New Brunswick

N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Testing expands to include people with symptoms who have not travelled

New Brunswick is expanding its COVID-19 testing criteria to include people with symptoms of the viral infection who have not travelled, the chief medical officer of health announced Tuesday.

2 new confirmed cases brings province's total to 105, says chief medical officer Dr. Jennifer Russell

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, provided an update on the COVID-19 outbreak to reporters in Fredericton on Tuesday afternoon. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

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New Brunswick is expanding its COVID-19 testing criteria to include people with symptoms of the viral infection who have not travelled, the chief medical officer of health announced Tuesday.

It comes the day after the province received 5,000 test kits from the federal government, replenishing dwindling supplies.

Two new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, bringing the province's total to 105, said Dr. Jennifer Russell.

Travel outside of New Brunswick will no longer be the "key determinant for referral to testing," she told reporters during the daily news conference in Fredericton.

But people with symptoms must still call Tele-Care 811 or their primary health-care provider to be assessed first.

And priority will still be given to those who may be more vulnerable, including people who are over the age of 60, or have a history of high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes or cancer.

"I know this will be a source of stress and anxiety for many of you in the coming days but please be assured that the Department of Health or regional health authorities and our lab staff will be doing everything they can to minimize delays," Russell said.

The province conducted 596 tests on Monday and it has the capacity to do up to 1,000 daily, she said.

There are two new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick. (Photo: CBC News)

Until now, the province has focused on testing people who recently returned from travelling, close contacts of travellers, health-care workers and vulnerable populations.

But now that cases of community transmission have been confirmed — cases that can't be directly traced to an infection which occurred outside New Brunswick —  testing has been "adjusted accordingly," said Russell.

"We remain focused on testing the right people at the right time," she said.

The first confirmed cases of community transmission were announced on March 30.

No plans for broader testing

Asked whether the province might eventually test everyone, Russell said that's not the current advice of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

"We know that it's possible to transmit the disease without symptoms, but research is telling us that it's not the majority of cases that are transmitted through asymptomatic people."

The two new cases include a person between the ages of 10 and 19 in Zone 3, the Fredericton region, and a person in their 70s in Zone 7, the Miramichi region.

These cases clearly show COVID-19 can strike any person at any age in any community of the province, said Russell.

This is why it remains vital that every New Brunswicker remains home as much as possible, keeps any interactions brief and maintains a physical distance of six feet, she said.

15 health-care workers infected with COVID-19 

Seven COVID-19 patients remain in hospital, including four in the intensive care unit.

New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health declined to confirm whether some of the patients in ICU are on ventilators.

"I think we all need to keep their families and the patients themselves in our thoughts right now because obviously if they're getting that level of care, their symptoms are severe," said Dr. Jennifer Russell.

Fifteen health-care workers have been infected, said Russell.

All of them are travel-related or close contacts of people who had travelled, she added.

These include "doctors, nurses, people who work in emergency rooms, dentists, students, lab technicians, other technicians in the health-care network, physiotherapists, pharmacists, volunteers and also administrative workers," she said.

Any cloth covering that fits snugly works as a face covering, said chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell on Tuesday, but she reminded people to wash after every use. 1:31

Of the 105 cases, 59 are travel-related, 33 are close contacts of confirmed cases, six cases are from community transmission and seven cases remain under investigation.

To date, 39 people have recovered.

"It is clear the impact of this pandemic on our society will be long-lasting. It is not a short-term situation," said Premier Blaine Higgs.

"It is also clear that there will be an end to this pandemic and we will come out of it. We will have an overall recovery plan and we will seek your thoughts to get our communities, our businesses, our employers, our entire society going again."

Here is a roundup of other developments.

$900 benefit ends this week

The deadline to apply for the one-time $900 benefit for people who lost their jobs or had to close their business because of the COVID-19 outbreak will be Thursday at 8 p.m., Premier Blaine Higgs announced on Tuesday.

"The objective of the emergency income benefit has always been to help workers bridge the gap until they could receive the employment insurance benefits," he said.

"We are pleased to see that everything is going as planned at the federal level and that the people who are affected can now start receiving benefits."

Premier Blaine Higgs said Tuesday no Easter gatherings will be permitted by the province. 1:50

Canadian Red Cross staff are working seven days a week to process applications and issue payments and will continue to do so until they have finished reviewing all the applications received before the deadline, he said.

More than 60,000 people have applied for the benefit to date, said Higgs, and more than $20 million has been paid out.

Working capital loans now available

Effective Tuesday, small business owners impacted by the pandemic can apply for working capital loans of up to $100,000 through the small business emergency working capital program, said Premier Blaine Higgs.

These loans are being administered by the Community Business Development Corporation.

Working capital loans of between $100,000 and $1 million are also now available through Opportunities New Brunswick, he said.

As previously announced, a total of $50 million in assistance is available to small, medium and large businesses through the two programs.

Up to 10 tickets issued for failing to comply with emergency order 

Up to 10 tickets have been issued as of Monday to people failing to comply with the emergency order, bringing in between $3,000 and $3,500.

An average ticket is about $300.

"Issuing some tickets brings it to bear that it's real, we're not joking here," said Premier Blaine Higgs. "We must do what's necessary to get people's attention."

Decrease in calls to 811

On Monday night, Premier Blaine Higgs told CBC News the testing criteria for COVID-19 in New Brunswick would likely expand in the coming days.

He said the province has caught up on a "backlog" of people who needed to be tested.

And the number of people calling Tele-Care 811 has decreased in recent days, which is why the number of tests has dropped, he said.

"So we'll likely be opening up the tests …  just to get a broader picture of what we see in the community," the premier said.

Last Thursday, Higgs told CBC's Power and Politics New Brunswick could run out of COVID-19 testing supplies within a week with ramped up testing.

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 have been:

  • Friday: 386
  • Saturday: 442
  • Sunday: 195
  • Monday: 265

But the lower numbers weren't due to dwindling supplies, Higgs said.

"It was a reflection of the number of calls we were getting to 811."

STU and UNB discuss fall semester 

The University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University are discussing what classes will look like come fall. 

Jeffrey Carleton, spokesperson for St. Thomas, said the university will be looking at "different scenarios" for September. 

"Once we get through Thursday, the last day of classes, we can start to focus a bit more on those issues," he said. 

If it's not safe for students to return come fall, George MacLean, vice-president academic at the University of New Brunswick, said UNB is trying to determine whether it should delay classes or continue teaching online. 

Jeffrey Carleton, a spokesperson for St. Thomas University, said the university is looking at different ways to accommodate students come fall. (Photo: CBC News)

"We certainly hope that we'll be open with in-person classes in the fall, but we do have to be prepared for any eventuality," MacLean said.

Both universities have postponed convocation. UNB's convocation is postponed until the fall, and STU's has been postponed until further notice. 

The vast majority of high school students have the classes they require to start in September, Carleton said. 

"We hope by this week that we'll have more substantive information to be able to pass on to students," MacLean said. 

Meanwhile, post-secondary institutions are consulting with the province about high school requirements. 

George MacLean, UNB's vice-president of academic, said the university is trying to determine whether it should delay classes or continue teaching online.  (Submitted)

UNB and STU are examining their budget for the next year. Both are trying to determine what the financial impact of COVID-19 on universities could be.

MacLean said there are question marks beside some of the university's reliable revenue for next year's budget, like the fee students pay to live in residence.

"One thing is clear though, there's a lot of work to do this summer," Carleton said. 

Moncton homeless shelters set up isolation area 

If someone who is homeless tests positive for COVID-19, they have nowhere to self-isolate.

Salvus Clinic, the John Howard Society, the Department of Social Development, and Human Development Council are trying to change that.

"At this point, we don't have a suitable place [for them to go], said Dr. Susan Crouse, co-founder and executive director of the Salvus Clinic in Moncton.

Dr. Gordon Dow, the division head of infectious diseases at the Moncton Hospital, uses hockey analogy to explain the three defences against COVID-19. 2:44

The John Howard Society is setting up a secure and safe place for people who undergo a test and are waiting for results.

The isolation site will be up and running next week. It will be staffed by two people 24/7.

The location of the site is not being publicly released.

"We don't want a lot of people coming and going and so on," said Joanne Murray, executive director of the John Howard Society for southeastern New Brunswick. 

Frye Festival to be held online

Organizers are finalizing plans for New Brunswick's Frye Festival, an annual literary festival held each spring. 

Despite the COVID-19 outbreak, festival organizers have decided the event will continue online.

The festival will take place from April 17 to April 26.

"It's a great way to discover Canadian literature and have it read by the author, very similar to what we do in person during the festival," said Danielle LeBlanc, who helped plan the festival. 

Twenty-five authors are taking part in the event. More than 40 were originally scheduled to participate. 

City of Fredericton offers support to struggling businesses

The City of Fredericton is exploring ways to help businesses affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. 

City officials have set up two staff committees to focus on how to help struggling businesses in the area. Jeff Trail, the city's deputy chief administrative officer, said one option will be to change its roadwork schedule.

"We're looking over our hand on what we can do to adjust our capital schedule so we don't add to their problems," said Trail, during a Monday night council-in-committee meeting. 

Information about masks and face covers is changing. Both infectious disease specialist Dr. Gordon Dow and chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell suggest people cover their faces if they are heading out for essentials. 2:33

Trail said the city isn't considering grants for businesses, as the city will also have its own financial challenges to deal with.

The city is losing revenue from transit, parking and recreation fees. And city officials are looking at putting future projects on hold, but Trail wouldn't say which projects.

"We've asked staff to come back with a full range of options for consideration," said Trail.

Watch out for Zoom-bombing 

Zoom has turned into a video conferencing tool for remote work as millions of people  are forced to stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

There has been a growing number of what is known as Zoom-bombing incidents. 

People participating in meetings and lessons via video conference platforms like Zoom can find their screens hijacked by malicious actors who can put words and images on the screen and in the chat box or create havoc with the audio.  

"This has become a vital service, but unfortunately for some, this has become their better alternative to Netflix," said David Shipley, CEO of Beauceron Security.

Most Zoom bombing instances have been more about causing a ruckus, rather than installing ransomware or stealing information, he said.

There are security options available on Zoom to make meetings password protected to prevent unwanted guests from barging in virtually. 

David Shipley, president of Beauceron Security, says people working from home and relying on Zoom for conference calls, should watch out for 'Zoom-bombing.' (Submitted by David Shipley)

Shipley recommends people set a password for meetings, use the virtual lobby options so you can admit people to the meeting individually and.refrain from publishing their meeting ID,

He also recommended changing the default settings so that only the host can share their screen, or grant permission to individuals to take over the screen as needed. 

Shipley cautioned that switching to a new platform won't solve all security issues. 

"Everyone has vulnerabilities in their software. There's not a platform on the planet that's perfect."

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 Philip Drost, Sarah Morin, Jacques Poitras, Zulekha Nathoo

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