New Brunswick

N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Province could run out of test supplies within 1 week

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, says Premier Blaine Higgs.

Personal protective equipment for health-care workers, such as masks, could run out in 3 weeks, says Higgs

Premier Blaine Higgs says he plans to release COVID-19 projections for New Brunswick in a week. (CBC)

Latest

  • 10 new cases, 1st in Miramichi
  • New Brunswick church with 5 confirmed cases
  • Faster test results now possible at 7 hospitals
  • Fredericton police chief worries over safety of officers
  • Department of Education says schools are closed for remainder of the school year
  • Nursing homes workers will now be screened for COVID-19 symptoms
  • 50,700 New Brunswickers apply for income benefit
  • Fredericton police chief worries over safety of officers
  • More people are relying on community kitchens in Moncton
  • Online hub established for businesses in major cities
  • Book launches and poetry readings cancelled over COVID-19

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, says Premier Blaine Higgs.

"But we have orders that are pending and hoping to arrive," he told CBC's Power and Politics on Thursday night.

Higgs said he planned to raise the issue of supplies during the premiers' evening conference call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The federal government can play a "big role" in the supply requirements, he said, and offer a consistent approach across the country.

New Brunswick has 10 new cases of COVID-19, including the first confirmed case in the Miramichi region, the chief medical officer of health announced on Thursday, bringing the province's total to 91.

Three people remain in hospital, including the first case in intensive care, Dr. Jennifer Russell said during her daily news conference in Fredericton.

The data is based on where people are tested, not necessarily where they live, said chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell. (CBC)

A possible imminent shortage of test kits and other supplies was not mentioned by Higgs nor Russell during Thursday's news conference.

On Wednesday, they told reporters they were confident the province will have enough supplies to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.

But the supplies will have to be used "appropriately," they said, and protective equipment will have to be prioritized for health-care workers, who will be instructed on "judicious use."

Higgs told Power and Politics New Brunswick is conducting about 500 tests a day and plans to increase the number over the next few days to 600 or 700.

"Granted, if we went to 1,000 tests a day we would be looking at supplies needed within about five days."

The global competition for scarce supplies is "very concerning," he said.

"And I think that, you know, certainly lends to the credence of the federal government playing a key role here in sourcing.

"We can't compete with each other here, one province to another, and we certainly aren't in a position of the United States as out there competing with the same suppliers."

Higgs previously called on the federal government to declare a national state of emergency. On March 23 he said he believed Canada needed a consistent, national approach to stop the spread of the virus.

Most premiers did not think it was necessary to invoke the federal Emergencies Act and give the federal government sweeping powers, Trudeau had said after their conference calls. But provinces could be called upon to share critical pandemic supplies, such as ventilators, with other provinces, he told reporters.

We need to make sure we have enough supplies for our citizens and do that equally across this country. That's the way we work together and that's the way we survive together.- Blaine Higgs, New Brunswick premier

Although New Brunswick manufacturers are retooling to produce some much-needed supplies, such as hand sanitizers and gowns, and other provinces, such as Ontario, are stepping up mask fabrication, none have immediate solutions, said Higgs.

"So I think the point is that the federal government has to be that sole sourcer for us and then providing a supply to us throughout the country," he said.

"We don't need to be hoarding in our own province. I mean that doesn't help our neighbours and our friends

"We need to make sure we have enough supplies for our citizens and do that equally across this country. That's the way we work together and that's the way we survive together."

New fine for getting too close

Premier Blaine Higgs announced revisions Thursday to the state of emergency declaration, which prohibits knowingly approaching within six feet of another person.

Throughout the outbreak, people have been told to keep at least six feet away from other people and not to gather. Now the government is threatening to fine anyone who purposely violates the physical distancing rule. The only exceptions would be for members of the same household or if a closer distance is required for certain work.

"Those who don't follow advice and who won't respond to warnings now face the risk of being charged for violating the order," he said.

In addition, owners and occupiers of land are now responsible to "take all reasonable steps to prevent social or recreational gatherings."

And the owners and managers of premises that permit the seasonal docking of multiple recreational vessels must either prohibit docking or take steps to ensure minimal interaction of people.

Vehicles are being screened at New Brunswick's borders, such as this one at the Quebec border in Campbellton. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

Fines can range between $292.50 and $10,200.

Campgrounds have been added to the list of businesses that are prohibited from admitting patrons for at least two weeks, said Higgs.

Adjustments have also been made at the new provincial border control points to allow people to get to work, to see their children, and to access necessities, he said.

And open fires are prohibited until May 1.

"We know that people will continue to get sick and that some will likely die. These steps we take now as individuals and as a government have the power to make a difference."

The province's enhanced pandemic operational plan will likely be released next week, he said.

Here is a roundup of other developments.

Church has 5 confirmed cases

There is a church community in New Brunswick with five COVID-19 cases.

All members of the church have been notified, chief medical health officer Dr. Jennifer Russell said Thursday. The church was not identified.

The 10 new cases of Covid-19 include:

Zone 2, Saint John:

  • One individual in their 70s.

Zone 3, Fredericton:

  • Three individuals between the ages of 20 and 59.

  • Three individuals between the ages of 50 and 69.

Zone 4, Edmundston:

  • Two individuals in their 70s.

Zone 7, Miramichi:

  • One individual in their 20s.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell urged New Brunswickers to seek out reliable information and ensure the truth 'does not become another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.' (Ed Hunter/CBC)

The data is based on where people are tested, not necessarily where they live, Russell reiterated.

Of the 91 cases, 49 are travel-related, 25 are close contacts of confirmed cases, three cases are from community transmission and 14 cases remain under investigation.

Two people have been discharged from hospital. A total of 22 people have recovered.

Tele-Care 811 is getting about 450 calls a day, said Russell.

Roughly half of the calls are "focused on COVID-19," she said. About 45 of them meet the current criteria for testing.

Faster test results now possible at 7 hospitals

New Brunswickers will soon have access to faster test results, thanks to a donation from the Saint John Regional Hospital Foundation's COVID-19 emergency fund that will enable testing at seven hospitals across the province in both regional health authorities.

The sites are in Edmundston, Campbellton, Bathurst, Miramichi, Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John.

Until now, all testing has been handled by the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton.

Two portable machines that oxygenate the blood, allowing the lungs to rest, are also being purchased with funds from the foundation, Premier Blaine Higgs announced Thursday.

As COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, lung capacity and function can be severely affected.

"This donation is one example of how the people in this province are coming together to support one another," he said.

Education minister lays out plans for rest of school year

Schools in New Brunswick will remain closed for the rest of the school year Education Minister Dominic Cardy announced Thursday. 

At a news conference, Cardy said the school calendar "will not be extended" unless the situation of COVID-19 changes.

All students who were "on track" to graduate from Grade 12 this spring will graduate and receive a diploma. Other students will also move on to the next academic year when school resumes.

The Department of Education has been working on a possible virtual learning plan for students during the COVID-19 outbreak.

All public schools closed almost three weeks ago because of the coronavirus. The closure was initially for two weeks, but now schools have been closed indefinitely.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy announced on Thursday schools will likely remain closed in New Brunswick until the end of the 2019-2020 school year. 2:22

Cardy has not been available for interviews since he announced the school closure.

However, Premier Blaine Higgs has applauded Cardy's decision foresight in sending students home early on in the pandemic in this province.

"Here in New Brunswick we made the tough decision to implement these measure early on," Higgs said at a COVID-19  briefing this week. "Taking action before … the pandemic may have seemed extreme at the time, but I know it was the right think to do."

Increased screening

Nursing homes workers will now be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and have their temperatures taken before starting their shifts, Premier Blaine Higgs announced Thursday.

Nursing homes are also being equipped to test residents with symptoms, he said.

Provincial government employees are also having their temperatures checked every day, sometimes twice a day, before they enter the building, said chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell.

50,700 apply for income benefit

Higgs said 50,700 workers or self-employed people who have lost their jobs have registered for the $900 one-time income benefit so far.

"This number illustrates just how critical this program is," he said.

The province will continue to find ways to cover any gaps to protect New Brunswickers and the economy, he added.

Police chief worries over safety of officers 

Police forces across New Brunswick are working together to respond to calls.

Fredericton police Chief Roger Brown said all nine police agencies in New Brunswick are co-ordinating shifts to make sure there's a reserve of police officers ready to aid other departments.

"Should anything happen anywhere in the province, all policing agencies are able to work together to help each other," Brown said.

Fredericton police Chief Roger Brown says he's worried about the safety of his officers when dealing with cases of impairment. (Submitted by the Fredericton Police Force )

Police are still responding to urgent calls, such as break-and-enters, but have switched other operations to online, such as criminal background checks.

Because some services have switched online and can be done remotely, Brown said he has only 30 per cent of staff working on a daily basis. 

"We've manoeuvred our shifts to meet the demands. Where we have low call volume, we have lower numbers," he said. "Where we have high call volume, we have higher numbers."

Local police stations are also working more closely with New Brunswick RCMP to respond to calls.

Police have equipment, like masks and gloves, to protect themselves, should they have to respond to a call involving COVID-19.

Brown said some calls, like those involving impairment, can make it hard for officers to maintain a safe physical distance.

He's worried about his officers becoming sick and unable to work.

"My ability to police or our ability to do core police functions would be limited."

More people are relying on community kitchens in Moncton

The number of new people visiting community kitchens in Moncton is continuing to rise, according to homeless advocates in the area.  

"We're getting a number of new people coming with their children and a lot of new seniors and a few people that are basically out of work that are coming to eat now," said Charlie Burnell, founder of the Humanity Project, a social services organization that runs a free meal program.

Organizations that help the homeless are trying to address the many problems that come with not having a home when there's a need to practise physical distancing.

"The ability to be able to wash your hands, use your bathroom, be able to isolate properly is a very privileged capability," said Lisa Ryan, community development coordinator for the Greater Moncton Homelessness Steering Committee.

Some of the most urgent problems facing the homeless population in Moncton include a lack of public garbage cans and washroom facilities. 

Since stores are closed and many businesses aren't allowed to let anyone inside, homeless people are forced to use the washroom outside. 

There's only one portable toilet in the city, at the Avenir Centre, which is being cleaned and maintained at the moment.

"I'm hearing that they have to use the bathroom outside, which is a major inconvenience for them," Burnell said.

"It's going to lead to an even bigger problem for our community."

Online hub established for businesses in Moncton area

The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton has created an online information hub with economic development agencies to help businesses in the region respond to COVID-19.

John Wishart, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton, wanted to create a space to share clear, credible and comprehensive information for struggling businesses.

"There's such a dizzying array of programs announced on almost a daily basis and it's hard to keep up with what's the latest," Wishart said. 

The online hub provides information about where business owners can find applications for receiving money from the provincial and federal governments. 

"The platform is really meant just to ease the stress of finding the right information."

The hub also includes tabs for municipal resources, advice for businesses and updates from the World Health Organization.

Fredericton's Chamber of Commerce has set up a similar platform for business. Its website includes a daily update post, a resource page and a list of businesses that are open.

The Saint John Chamber of Commerce posts regular updates on its website as well, and shares webinars and advice for businesses.

School districts offer online, phone support  

Anglophone and francophone school districts are offering telephone and online support to students from kindergarten to Grade 12 and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic

The service will be offered Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. through phone and email.

Emails have been sent to parents across the province, which detail how to access the services.

Staff will not be able to answer questions about the length of the closure, exams, school work or graduation.

Online journal created after poetry readings cancelled

Book launches and poetry readings may be cancelled for the foreseeable future, but a New Brunswicker has stepped up to give poets a place to share their work during the pandemic.

Nathaniel Moore created an online poetry journal called Meltdown to display the work of poets from across the country.

"This is an opportunity to take a look at what poets in Canada are doing right now," Moore said. 

Moore says the site will also include videos and audio of poets reading their work.

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 Power and Politics and Sarah Morin

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