, he said
“It is crucial to continue supporting businesses that are facing problems,” said Higgs.
Further details about the grants, such as eligibility, and how and where business owners can apply, will be available in the near future, he said.
In the meantime, he encouraged New Brunswickers to support businesses in their community and the local economy.
The new relief program is in addition to earlier changes to strengthen the small business emergency working capital program, Higgs said.
As of Dec. 11, more than $17 million had been distributed to businesses throughout the province as a result of the program, with an almost 50-50 split between northern and southern regions, he said.
Orange phase guidelines
Public Health guidelines for the orange phase mean that residents must stick to a single-household bubble, which includes the people you live with but can be extended to caregivers and an immediate family member who does not live in the household but needs support.
Face masks are required when accessing goods though a drive-thru window.
Essential travel only is recommended in and out of orange phase zones, however, people can continue to travel within the province for work, school, essential errands and medical appointments.
Outdoor gatherings with physical distancing of 25 people or fewer are permitted. Physical distancing is required in all other settings.
New cases at nursing home, retirement home
The briefing follows four days of rising case numbers since New Year’s Day and news Tuesday of several new cases in buildings that are home to seniors.
A nursing home in Saint John has a resurgence of COVID-19 with two new confirmed cases Tuesday and a retirement residence in Moncton also has a confirmed case of the respiratory disease.
A resident and an employee at Shannex Inc.’s Tucker Hall nursing home in Saint John have tested positive, the company confirmed in a statement.
Public Health is investigating and conducting contact tracing.
All residents are isolating in their rooms and will be retested Tuesday, along with all employees, the statement said. Anyone who tests positive will be notified immediately.
Visits are suspended until further notice.
The new cases come as Shannex was anticipating Public Health lifting its outbreak status next week.
An outbreak was declared at the nursing home on Nov. 20, and the last positive case was announced on Dec. 17. Outbreaks are typically declared over 28 days — two COVID-19 incubation periods — after the latest case tested positive.
“This is disappointing news for everyone at Tucker Hall, but especially for residents and families who have already suffered as a result of the first phase of this outbreak,” Derek Green, vice-president of New Brunswick operations said in a statement.
“This virus has been incredibly difficult to fight, but we are working closely with our partners at Public Health and we are doing everything we can to protect our community and get beyond this so families can safely be together again,” he said.
Comprehensive precautions remain in place for all employees, including active screening with temperature checks, the use of masks and other personal protective equipment, proper hand hygiene and physical distancing.
Caught virus at holiday gathering
In Moncton, a man living at People’s Park Tower tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, Paul Hanscomb, vice-president of residential operations at the residence, said Tuesday.
Hanscomb said the man caught the virus while attending a family gathering over the holidays.
“Where all of the residents are relatively independent, they can come and go,” he said. “We have very little control of what residents do outside the building.”
The man went for a COVID-19 test on Jan. 1 after someone at the gathering tested positive for the virus, Hanscomb said. His results came back two days later.
The building received a call from Public Health late Sunday about the confirmed case.
The next day, management took additional precautions, such as removing housekeeping staff from apartments and closing public laundry areas, to minimize the contact among residents and staff.
Hanscomb said Public Health concluded its investigation and no resident or employee was considered a close contact of the confirmed case.
Hanscomb did not have other details, including where the gathering was held or how many people attended.
He did say the individual didn’t interact with any other residents, doesn’t take part in building activities or use any of its services, such as the dining area or the pharmacy.
The man, who was “very forthcoming,” is self-isolating with mild symptoms, said Hanscomb.
There are about 400 residents and 100 staff at the building, a retirement residence for independent seniors.
“There’s a lot of stigma with COVID-19 right now and it’s nice if we can change that, because that’s what causes people not to disclose if they’re not feeling well,” Hanscomb said.
75% of New Brunswickers want to get vaccine, survey suggests
According to a survey done by New Brunswick Public Health, up to 75 per cent of people plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a survey done for the province, Dr. Jennifer Russell says.
Although priority groups are receiving the vaccine now, Russell, the chief medical officer of health, said the province won’t be receiving large amounts of the vaccine until later in the spring or into early fall.
And it will take several months before Public Health can perform a quicker rollout of the vaccine, similar to the flu campaign.
Russell said she wasn’t concerned that 25 per cent of New Brunswickers might not want the vaccine, since a 65 per cent vaccination rate would be effective.
“What I am concerned about at this time is getting the outbreak that we have under control so we don’t have health-care workers tied up with COVID issues as opposed to immunization issues,” Russell said in an interview with Information Morning Fredericton.
Russell also warned people about the latest U.K. variant of COVID-19, which is believed to spread faster than the original version.
She said only people travelling from the U.K. are being tested for the new variant at this time.
Russell is encouraging New Brunswickers to get tested, even if they have mild symptoms.
“Stay home if you’re not feeling well,” she said. “Stay home from work and do not attend gatherings of any kind … I think people had a false sense of security that we had low numbers of cases and they didn’t have anything to worry about.”
Russell said she understands people are likely tired of hearing about COVID-19, but it’s important to stay vigilant and support those who have been diagnosed with the virus.
“Nobody intends to get COVID-19, but it is happening.”
Fire departments struggle to find new volunteers in pandemic
New Brunswick’s volunteer fire departments are struggling to find new members, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We do a great job every day of getting the job done,” said Justin McGuigan, fire chief with the North York Regional Fire Department.
“My fear is people will get hurt because of the shortage of people available on that specific day.”
During the pandemic, McGuigan said residents have rediscovered what it means to have a bit more free time, and joining a local fire department isn’t always top of mind.
“If it is on the list, boy there’s some pretty stiff competition out there.”
And some of the training exercises that appeal to new recruits can’t go ahead because of the pandemic. But the local fire chief is encouraging people to volunteer even if they want to do other jobs like direct traffic or make sure the fire trucks are ready to go in an emergency.
“Our lives quite literally depend on it.”
The North York Fire Department covers Keswick Valley and the village of Millville, 57 kilometres northwest of Fredericton.
McGuigan said it’s imperative that the service maintains a healthy stock of volunteers.
“The problem is nobody wants to jump on a burning ship,” he said.
In the fall of 2017, more than 145 of the 167 fire departments across the province relied on volunteer firefighters.
Music festival to open, despite pandemic
The Shivering Songs music festival will take place from Jan. 20 to 24 in Fredericton. But things will look a lot different because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Shivering Songs is a cure to the winter blues,” said Zach Atkinson, festival co-organizer.
“We wanted to do something positive for the community that’s safe [and] gives the community something to look forward to.”
Atkinson said the local festival will be following safety protocols and will provide a safe place for concert-goers.
Masks will be mandatory, there will be fewer shows and artists, and venues will have reduced capacity.
He said many of the venues such as the Fredericton Playhouse and the Cap, already have operational plans to keep the public safe.
But if COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the region, Atkinson said they’re prepared to hold the festival virtually.
“We really want to do it for the community.”
The festival will feature an all-New Brunswick lineup, including Juno award winner Jeremy Dutcher, Grand Theft Bus and The Hypochondriacs.
“There was a lot of conversation around, should we do this? Should we not do this?” he said. “We want to push forward.”
Public exposure notifications issued for 17 flights
Public Health has identified a positive case in a traveller who may have been infectious on the following flights:
- Dec. 24 – Air Canada Flight 8506 – from Montreal to Fredericton, departed at 7:05 p.m.
- Dec. 24 – Air Canada Flight 414 – from Toronto to Montreal, departed at 2:10 p.m.
- Dec. 24 – Air Canada Flight 8620 – from Saskatoon to Toronto, departed at 8:35 a.m.
- Dec. 20 – Air Canada Flight 8910 – from Toronto to Moncton, arrived at 11:23 a.m.
- Dec.19 – Air Canada Flight 150 – from Calgary to Toronto, arrived at 11:20 p.m.
- Dec.19 – Air Canada Flight 8476 – from Grand Prairie to Calgary, arrived at 4:39 p.m.
- Dec.16 – Air Canada Flight 8902 – from Montreal to Moncton, arrived at 3:54 p.m.
- Dec.16 – Air Canada Flight 404 – from Toronto to Montreal arrived at 10:16 a.m.
- Dec.16 – Air Canada Flight 176 – from Edmonton to Toronto, arrived at 6:30 a.m.
- Dec.16 – Air Canada Flight 8506 – from Montreal to Fredericton, arrived at 9:16 p.m.
- Dec. 6 – Air Canada Flight 8792 – Montreal to Saint John arrived at 9:20 p.m.
- Dec. 6 – Air Canada Flight 865 – London to Montreal arrived at 4:20 p.m.
- Dec. 4 – Air Canada 8906 – Montreal to Moncton arrived at 10:39 P.M.
- Dec. 4 – Air France 344 – Paris to Montreal arrived at 3:50 p.m.
- Dec. 4 – Air Canada Flight 8372 – Fort McMurray to Calgary scheduled arrival 8:17 a.m.
- Dec. 4 – Air Canada Flight 144 – Calgary to Toronto scheduled arrival 5:20 p.m.
- Dec. 4 – Air Canada Flight 8918 – Toronto to Moncton scheduled arrival 11:50 p.m.
Public Health also identified potential public exposure at the following locations:
- Walmart, 4 Jagoe St., Atholville, on Dec. 30 between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., and on Dec. 31 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Miss Cue pool hall, 495 Mountain Rd., Moncton, Dec. 31 from 11 p.m. to Jan. 1 at 1:30 a.
- Moncton Squash Club, 71 Essex St., on Dec. 29, 30 and 31 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
- Bo Diddley’s Lounge, 295 Collishaw St., on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. (285 Collishaw St., Moncton)
- Foggerz Five-O-Six, an e-cigarette store in Woodstock, has closed because of possible COVID-19 exposure.
If you were at any of these locations, and you have no symptoms of COVID-19, self-monitor and follow all Public Health guidelines. If you are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 and do not need to talk to a nurse, complete the self-assessment and get tested.
What to do if you have a symptom
People concerned they might have COVID-19 symptoms can take a self-assessment test online.
Public Health says symptoms shown by people with COVID-19 have included:
A fever above 38 C.
A new cough or worsening chronic cough.
New onset of fatigue, muscle pain, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell.
In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.
People with one of those symptoms should: