New Brunswick

N.B. COVID-19 roundup: 69 new cases, 125 active cases in schools, child-care facilities

New Brunswick reported 69 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and more than 125 active cases across 53 schools and 24 early learning and child-care facilities across the province.

Department of Education will hire private consultants to review ventilation in schools

Sixteen schools across New Brunswick had COVID-19-related operational days Tuesday, which means either the entire school or specific groups were learning from home. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Latest

  • 42% of COVID-related deaths have occurred in long-term care homes
  • 64 travellers from omicron-barred countries now isolating
  • More than 3,500 people 50 and older booked for booster
  • 752 active cases
  • Visits suspended at Dumont hospital nephrology unit
  • School district implements 'circuit breaker' at 2 Fredericton-area schools
  • New cases at 13 schools, 6 child-care facilities
  • Atlantic COVID roundup
  • Public exposure notices

New Brunswick reported 69 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and more than 125 active cases across 53 schools and 24 early learning and child-care facilities across the province.

The majority of cases are affecting kindergarten-to-Grade 5 schools, with transmission often occurring outside of the school setting or in instances when Public Health measures are not followed, according to a government news release.

But the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development plans to contract private consultants to review ventilation in schools.

Ventilation and air exchange "contribute to a healthy school environment," the release said.

More information will be available in the new year.

"We have seen increasing cases in schools over the past week and we continue to work with school districts and Public Health to manage outbreaks," Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy said in a statement.

Sixty schools in New Brunswick have no integrated mechanical ventilation systems, as of September. Unlike the 234 schools in the province that do have integrated ventilation systems, these schools must rely instead on opening doors and windows to circulate air.

Air quality tests conducted at these schools over several months were, however, "within the safe range and did not demonstrate reason for health concerns," Department of Education spokesperson Flavio Nienow has said.

On Nov. 25, New Brunswick's guidance on ventilation in public schools was quietly updated to say high-efficiency particulate, or HEPA, filters may be a way to improve air quality during the pandemic.

"HEPA filter devices reduce particles in the air and could be used in rooms with poor air circulation," the online guidance now states. "This should be considered on a case by case basis."

Last Thursday, Cardy told reporters despite the change in guidance there's been no change in policy regarding the use of in-class HEPA filters.

The province plans to hire an outside expert to review the "competing science" surrounding the issue and to provide recommendations, he said, promising to provide a timeline for that process "in the coming days."

New Brunswick has a working group on ventilation systems in schools made up of representatives from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Public Health, WorkSafeNB and the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Sixty of New Brunswick's 294 schools do not have adequate ventilation systems, as of September. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Sixteen schools across the province had operational days Tuesday, which means either the entire school or specific groups were learning from home based on advice from Public Health.

Asked whether the province has considered moving to online learning until the new year, Cardy said that has not been recommended by Public Health.

He said the province is looking at how it can keep schools as safe as possible, especially in light of the omicron variant, which "we expect to land in New Brunswick sometime soon. So when it does, we've got to make sure we're ready.

"So we'll keep on working with colleagues at Health to make sure we've got as strict protocols as we can while making sure our schools can stay open so students can learn face-to-face as long as it's determined to be safe to do so."

If Public Health does recommend moving to online, Cardy said he will "absolutely" support the advice. "We don't want to mess around with a virus that can be really dangerous."

He acknowledged it can be frustrating and confusing when rules change, but said they change as the disease changes.

"We're always just trying to make sure we're running at the same speed, or hopefully a little bit ahead of the virus," he said.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy said he believes people in the school system are taking COVID-19 seriously and 'doing their best,' and that stories about potential increased risk for young people with the omicron variant 'is really making people pay attention.' (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Although the province moved swiftly in March 2020 to shut schools down when there was much less COVID present, very little was known about the coronavirus at the time, said Cardy.

The province has since learned about the impacts on different age groups and vaccines are available, he said, noting nearly 9,000 children aged five to 11 have now received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Nine schools have completed in-school vaccination clinics and another 14 are planning them in co-operation with local pharmacies, he said.

"Anything that I can do to help get that vaccination rate up, short of standing out in Queen Street and injecting people myself, I'm there," he said.

Cardy urged students and staff to continue following the Healthy and Safe Schools guidelines and all Public Health safety measures, which include washing hands, using sanitizer, wearing a mask, physical distancing, and staying home and getting tested when symptoms appear.

"We are depending on families to make healthy choices and follow Public Health measures to protect our schools."

42% of COVID-related deaths have occurred in long-term care homes

Forty-two per cent of COVID-19-related deaths in New Brunswick have occurred in long-term care homes since the start of the pandemic, according to figures provided by the Department of Health.

Fifty-seven of the 136 COVID-related deaths as of Monday have been in nursing homes and adult residential homes, such as special care homes, the figures show.

Because of a shortage of personnel and equipment, many nursing homes were simply not prepared for a pandemic of this magnitude, said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

"Even before the pandemic, we had a lot of elderly people who had died just from the simple flu, due to there being four per room," she said. "There is not enough staff, they are not sufficiently supervised, nutrition was not adequate.

"The life, the quality of care of our elderly are in danger today."

Elderly care facilities across the country have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

But Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch contends inspectors from his department ensure nursing homes are respecting the employee-per-resident ratio, so that proper care is provided.

"If we find that there's some nursing homes that are under the ratio that is in the regulation, they will be written up," he said. "There is a whole process to that. And we certainly take that seriously."

COVID-19 took everyone by surprise, said Fitch, but he believes the provincial government's response has been good given the circumstances.

"I know people love to lay blame after the fact and say, 'It's the fault of this, it's the fault of that.' But again, I mean, I say, look, this COVID was something new that nobody were dealing with," he said. "And every time there was an outbreak, we used the best practices that we knew at the time or that were available at the time."

The province's provincial rapid outbreak management team (PROMT) "would have the briefings after every outbreak to say, 'How could we do something different? How can we do it better?'" 

The 57 deaths occurred in 14 facilities.

The government would not provide the list of homes where there has been at least one death, as well as the exact number of deaths by establishment.

COVID-19 in long-term care homes in New Brunswick
Total COVID-related deaths in the general population 136
Total COVID-related deaths in long-term care homes 57
Long-term care homes with at least one COVID-related death 14
Long-term care homes with at least one case of COVID-19 52

In some cases, places where deaths have occurred have already become public, however.

The Manoir Belle Vue in Edmundston, Pavillon Beau Lieu in Grand Falls, the Drew Nursing Home in Sackville, Shannex Tucker Hall in Saint John, and Villa Renaissance in Dalhousie, for example, were particularly hard-hit.

According to Silas, the situation in New Brunswick is comparable to what exists in other provinces.

"There isn't a province that can boast of having good long-term care, which is why it's a national crisis," she said.

Several nursing homes were already in critical condition at the onset of the crisis, mainly because of understaffing.

Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, says long-term homes were not prepared for a pandemic. (CBC)

"In the spring of 2020, the hospitals were empty because we expected we were going to be hit like Italy, everyone was really scared, and many of the administrators didn't even think about long-term care, where health and safety was not a priority," said Silas. "There was not even the necessary equipment for personal protection."

After the start of the pandemic, the New Brunswick government imposed mandatory health measures in homes in the province.

However, some of them did not comply with all these measures. This was the case at Manior de la Vallée in Atholville, which did not have an operational plan relating to COVID-19, even though it was mandatory. It took seven months for the home to set up a health and safety committee.

Problems were also reported by inspectors in other homes, where there have been cases of COVID-19, such as at the Villa des Jardins, in Edmundston, the Pavillon Beau Lieu in Grand Falls and Résidence Quatre Saisons in Balmoral.

In many nursing homes, there is a shortage of nurses and attendants, said the president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions. (Nicolas Steinbach/Radio-Canada)

A survey conducted by the New Brunswick Nurses Union among its members found 75 per cent of nurses believe resident care has deteriorated over the past three to five years. Gaps have also been identified with regard to hygiene care and physical exercise.

Since 2016, the number of nurses in nursing homes has declined. 

The Liberal government of the day reduced the ratio of hours of care per resident by registered nurses to 15 per cent from 20 per cent, and the ratio of licensed practical nurses to 20 per cent from 40 per cent.

This resulted in the loss of 50 registered nurses and more than 300 nursing assistants in New Brunswick nursing homes. The loss was to be compensated for by more CUPE workers.

At the start of the pandemic, seniors in nursing homes were receiving an average of 3.1 hours of care per day. But given the lack of staff, it is sometimes difficult to respect this ratio for each resident. According to the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, residents should receive at least four hours of care per day.

"If we had a staffing of four hours or 4.5 hours per resident, we could have avoided a lot of things," said Silas.

Ontario has pledged to offer four hours of care by 2025. New Brunswick will increase care to 3.3 hours next year.

"This is the first time in 13 years that the government has increased the hours for residents in nursing homes," Fitch said.

64 travellers from omicron-barred countries now isolating

The number of people in isolation in New Brunswick after travelling from countries where the new, potentially more transmissible omicron COVID-19 variant has been identified has risen to 64 from 55, Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane told CBC News Tuesday.

There are still no confirmed or suspected cases of omicron in the province, he said.

Those in isolation are being monitored, said Macfarlane.

Each has been in one of the 10 countries affected by federal restrictions to reduce possible spread of the new variant: Botswana, Egypt, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

On Dec. 1, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced about eight travellers were isolating. Two days later, the number had increased to 55.

More than 3,500 people 50 and older booked for booster

A total of 3,567 people aged 50 and older scheduled a booster appointment through a regional health authority clinic Monday, the first day bookings opened up, said Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane.

Anyone 50 and older is now eligible for a COVID-19 booster dose of an mRNA vaccine if six months have passed since their second dose.

Macfarlane could not immediately say Tuesday how many people in this age group have now received their booster.

"Getting your booster shot is an important step people can take to protect themselves, their loved ones and the most vulnerable from this virus," Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said in a statement.

"A booster shot provides you with an extra layer of protection and greatly reduces your risk of hospitalization," she said.

"With the holidays approaching, we need to be mindful of the measures each of us can take to ensure we are able to safely spend time with our family and friends."

A total of 82 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, unchanged for the second straight day, and 87.6 per cent had received their first dose, up from 87.5.

The province's goal is to get at least 90 per cent of the total population fully vaccinated.

According to the CBC vaccine tracker, 78 per cent of the total population is double-dosed, while 83.2 per cent have received at least one dose.

In the coming weeks, eligibility for booster doses will be expanded to people in their 40s, followed by all other New Brunswickers.

Appointments for booster shots for those eligible and for first and second doses can be scheduled for a regional health authority community COVID-19 vaccination clinic through the online booking system or at a participating pharmacy.

A list of upcoming walk-in clinics is available online.

A detailed list of those eligible for a booster dose is available online.

752 active cases

In addition to the 69 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed Tuesday, Public Health reported 77 more recoveries.

There are now 752 active cases across the province, down from 760.

Forty-seven people are hospitalized with COVID-19, a decrease of two, including 18 in intensive care. Eleven of them are on ventilators.

Of those in hospital, 26 are over the age of 60 and one is under 19.

Ten of the people hospitalized were initially admitted for other reasons and contracted COVID-19 because of outbreaks at the Moncton Hospital, the Saint John Regional Hospital and the Miramichi Regional Hospital. Most of these people are exhibiting "mild to moderate" symptoms, Public Health said.

The Fredericton region, Zone 3, had the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in the province Tuesday, 27, and has the highest number of active cases, 249. (CBC)

The regional breakdown of the 69 new cases includes:

Moncton region, Zone 1 — 12 cases:

  • Four people nine or under
  • Three people 20 to 29
  • A person 50 to 59
  • Two people 60 to 69
  • A person 70 to 79
  • A person 80 to 89

Eleven of these cases are under investigation and the other one is a contact of a previously confirmed case.

Saint John region, Zone 2 — 15 cases:

  • A person nine or under
  • Three people 10 to 19
  • Three people 20 to 29
  • A person 30 to 39
  • Two people 50 to 59
  • Three people 60 to 69
  • Two people 70-79

Ten of these cases are contacts of previously confirmed cases and five are under investigation.

Fredericton region, Zone 3 — 27 cases:

  • Seven people nine or under
  • Seven people 10 to 19
  • Four people 20 to 29
  • Three people 30 to 39
  • Two people 40 to 49
  • Three people 50 to 59
  • A person 60 to 69

Eighteen of these cases are under investigation and nine are contacts of previously confirmed cases.

Edmundston region, Zone 4 — five cases:

  • A person nine or under
  • A person 20 to 29
  • A person 40 to 49
  • Two people 60 to 69

Three of these cases are contacts of previously confirmed cases and the other two are under investigation.

Campbellton region, Zone 5 — two cases:

  • A person 30 to 39
  • A person 60 to 69

Both of these cases are contacts of previously confirmed cases.

Miramichi region, Zone 7 — eight cases:

  • Two people 10 to19
  • A person 40 to 49
  • A person 50 to 59
  • Four people 70 to 79

Five of these cases are under investigation and the other three are contacts of previously confirmed cases.

New Brunswick has had 8,938 confirmed cases of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic and 8,049 recoveries so far and 136 deaths.

A total of 570,657 tests have been conducted to date, including 2,272 on Tuesday.

Visits suspended at Dumont hospital nephrology unit

Visits to the nephrology unit (4F) at Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton are suspended because of a possible exposure to COVID-19, the Vitalité Health Network announced Tuesday.

The ban on visits will remain in effect until further notice, according to a news release.

Vitalité said it apologized for any inconvenience.

School district implements 'circuit breaker' at 2 Fredericton-area schools

The Anglophone West School District implemented its version of a COVID circuit breaker at two Fredericton-area schools seeing a high level of in-school transmission.

Tuesday was another distance learning day for Park Street Elementary School and Gibson-Neill Memorial Elementary School students.

Additional COVID-19 cases were identified at both schools Monday. There have now been 25 confirmed cases at Park Street and fewer than 10 at Gibson-Neill.

"It's something that we've generally not seen at all," said Jay Colpitts, director of COVID response for the district.

"The only other case would have been at the start in September in the Perth Andover area where we had a lot of buses and in-class transmission. Same sort of thing at Park Street, a lot of in-school transmission, and it's been very tricky." 

Colpitts said the district has seen case numbers rise steadily over the past two weeks, in particular on the north side of Fredericton.

He's counted 30 to 40 cases at seven schools within the district.

In collaboration with Public Health and the Department of Education, the district decided late Tuesday afternoon to continue distance learning for Park Street for the rest of the week.

"We will be monitoring numbers carefully. Unless notified otherwise, students should plan to attend school on Monday, December 13," a notice to parents said.

At Gibson-Neill, distance learning will continue Wednesday and may need to be extended. "We will reassess the situation tomorrow and notify you of the next steps," a notice to parents said.

New cases at 13 schools, 6 child-care centres

Seventeen new cases of COVID-19 have been detected in 13 schools and six in six child-care facilities since Monday, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development's website shows.

At least one positive case has been confirmed at the following schools, which were not previously impacted: Hampton High School, Sir James Dunn Academy and St. Malachy's Memorial High School, all in the Saint John region, Zone 2.

Other schools with new cases include:

  • Birchmount School (Moncton region, Zone 1)
  • Caledonia Regional High School (Moncton region, Zone 1)
  • Northrop Frye School (Moncton region, Zone 1)
  • Queen Elizabeth School (Moncton region, Zone 1)
  • Centennial School (Saint John region, Zone 2)
  • Barkers Point Elementary School (Fredericton region, Zone 3)
  • Park Street Elementary School (Fredericton region, Zone 3)
  • George Street Middle School (Fredericton region, Zone 3)
  • Gibson-Neill Memorial Elementary School (Fredericton region, Zone 3)
  • Saint Mary's Academy (Edmundston region, Zone 4)

The website does not indicate how many cases are at each school or whether the cases involve students, teachers or staff.

Fifty-two schools are currently affected.

Sixteen schools have COVID-related operational days Tuesday, according to the department's website.

A total of 634 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in 166 schools since the beginning of the school year.

A positive case has been confirmed at each of these newly impacted child-care centres:

  • I-Play Athletics (Moncton region, Zone 1)
  • I-Play Athletic 2 (Moncton region, Zone 1)
  • Get Active After School (Fredericton region, Zone 3)
  • Go-Go After School Two Nations Crossing (Fredericton region, Zone 3)
  • Little Munchkins Preschool Center 2017 (Fredericton region, Zone 3)

Kingswood Academy in the Moncton region, Zone 1, has one new positive case.

The website does not indicate whether the cases involve a child, staff member or volunteer.

There have been 108 early learning and child-care centres affected by COVID-19 since Sept. 7. The total number of cases has not been released.

Atlantic COVID roundup

Nova Scotia reported 22 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. There are 147 active cases in the province and 11 people in hospital, including four in intensive care.

Prince Edward Island announced five new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and has 23 active cases.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported a three day total of seven new cases on Monday. The province's active COVID-19 caseload now stands at 13.

Public exposure notices

The province listed a number of potential COVID-19 public exposure notices on Tuesday, including a community centre in the Saint John region, Zone 2, a university pool in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, and a funeral home in the Miramichi region, Zone 7.

For the full list of public exposure notices, visit the provincial government's website.

People who have not been fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to a possible exposure and who have symptoms should get a COVID lab test. They can book an appointment online or call Tele-Care 811 and must isolate while waiting for their test result.

People who are not fully vaccinated and do not have symptoms are now being instructed to pick up an At-Home COVID-19 Rapid Point of Care Test (Rapid POCT) screening kit. They do not need to isolate if they have not been directed by Public Health to do so.

All positive point-of-care test results must be confirmed with a laboratory polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test.

It can take up to 14 days to test positive after being exposed to COVID-19, so even if results come back negative, people should continue to self-monitor for any symptoms and get tested immediately if any develop.

They should also avoid visiting settings with vulnerable populations, such as nursing homes, correctional facilities and shelters during that 14-day period.

For people who have been fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to a possible exposure, Public Health recommends they monitor for symptoms for 14 days after the possible exposure and get a COVID lab test if symptoms develop.

They do not need to isolate while they wait for their test results.

If they do not have symptoms, they can pick up a rapid test kit and do not need to isolate.

What to do if you have a symptom

People concerned they might have COVID-19 can take a self-assessment test online.

Public Health says symptoms of the illness have included a fever above 38 C, a new or worsening cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, a new onset of fatigue and difficulty breathing.

In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.

People with one of those symptoms should stay at home, call 811 or their doctor and follow instructions.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story identified O'Bon Soins nursing home as a facility where COVID-19 was found. In fact, O'Bon Soins has not had any reported cases.
    Dec 08, 2021 12:45 PM AT

With files from Michel Corriveau, Jacques Poitras and Information Morning Fredericton

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