N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Province has capacity to test more, but says demand not there
COVID-19 case total remains at 116 after day of no new cases
- Province has room to test more people for COVID-19, but says demand isn't there
- Restarting New Brunswick's economy won't happen without restrictions
- Province develops guidelines for safety in long-term care homes
- Flood planning takes coronavirus into account
- New service allows residents to donate personal protective gear
- New Brunswick may be managing to flatten the curve
- More than 33,000 people get emergency income benefit so far
- Why Saint John reinstated bus and parking fees
- Students transitioning to online learning
- What to do if you have symptoms
The province has room to test more people for COVID-19 if there is a demand for it, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health said Tuesday.
The number of calls to the 811 line tripled after the province announced it was expanding its testing criteria to include sore throat, runny nose and a cough or worsening chronic cough.
But over the past 24 hours, New Brunswick has tested only 250 people for COVID-19, while neighbouring Nova Scotia tested more than 1,400.
"We absolutely can test at that level, we just haven't had the demand," Dr. Jennifer Russell said when asked about the difference in testing levels.
There are still 116 cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick after no new cases were reported Tuesday. Two cases were reported on Monday, the same day Nova Scotia reported 43 new cases, bringing that province's total to 517.
"If you look at a graph that would show New Brunswick cases versus Nova Scotia cases, they are on a different trajectory at the moment than we are," Russell said at her regular briefing on the coronavirus.
"We're holding steady in terms of the low numbers recently, but that can change."
Russell cautioned against reading success into the New Brunswick numbers too early.
"I don't want to have a false sense of security here," she said. "That is why it is important to look at the numbers as they evolve in the next week to two weeks."
But Russell said she would be more worried if there were more admissions to hospital and the intensive-care unit, as it is more representative of the proportion of cases that are out in the community. Three of the five patients remaining in hospital are in an intensive care unit.
Public Health is also looking at testing some asymptomatic people in "very specific situations."
"That's something that's kind of the next phase of our discussions.
More resources have been put in place with respect to 811, where 200 people wait on hold at the same time, and more family doctors are performing virtual care, she said.
"Our testing sites are obviously still able to ramp up capacity," she said. "We would definitely aim for 1,000 per day as needed."
Of the 116 cases confirmed COVID-19 cases, 66 are travel-related, 40 are close contacts of confirmed cases, eight are the result of community transmission and two remain under investigation.
To date, 75 people have recovered.
A total of 12 people have been hospitalized during the pandemic, but seven have been discharged.
"We are definitely moving in the right direction but we haven't reached our destination," Russell said.
Here is a roundup of other developments.
Restarting New Brunswick's economy won't happen without restrictions
Premier Blaine Higgs said the province is looking at ways it can restart its economy and allow businesses to reopen that aren't considered essential.
He's hoping businesses can find ways to operate and use safe practices that observe physical distancing.
But when and how a gradual reopening can get underway will depend on the consistent number of cases, or lack of cases, the province sees in days to come, he said.
"We want to make that happen and it will depend on what it looks like in the coming weeks," Higgs told reporters on Tuesday.
If all goes according to plan during that "critical" time, Higgs said non-essential businesses could begin re-opening in some fashion in May.
Province develops guidelines for safety in long-term care home
Premier Blaine Higgs says the province plans to share guidelines soon for keeping residents safe in long-term care homes, one of the hardest hit targets of the coronavirus in other provinces.
Higgs said Vitalité and Horizon Health Networks have been putting a lot of effort into training home-care and nursing home workers so they're using best practices and proper equipment during the pandemic.
"Obviously, what we're seeing happening in Ontario and Quebec, we absolutely do not want to see anything like that here," Higgs said.
Over the weekend, public health officials in Quebec were investigating conditions at private long-term care homes around the province after learning that since the outbreak began, 31 people have died at one such facility in Montreal.
By April 1, at least 40 deaths in Ontario nursing and retirement homes had been linked to COVID-19.
"We're doing whatever is necessary to avoid any situation that would resemble that in any way," Higgs said.
He said he will be updating the COVID-19 all-party committee Wednesday night about what's been done to date in long-term cares homes.
"We'll be looking [to see] if we need to do anything further," he said.
Flood planning takes coronavirus into account
Premier Blaine Higgs says emergency officials have factored COVID-19 into potential flooding plans. He cited plans for physical distancing and the use of masks if sandbagging is required.
Higgs asked residents in flood-prone areas to remain vigilant. And if they are forced to leave their homes, he said they cannot stay with friends or family because of the requirement for physical distancing.
Higgs said the Canadian Red Cross will help people with lodging if and when this is needed.
"People should exercise caution as the spring freshet is underway and water is high," he said.
New service allows people to donate personal protective gear
The province has announced a new service that will allow New Brunswickers to donate personal protective equipment to health-care workers for their fight against COVID-19.
People can donate by visiting the government's COVID-19 website, Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday.
"Some have stocks of masks, gowns and medical equipment they purchased when caring for a loved one at home," she said.
"Some businesses that used protective gear in their daily work have inquired about donating their stock and others want to turn their hands to sewing masks or making other gear for our frontline workers."
People who want to donate will be asked to fill out and submit a form detailing the condition and type of equipment they have.
The information would include the manufacturer, specifications and certifications to make sure the material is safe to use.
If a donation is accepted, specific instructions for delivery will be provided.
New Brunswick may be managing to flatten the curve
Although the number of COVID-19 cases have been low in New Brunswick, Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, said it's important to look at the days and weeks ahead.
"You're always looking at a snapshot two weeks behind," she said of the daily case totals.
Russell said there are several epidemiologists on her team and medical officers who look at the data "in fine detail."
"You can't see the peak until after you've passed it," she said. "We're keeping an eye on the numbers."
Earlier Tuesday, an infection control epidemiologist said New Brunswick case numbers could be on the verge of peaking.
Colin Furness, a professor at the University of Toronto, said New Brunswick is managing to flatten its curve "incredibly well," but the province will likely see some deaths related to the virus.
"When death starts to happen and the proportion of cases that end up in deaths goes up, that means you're getting toward the end," Furness said.
But New Brunswick could be unique, in that it has managed to avoid community spread relatively well, he said.
"It looks like you're through the peak and that you never got high community spread. And that although you can expect to see a few deaths, it's not going to be anywhere near what the provincial modelling numbers were saying last week."
The government released its COVID-19 projections last week, predicting between 550 and 1,750 people could die in the next 18 to 24 months.
Between 15 and 132 people could die this month alone, the projections suggested.
What happens over the next month will depend on how well the province restricts travel.
"How New Brunswick handles new cases coming into [the province], I think is the big determinant," he said.
But Furness also said it's difficult for Canada, or any country, to determine how low numbers need to be so governments can lift restrictions.
About one-third of all cases never show symptoms, which makes it difficult to know when it's safe to ease emergency measures.
"It's cause for concern that we're testing in a way that doesn't match the way the virus works."
More than 33,000 people get emergency income benefit so far
The one-time $900 New Brunswick emergency income benefit has been distributed to more than 33,000 people so far, Premier Blaine Higgs announced Tuesday.
The benefit was created for workers or self-employed people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic.
To date, the provincial government has provided more than $30 million in benefit payments.
The benefit was created to provide a bridge for people who would be applying for employment insurance or the new Canada emergency response benefit.
Since the federal program started on April 6, applications for the New Brunswick benefit have closed but Higgs said applications which were submitted by the deadline continue to be processed.
Why Saint John reinstated bus and parking fees
The City of Saint John says it has been forced to reinstate bus fares and parking regulations, after they were suspended last month because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Don Darling said Tuesday that bus fares had to be reintroduced because the city's financial situation is impossible to maintain otherwise.
"Fare collection was suspended because we didn't have a mechanism to collect it in a safe way," Darling said.
Beginning Tuesday, bus fares will be collected through Plexiglas barriers.
"We simply cannot afford to not collect some level of fare for the bus," Darling said.
Potential financial losses from transit alone would have reached up to $1 million if the fare had continued to be free.
Plexiglas barriers are still being installed on all city buses. On buses with barriers, passengers must enter through the front door to pay the fare.
Passengers are not required to pay a fare on the buses that don't have Plexiglas. On those buses, passengers should enter through the rear door.
March bus passes are valid for the month of April.
The Saint John Parking Commission has started enforcing on and off street parking regulations, including alternate-side parking, accessible parking, and monthly parking.
Market Square and Peel Plaza are operational and fee collection has also resumed.
Students transitioning to online learning
Teachers are reaching out to students this week to lay out the final 10 weeks of classes, if they haven't already.
The Anglophone West School District conducted a telephone survey to find out how many students don't have access to reliable technology or stable internet for online learning. About 200 of the 8,600 people who responded don't have adequate access.
David McTimoney, superintendent of the Anglophone West School District, said the district will stay in touch with those students over the phone.
He said he has been working on preparations for online coursework with teachers and collaborating with other superintendents.
"We're ready to roll ahead with that continuity of learning and looking forward to it," McTimoney said.
"We want to make sure students aren't disadvantaged when it comes to rolling out [the work]."
What to do if you have symptoms
People concerned they might have COVID-19 can take a self-assessment on the government website. Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, a new or worsening cough, and breathlessness, as well as sore throat, headache and runny nose. People with two of those symptoms are asked to:
Stay at home.
Immediately call Tele-Care 811.
Describe symptoms and travel history.
Follow instructions carefully.
With files from Sarah Morin