New Brunswick

'Irresponsible' 3rd COVID-19 case pushes Campbellton region back to orange recovery phase

Premier Blaine Higgs lashed out Wednesday at the "irresponsible" medical professional in the Campbellton region who contracted COVID-19 outside the province and is to blame for two other confirmed cases in the region, forcing that northern part of the province back into the orange phase of recovery.

Health-care worker in their 50s travelled to Quebec, did not self-isolate upon return

Premier Blaine Higgs reminded the public of their responsibility to follow Public Health directives to help ensure a safe reopening of the province. 'Now is not the time for New Brunswickers to take unnecessary risks, which could undo all the hard work it took to get us to this point,' he said. (Government of New Brunswick)

Premier Blaine Higgs lashed out Wednesday at the "irresponsible" medical professional in the Campbellton region who contracted COVID-19 outside the province and is to blame for two other confirmed cases in the region, forcing that northern part of the province back into the orange phase of recovery.

The Campbellton Regional Hospital's emergency department has also been closed for 24 hours and all non-urgent or elective health-care services are cancelled "due to the high risk of transmission of COVID-19," the Vitalité Health Network announced.

This medical professional  — Higgs wouldn't say if it's a doctor or a nurse — travelled to Quebec for "personal reasons, was not forthcoming about their reasons for travel upon returning to New Brunswick and they did not self-isolate as a result," he said.

The person, who is in their 50s, then treated patients for two weeks at the Campbellton Regional Hospital and possibly other locations.

Now the Campbellton region, also known as health Zone 5, is at a higher risk "due to the actions of one irresponsible individual," Higgs told reporters during a news conference in Fredericton.

Chief medical officer Dr. Jennifer Russell said she's very concerned about people in the Campbellton region, but people right across the province could also be at risk. (Government of New Brunswick)

"If you ignore the rules, you put your family, your friends and your fellow New Brunswickers at risk. Today's case is evidence of that."

The other two cases include a person in their 90s and a child who attended two daycares.

None of them is in hospital.

The investigation has determined the three cases are a single cluster, all related to travel, said chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell.

'If charges need to be laid, they will'

Asked whether the health-care worker will face charges, Higgs said the case is still under investigation.

"Was this a clear, or what would appear to be apparent violation of our current rules? If indeed that is the case, you know, we will move forward with understanding and if charges need to be laid, they will," he said.

He expects to know more in the coming days, he added.

Public Health officials are still contact tracing, but Russell said she's concerned there has already been "significant contact" with the three active cases and more cases will emerge in the days ahead.

The incubation period of the virus is 14 days.

The three cases all come just five days after New Brunswick moved into phase three of its COVID-19 recovery plan, also known as the yellow phase. It allows people to extend their two-household bubble to close family and friends, more businesses to reopen, and more recreation.

Vitalité hopes to limit transmission

A few hours after the news conference, Vitalité issued a release about the temporary closure of the ER and other services.

The measure is being taken to limit transmission of the virus originating from a staff member of the hospital, president and CEO Gilles Lanteigne said in a statement.

"We know that this decision will inconvenience the communities of the Restigouche and surrounding areas. However, the health and safety of our staff remain our priority," he said.

"We must do everything in our power to limit the risk of spread."

Vitalité president and CEO Gilles Lanteigne announced the Campbellton Regional Hospital's ER is closed for 24 hours and all non-urgent or elective health-care services are also cancelled to limit transmission of COVID-19 originating from a staff member. (CBC)

The statement did not indicate why the closure is for 24 hours or what will be done during that period to help limit the spread.

Vitalité asks the public to strictly follow the isolation, physical distancing, handwashing and mask usage measures to prevent a potential second wave of COVID-19.

"We cannot let our guard down," Lanteigne said. "The third case being announced today is proof of that. We must remain vigilant and work together to keep ourselves and others safe.

"Our battle is not over. Indeed. It has just begun."

Widespread testing encouraged

Mobile testing will be set up in the Campbellton region starting Thursday, said Higgs. He is encouraging everyone in the region to get tested.

Zone 5 extends from Whites Brook to the Village of Belledune, including Tide Head, Atholville, Campbellton, Dalhousie, Eel River Dundee, Eel River Bar First Nation, Balmoral, Charlo and Belledune.

People can be tested even if they're not exhibiting symptoms, said Russell.

New Brunswickers who have travelled to the area or been in close contact with anyone from the area should monitor for symptoms for 14 days, she said.

Anyone who develops symptoms should call Tele-Care 811 to get a referral for testing.

Third case of COVID-19 in Campbellton is a health professional who travelled to Quebec and did not self-isolate on return. 2:51

People in the region should stay home as much as possible and avoid any close contact outside their two-household bubbles, said Russell.

She encouraged people to limit their close contacts no matter what phase of recovery the province is in until a vaccine is available.

Higgs said people should only be travelling in and out of the region for essential reasons, which doesn't include something like getting a haircut.

"We need everyone to do their own part," he said, "not trying to skirt the rules, but just saying, 'You know, for the next couple weeks for sure we can just stay at home, we can isolate in our community, we can follow the rules of public distancing, we can wear face masks, we can do the things that are appropriate to ensure that there isn't any further spread in this particular zone, and any further spread within the province.'"

Internal checkpoints being considered

Higgs opened the door to the possibility of establishing checkpoints within the province to restrict travel to and from the Campbellton region.

"It is being considered," he said, although it's difficult to do. Government officials are looking at how effective the measure has proven in northern Quebec.

Health-care workers in the region should refrain from working in more than one health-care facility.

Non-regulated health professionals, such as acupuncturists and naturopaths, and personal services, such as hair dressers and spas, which were allowed to open last Friday, must close again immediately until further notice.

The rest of the province will remain in the yellow phase and additional restrictions scheduled to be lifted Friday are expected to proceed.

They include:

  • Outdoor public gatherings of up to 50 people will be permitted with physical distancing.
  • Religious services, including weddings and funerals, with of up to 50 people, can take place indoors or outdoors with physical distancing.
  • Regional health authorities will increase the number of elective surgeries and non-emergency services.
  • Swimming pools, saunas, water parks can reopen.
  • Gyms, yoga and dance studios, rinks, pool halls and bowling alleys can reopen.
  • "Low-contact" team sports will be allowed.

Campbellton Nursing Home 'COVID FREE'

The case affecting someone over the age of 90 does not involve the Campbellton Nursing Home.

Public Health has not released any information about the individual, but shortly after the case was announced on Tuesday afternoon, the nursing home posted a message on Facebook to put minds at ease.

"In light of the recent announcement of a new positive case, we want to reassure you that The Campbellton Nursing Home is Covid-19 FREE," it said.

Nursing homes have been among the hardest hit by the disease in other provinces and in the United States.

''Everyday we keep the virus out is a Victory," the 100-bed facility said.

The Campbellton Nursing Home has 100 beds. (Facebook/Campbellton Nursing Home)

Higgs told reporters outside the legislature Tuesday he does not believe the elderly patient lives in a care home.

"It's my understanding they live in their own home, which is good news," he said. "But then it becomes a question of, OK, let's trace down, how were they exposed and what were kind of the scenarios leading up to that exposure?"

Higgs said he doesn't know if the origin can be determined but did note that hundreds of people in the region held a demonstration on May 19.

More than 400 residents of Campbellton, Listuguj and Pointe-à-la-Croix met at the bridge linking New Brunswick and Quebec to protest New Brunswick's travel restrictions.

Organizers of the the May 19 rally called for a bubble to be formed between Campbellton and the closest Quebec communities of Pointe-à-la-Croix and Listuguj First Nation, to allow for essential travel and family reunification. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

"And you know the pictures that I saw of that rally, social distancing wasn't top of mind," said Higgs.

"I hope that people continue to realize just how precarious a position we're in. We all feel good about opening up early and being in a good position in New Brunswick or in Canada for that matter, but we've got to realize that this could all change overnight."

Higgs said he's "very concerned" about a potential pocket of cases forming in the Campbellton region.

The fact that one of the cases involves an elderly person adds to the complexity, he said.

Daycare remains closed

The Tourbillon de Soleil daycare in Balmoral, about 20 minutes southeast of Campbellton, remains closed until further notice.

It's been closed since May 21, after the infected child attended on May 19, developed a fever that night and then tested positive.

Tourbillon de Soleil daycare in Balmoral remains closed until further notice and the owner, four employees, as well as 14 children and their parents are under quarantine for two weeks. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

About 35 people the child may have come into contact with at the daycare — employees, children and their parents — have been ordered to quarantine for 14 days, the incubation period of the disease.

Children and staff at the Campbellton daycare Bouts Choux, which the child had previously attended, up until May 15, have all tested negative, said owner Cécile Castonguay.

As of Wednesday, 23,296 COVID-19 tests have been performed in New Brunswick and 120 people have recovered from the respiratory disease.

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