N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Community transmission now confirmed in province
2 new cases bring province's total to 68, Dr. Jennifer Russell says at news conference
New Brunswick has confirmed cases of community transmission of COVID-19, chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell announced on Monday.
Until recently, all of the cases of the viral infection have been directly or indirectly related to travel, but there are now cases in health zones 1, 2 and 4 (the Moncton, Saint John and Edmundston regions) that can't be linked to travel, she said.
There are other possible cases of community spread under investigation in other regions, she said. But she declined to disclose any specifics, saying she didn't want to give anyone a false sense of security.
"No matter where you are in the province you have to assume it's there and you have to assume you have it," she told reporters during the daily update with Premier Blaine Higgs in Fredericton on Monday.
Russell also announced two new confirmed cases of the virus, bringing the province's total to 68.
The self-isolation and physical distancing actions each New Brunswicker takes "right now" will determine how these numbers evolve in the days and weeks ahead, she stressed.
The new cases include an individual in their 30s in Zone 2, the Saint John region, and an individual in their 60s in Zone 3, the Fredericton region.
Shoppers employee tests positive
An employee at Shoppers Drug Mart in the Saint John area has tested positive for COVID-19, the chief medical officer of health said Monday.
The store closed, contacted Public Health for recommendations for environmental cleaning and has now reopened, Jennifer Russel said.
Anyone who was at the Shoppers Drug Mart locations on the following dates and times may have been exposed to the virus, should self-monitor for symptoms and call Tele-Care 811 if they do:
Quispamsis, 175 Old Hampton Rd.
- March 18, between 3:30 p.m. and midnight.
- March 19, between 11:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.
- March 26, between 8:15 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.
Saint John, 57 Lansdowne Ave.
- March 20, between 10 a.m. and 4:15 p.m.
Public Health is following up to notify close contacts, Russell said.
Here is a roundup of other developments.
Changes made to testing protocols
Chief medical health officer Dr. Jennifer Russell says it came as no surprise that COVID-19 is now spreading in New Brunswick through community contact because that has been the trend in other parts of Canada.
Public Health has been preparing for it and the province's testing protocols have changed "to ensure protection for those in greatest need," she said at her briefing Monday.
Testing will now focus on:
- Symptomatic health-care workers and staff of long-term care facilities and prisons.
- Hospitalized patients with respiratory symptoms and no alternative diagnosis.
- Residents of long-term care facilities and other vulnerable communities.
Symptomatic travellers from outside New Brunswick will also continue to be tested.
"COVID-19 will not respect our [testing] protocols," and there will be cases of infections that occur outside of these groups, Russell advised at a briefing Monday.
There will also be cases where people have only mild symptoms but can be very contagious, she said.
"We have to continue to act like everyone around us is ill," Premier Blaine Higgs said.
Plans for virtual classrooms still not worked out
The New Brunswick Department of Education is working on a possible virtual learning plan for students during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to two district superintendents, but it's not clear when the public will find out about it.
All public schools closed two weeks ago because of the coronavirus. The closure was initially for two weeks, but now schools are to remain shut indefinitely.
The superintendent of Anglophone West School District had no details to offer when interviewed Monday on Information Morning Fredericton.
"I know that our teachers have a broad skill set when it comes to meeting the needs of students," David McTimoney said. "And whether that's online or some other way, that's what we'll try and work through here and in the weeks and months ahead."
Although the plan has not been finalized, it could be announced any day now
"We know the government is working on the plan and we're anxious to hear that this week," said Gregg Ingersoll, superintendent for Anglophone East School District.
Education Minister Dominic Cardy has not been available for interviews since schools were closed two weeks ago.
However, at Monday's news conference Higgs applauded Cardy's decision to close public schools earlier this month.
"Here in New Brunswick we made the tough decision to implement these measure early on," Higgs said. "Taking action before … the pandemic may have seemed extreme at the time, but I know it was the right think to do."
Both Ingersoll and McTimoney said they have taken part in conference calls with the Department of Education about how to salvage the school year.
The department's plan might borrow ideas from other parts of the country, including Ontario, which launched an online learning portal for students last week.
But the plan will also have to take into account that some students won't have the proper technology to learn at home.
"It has to encapsulate really all of the inequities that would be out there," Ingersoll said.
If teachers have to teach online, both superintendents said teachers will have to bridge any gaps in learning that result from the outbreak, probably in school years to follow.
"Teachers are going to have to put in a lot of extra hours to make sure that the coming learning opportunities in the years ahead are going to be able to mitigate these gaps.
Rick Cuming, president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association, said universities will also have to adapt entrance standards for students graduating high school.
"There has to be a robust conversation between the universities and the Department o Education in terms of communicating what are going to be the plans as we finish off our school year.
The department could not say whether the new cases were travel-related or suspected of being by community transmission.
93 vehicles sent back at border
Public safety officers are continuing to monitor provincial borders and screening every vehicle that tries to come into New Brunswick.
Last week, the province set up screening checkpoints at provincial borders to control the spread of COVID-19.
Since then, public safety officers found 93 vehicles attempting to travel unnecessarily.
"These vehicles were turned away," Premier Blaine Higgs said Monday.
Public safety officers have checked more than 2,500 vehicles attempting to come into the province.
This also includes close to 1,700 commercial vehicles and 210 vehicles carrying New Brunswickers instructed to self-isolate for 14 days.
More than 100 vehicles at beach near Saint John
More than 100 vehicles showed up at New River Beach near Saint John over the weekend and the province notified the authorities, Premier Blaine Higgs say.
He reiterated that beaches, playgrounds, parks and other typical gathering places are closed to the public under the terms of the state of emergency in New Brunswick. Municipal parks remain open for the most part, but all national and provincial parks, including New River Beach, are closed.
Higgs said he wasn't aware of anyone being fined for violations over the weekend.
"Some people refuse to take it seriously and are allowing others to be at risk because of it."
Higgs said he understands people want to be outside in the nice weather, but they have to appreciate the risk of their behaviour to themselves and others.
Public safety officers are investigating 250 cases of non-compliance under the state of emergency declaration.
Moncton keeps watch on how homeless are coping during outbreak
The City of Moncton says it is maintaining regular contact with front-line agencies working with the homeless during the COVID-19 outbreak.
But shelters, food banks and soup kitchens are short of volunteers, and they're looking for more, said Catherine Dallaire, the general manager of recreation, culture and events.
So far, there is enough room for people who want to use shelters in the city, Dallaire said during a COVID-19 update for city council on Monday.
"The shelters are addressing spacing because they know they can't maintain the same capacity they had prior, but they do have beds left, and they're able to maintain that social distancing to the extent it's possible within the shelters," Dallaire said.
Bruce Tait, the city's acting manager of community protection services, said some homeless people are reluctant to use shelters, and there have been complaints some are hanging out in the downtown instead.
Tait said bylaw officers and the RCMP are trying to maintain a presence in the area.
Coun. Paulette Theriault asked if any testing for COVID 19 is being done for the homeless population.
City manager Marc Landry said that concern has been shared in conference calls with other officials.
"I know Fredericton, Saint John and Moncton, we're all facing similar situations regarding the social sector, so we've brought that up on our conference calls and they're bringing that up at the provincial elected officials level as well," he said.
Coun. Charles Léger questioned the decision to cut Sunday bus service because of the outbreak, saying many essential workers rely on the bus.
Tait said the aim has been to provide service during peak hours and maintain enough staff. Feedback from
No cases among Sussex students who went to Italy
Nearly 30 students from Sussex Regional High School who travelled to Italy for March Break have been all reported as healthy.
The students were supposed to travel to Milan and Venice in northern Italy, which has been especially hard hit by the coronvairus. Instead the students visited Florence and Rome, cities that are farther south.
When the students were there, Italy saw its virus caseload explode since the first positive COVID-19 test was registered in northern Lombardy on Feb. 19. Over March break, more than 3,000 people tested positive, and 107 died. Italy has also been the epicentre of Europe's outbreak.
If families had been aware of how fast the virus travels, the students likely would not have gone on the trip in the first place, said Sussex Mayor Marc Thorne
"People did not anticipate the spread of this virus."
Thorne said he and the students received a lot of negative attention from people across the province because of the trip.
On their return, the students were ordered to stay home for two weeks by the Department of Education.
Since then, public schools have been closed indefinitely.
"They absolutely had to do the right thing," Thorne said. "Closing schools [was] necessary to flatten the curve."
In an emailed statement to CBC News, Zoë Watson, superintendent of the Anglophone South School District, said the students finished their self-isolation period on March 21.
Emergency income benefit comes into effect
New Brunswickers who have lost their jobs because of layoffs and closures related to COVID-19 could receive help from the province as early as this week.
The emergency income benefit will provide a one-time income supplement of $900 for workers or small business owners who lost their income on March 15 or after.
Residents can apply for the benefit on the GNB website, starting Monday at noon.
Premier Blaine Higgs has said it may be possible for money to be available and deposited into bank accounts as early as Thursday.
Seniors with low incomes can apply for $400 benefit
During Monday's news conference, Higgs also encouraged New Brunswick's low-income seniors to apply for their $400 benefit online or through the mail this year.
He said applications for the 2020 low-income seniors benefit will be posted online on Wednesday.
The deadline for the application is Dec. 31, 2020. More information is available from Finance and Treasury Board, Revenue Administration Division, at 1-800-669-7070.
Horizon Health won't reveal if any staff have COVID-19
The Horizon Health Network won't reveal whether any of its staff have tested positive for COVID-19.
"I would not be talking about anything related to personal health information of our staff," chief human resource officer Maura McKinnon said when questioned by CBC News during a video conference with the media Monday morning.
When reminded she wasn't being asked to divulge any identifying information, only whether any employees have the viral infection, McKinnon said all information related to COVID-19 cases is being managed through the office of the province's chief medical officer of health.
"And I would be looking for direction from there before we would be disclosing any information like that."
Other provinces are releasing information about cases involving health-care workers, including provinces like Nova Scotia.
SPCA looking for volunteers to foster pets
The Greater Moncton SPCA and the Fredericton SPCA are looking for volunteers to foster pets during the COVID-19 pandemic, in case the shelter is forced to shut down.
Dan Fryer, executive director of the Greater Moncton SPCA, says fostering an animal can last three to four weeks.
The shelter, which is considered an essential service, closed to the public last week. However, the nonprofit organization has remained open so staff can care for the animals.
There are 100 animals at the Greater Moncton SPCA right now that need fostering. And there are nine cats at the Fredericton SPCA that need a foster home.
The Saint John and Oromocto SPCAs do not have plans to foster out animals because of COVID-19.
What to do if you have symptoms?
Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough or breathlessness. In this case, residents should:
Stay at home.
Immediately call Tele-Care 811.
Describe symptoms and travel history.
Follow instructions carefully.
With files from Sarah Morin