N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Non-medical masks now recommended for citizens in public
5,000 test kits arrive as 2 more cases confirmed
- 2 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 announced
- 5,000 test kits arrive
- Task force to lead response
- Province hopes to donate laptops to some students
- Province doesn't know when students will be able to hold graduation
- Sussex group helps support truck drivers
New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health now recommends people wear non-medical masks in public places such as grocery stores and pharmacies to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Jennifer Russell said Monday that members of the general public can cover their faces with homemade masks or another type of covering to limit the chance of spreading the virus to others.
The change in position is based on the latest information about asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic patients, said Russell.
"The face covering prevents you from infecting somebody else," she said. "It's not to protect you from getting COVID-19 from somebody else."
Over the weekend, Russell said chief medical officers of health across Canada, reviewed the latest evidence based on information around masks.
"We would like to reserve surgical masks for health-care providers. Period," she said.
Dr. Theresa Tam, the top doctor at the Public Health Agency of Canada, gave similiar advice Monday, saying Canadians can use non-medical masks in tandem with social distancing measures to limit the transmission of the deadly virus when out grocery shopping or at a pharmacy.
Dr. Gordon Dow, division head of infectious diseases at the Moncton Hospital, said the advice from public health is changing all the time.
"Our advice is changing with new evidence and so we are recommending people start wearing a mask in public," Dow said.
Here is a roundup of other developments.
2 confirmed cases of COVID-19 announced Monday
There are two new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the province's total to 103, chief medical officer Dr. Jennifer Russell told reporters during the briefing in Fredericton.
Both of the cases are in Zone 1, the Moncton region. One is in their 20s, the other is in their 30s.
Both are close contacts of a previously confirmed case, she said.
Seven patients are in hospital, including three in intensive care.
Although New Brunswick appears in many ways be faring better than other jurisdictions, with relatively low case numbers, relatively few hospital admissions, and community transmissions still relatively rare, "that is exactly why we cannot relax," said Russell.
30 people have recovered from COVID-19
"We cannot lose vigilance," she said, reiterating the importance of staying home as much as possible, not gathering and maintaining a physical distance of six feet, or about two metres, when out.
"There have been too many instances of people flouting these rules, seeking loopholes or attending gatherings they presume are free of risk. No gathering can be free of risk right now."
Law enforcement officials have been actively enforcing the emergency order, focusing on educating people, officials said.
Nine tickets were issued over the weekend to people failing to comply with the emergency order. Fines can range from $292.50 to $10,200.
"The sacrifices we all make now will determine the severity of this outbreak," Russell said.
To date, 30 people have recovered.
Of the 103 cases, 59 are travel-related, 33 are close contacts of confirmed cases, six cases are the result of community transmission and five cases remain under investigation.
Russell and Higgs did not hold daily news conferences over the weekend. Instead, the government sent out news releases.
5,000 test kits arrive
New Brunswick received 5,000 COVID-19 test kits from the federal government Monday, "which greatly relieved the pressure on testing," said Health Minister Ted Flemming.
Shipments of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health-care workers, such as N95 masks, are also "on the way," he told reporters Monday during the update in Fredericton.
The province has enough PPE "in normal times" to last us about 12 to 14 weeks, said Flemming.
"In situations like this, you go through them a little quicker, what is called 'the burn rate,' and we need to balance that so that we don't use them up.
"I mean, if you've got a journey across the desert you don't drink all your water in Day One. And that's what we're doing here — sensible, reasonable, balanced, putting patients and employees and health-care workers first."
Last Thursday, Premier Blaine Higgs told CBC's Power and Politics New Brunswick could run out of COVID-19 testing supplies within a week with ramped up testing and personal protective equipment within three or four weeks.
At that time, he said the province was conducting about 500 tests a day and planned to increase the number over the next few days to 600 or 700.
According to the government's website, testing numbers since then has been:
- Friday: 386
- Saturday: 442
- Sunday: 195
- Monday: 265
Task force to lead response
A task force has been struck to oversee the health-care system's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier Blaine Higgs announced on Monday.
"It will allow us to react in real time," he said.
The task force will include Dr. Gordon Dow, an infectious diseases specialist with the Horizon Health Network, Dr. Nicole LeBlanc, the regional chief of staff for the Vitalité Health Network, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell, and deputy health minister Gérald Richard, who will all work "hand in hand" with Health Minister Ted Flemming, he said.
It will have a "military-like command-and-control," approach, said Flemming.
"We must stay, not on top of this virus, but ahead of it," he said.
Province hopes to donate laptops to some students
As students return to a version of school today, the province is hoping to give laptops to those who don't have access to a computer to do their class work online.
This comes after the province announced last week that public schools are expected to remain closed for the rest of the school year. Instead of regular classes, students now have to spend one to 2½ hours a day learning online.
The Education Department recognized that moving to online learning for the rest of the school year would not be feasible for all students, Dominic Cardy, the minister, said Monday.
"Some don't have access to high-speed internet," he said. "And some don't have access to the technology that would like them to connect to a cell network or to the internet."
But acquiring and distributing technological devices has challenges.
"If someone calls me up and says they have 50 laptops, it's very hard to go and get them," he said during an interview with Information Morning Fredericton.
"So just even trying to work out those sorts of logistics will take more time and be more complicated than they would be under normal circumstances."
Cardy said anyone willing to donate technology or anyone with inquiries about and concerns about online learning should contact him at 506-238-5550 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org,
"I hope more than anything else that we can get back to a regular school system as quickly as possible and get back to the things that we used to talk about on how to make French immersion better and whether snow days are good or bad," said Education Minister Dominic Cardy.
"That would be kind of a blessing right now."
Cardy said students who were not passing before schools closed must now work with their teacher to ensure they know the material before moving to the next grade.
"If you were having difficulty at that point, now is a chance for you to work with your teacher to be able to get some assistance to be able to move along."
Provincial exams and structured evaluations are also on hold.
Here is a roundup of other developments.
Province doesn't know when students will be able to hold graduation
The province is working with universities and colleges to make sure post-secondary institutions accommodate students graduating from high school this year.
"This is again, something that's affecting the entire planet with nearly every single school student across the entire world at home right now, so the universities are well aware that they have to recognize that," Education Minister Dominic Cardy said.
Over the weekend, Cardy posted a video online directed at Grade 12 students.
In the video, Cardy said the province doesn't know how or when students will be able to celebrate.
"It isn't fair and there really isn't no other way to put it."
Cardy said he understands students are disappointed, but graduating high school is a major achievement and it will take time to work out the logistics of when students will be able to celebrate.
"A lot has changed in the world over the last few weeks. And right now public health and safety is everyone's priority," he said.
"But that doesn't change the fact that graduating from Grade 12 is an important milestone that deserves to be celebrated.
Dairy farmers tossing product
New Brunswick dairy farmers say the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak is forcing them to throw out milk.
After a brief surge in demand for fluid milk soon after the first cases of COVID-19 appeared in Canada, the market has since collapsed.
"New Brunswick plans to throw out 670,000 litres of milk next week," Marcel Daigle, co-owner of the Oscar Daigle and Sons Farm in Bake Brook, told Radio-Canada.
"In Canada, next week, we should throw out 12 million litres. That represents seven per cent of Canadian production."
Demand plummeted dramatically with the closures of restaurants, stores and hotels, Daigle said. Plus, schools and daycares are no longer placing orders.
Daigle, a seventh generation New Brunswick farmer, said it's impossible to completely stop his 160 cows from producing milk, but he can slow them down.
"Cows that were supposed to be dry or on a break before their next baby, they always have a two-month break," he explained. "What we can do is extend that break and then pause it for three months or four months."
Sussex group helps support truck drivers
Volunteers in Sussex are doing what they can to make sure truck drivers are well fed so they can continue doing their jobs.
Joanne Barton is a member of the group Helping Hearts of Sussex, which helps people in the area during these times of physical distancing.
Barton and others wanted to start a group after hearing many truckers were turned away from using washrooms and restaurants because of COVID-19 precautions.
"When I started hearing about the fact that they couldn't even find a washroom or they had no hot meal at all, even the Irving's aren't even allowed to sell the hot dogs," Barton said.
The group is stationed at Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. behind the Four Corners Irving, just off the highway.
Since most long-haul trucks are equipped with a microwave, the group is also providing drivers with soup they can reheat elsewhere on the road.
"We're home," she said. "Let's get together and do this."
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, Information Morning Fredericton