N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Saint John region to return to yellow level, Miramichi to get first vaccine doses
Miramichi Regional Hospital will get first shipment of vaccine, priority recipient list revealed
- Saint John region returns to yellow at midnight Thursday
- Miramichi hospital will get first vaccine shipment
- List of priority recipients of vaccine released
- Outbreak declared at Edmundston hospital
The Saint John region will return to the yellow level of COVID-19 recovery at midnight and the Miramichi Regional Hospital will be the first distribution site for the COVID-19 vaccine, government officials announced on Thursday.
The news comes as four new cases of the respiratory disease have been confirmed in the province and an outbreak has been declared at the Edmundston Regional Hospital, which involves six cases.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, said it's exciting to have the entire province back at the less restrictive yellow level.
"We have accomplished this feat while other jurisdictions have struggled to cope with the pandemic's second wave," she said.
Some provinces are seeing thousands of new cases every day, their hospitals are overwhelmed by the sick and dying, and community spread of COVID-19 continues unchecked, said Russell.
"But please remember, yellow means caution," she said during a news conference in Fredericton. "Everyone will still have to take great care to prevent the spread of COVID-19 so that we can maintain this enviable record."
In the yellow level of recovery, people are no longer required to stick to a one-household bubble and informal indoor gatherings of up to 20 people are permitted.
"The fewer the better," said Russell, adding that it's "vitally important" people are consistent about the close circle family and friends with whom they spend time without wearing a mask or maintaining physical distance.
This will slow the spread of the virus, she said. "It will make it easier to contact close contacts when outbreaks happen, and will help keep outbreaks as short and as small as possible, and hopefully prevent zones from going back into orange."
She recommends people stick with "a steady 20 for 2020" to avoid a spike in cases after holiday gatherings.
Russell said the outbreak in the Saint John region (Zone 2) is not over, but she's been "very pleased" with the progress since it was bumped back to the more restrictive orange level at midnight Nov. 20.
The growth in new cases has "slowed significantly," thanks largely to public compliance to Public Health measures, and the testing backlog has been addressed.
All the cases are linked either directly or indirectly to a positive case in the Moncton region (Zone 1) who travelled to the Saint John region, she said.
Public Health is not aware of any new cases of community transmission.
"We remain concerned about the ongoing outbreak at [Shannex] Parkland Saint John, but we are confident that it has been brought under control with a reduced risk of further spread among residents and the wider community," she said.
1 new case at Shannex nursing home
Another round of testing at the Shannex Tucker Hall nursing home has confirmed another positive case in a non-employee who has been helping out during the outbreak there, said Russell.
That brings the total number of cases at the Shannex Parkland complex to 18 — six employees, one non-employee and 11 residents.
More tests will be conducted on Friday, she said.
New case at school
Another school confirmed a positive COVID-19 case Thursday evening.
In an email to parents, Anglophone School District West superintendent David McTimoney said contact tracing will take place at Saint Mary's Academy, a K-12 school in Edmundston, has one case.
"If you are not contacted by Public Health, then it has been deemed you are not a close contact of the individual who has been confirmed as positive and you can continue with regular activities, including returning to school when it resumes, said McTimoney.
He said Friday classes are cancelled so tracing can happen.
4 new cases reported on Thursday
The four new cases in the province include one person in their 30s in the Saint John region. The other three cases are in the Edmundston region (Zone 4): one person in their 20s, one person in their 30s and one person in their 40s.
All of the cases are self-isolating and under investigation.
New Brunswick now has 75 active cases of COVID-19 and four people hospitalized, three of whom are in intensive care, said Russell.
The active cases include: eight in the Moncton region (Zone 1), 37 in the Saint John region (Zone 2), 17 in the Fredericton region (Zone 3), 10 in the Edmundston region (Zone 4), and three in the Bathurst region (Zone 6).
New Brunswick has had 546 confirmed cases since the pandemic began in March. Seven people have died and 464 people have recovered.
A total of 136,559 tests have been completed to date, including 1,293 on Wednesday.
The state of emergency mandatory order was renewed Thursday under the authority of the Emergency Measures Act.
Shephard details who will get vaccine first
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced the priority groups for the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday.
These groups include:
- Long-term care residents and staff.
- Staff from Provincial Rapid Outbreak Management Teams who respond to COVID-19 outbreaks.
- Extra-mural/Ambulance New Brunswick staff.
- Health-care workers.
- First Nations nurses.
- Seniors 85 or older.
The provincial government used the federal government's priority list as a guideline, said Shephard. "For the most part, we're respecting it."
"This is where we felt the priority really needed to lie and the opportunities that we had in the community.|
The 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will arrive within the next week, with a second shipment before the end of the year, said Greg MacCallum, director of the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization, who is leading the rollout of the vaccine.
It takes two doses of the Pfizer vaccine to immunize someone against the virus.
The first shipment of the "precious commodity" will be delivered under secure control to the Miramichi Regional Hospital, said MacCallum.
It was chosen based on its central location, both geographically and between the province's two regional health authorities, he said. People from anywhere in the province can travel to the hospital within two or three hours.
The first group of recipients will have to travel to Miramichi to get vaccinated because the vaccine must be kept cold while it's distributed.
An ultra-low temperature freezer has been installed at the hospital to keep the vaccine stored at -80 C.
About 400 long-term care home residents will be vaccinated in the first round, said MacCallum. The number of people from each of the other priority groups is still being finalized.
MacCallum said he realizes 1,950 may seem like a small number of doses in a province of roughly 700,000 people.
"I want to reassure people that it is the first step of a regular delivery schedule, which will immediately follow thereafter" and continue throughout 2021.
On Wednesday, the province successfully completed a "dry run" of the system to receive the first shipment.
As more doses are released to New Brunswick, MacCallum said there is no shortage of freezers to store the vaccine in other parts of the province.
The government is currently taking inventory of all available freezers and work is underway to ensure they're placed in optimal locations to facilitate "a much more even and equal distribution" of the vaccine.
A former New Brunswicker who owns a tuna processing facility on Prince Edward Island has offered to loan two of his lab-grade freezers to the New Brunswick government to store the Pfizer vaccine.
MacCallum said the government is going to get more details from the "kind gentleman" and factor that into its considerations.
"If we identify a need for it, we'll certainly be in direct communication with him about that very generous offer."
Another vaccine by Moderna, which is expected to be approved by Health Canada in the "near future," will be easier to transport and distribute more widely, he said.
A total of seven different vaccines will eventually be rolled out, said Russell.
Visits suspended at Edmundston hospital
Visitation to the Edmundston Regional Hospital has suspended immediately until further notice, the Vitalité Health Network announced Thursday. The only exceptions are for palliative care, maternity and pediatrics.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell told reporters at the end the 2:30 p.m. COVID-19 news conference that an outbreak has been declared at the hospital.
Two patients are in intensive care, three health-care workers who worked in that unit have been diagnosed and a third patient was admitted on Thursday, she said.
"Outbreaks are a stark reminder that this virus is still present in New Brunswick and we need to be extremely cautious," Russell later said in a written statement.
Public Health is working with Vitalité to control the disease and is conducting contact tracing.
Earlier in the day, Vitalité CEO Dr. France Desrosiers issued a statement saying visitation was suspended "due to possible COVID-19 contamination within the facility."
"We are currently in the process of investigating the situation," she said.
Patients with appointments at the hospital Thursday can still attend their appointments, unless the facility contacts them beforehand, the news release said. They should continue to follow Public Health measures, including wearing a mask, handwashing and physical distancing.
People are asked not to visit the emergency department "except in extremely urgent cases."
"We regret any inconvenience that this temporary measure [may] cause and we thank you for your understanding," the statement said.
Potential public exposures on flights
Public Health added two flights to its list of possible exposures on Wednesday:
- Air Canada Flight 865 on Dec. 6 from London to Montreal, arrived at 4:20 p.m.
- Air Canada Flight 8792 on Dec. 6 from Montreal to Saint John, arrived at 9:20 p.m.
Already on the list:
- Air Canada Flight 8372 on Nov. 28 from Fort McMurray to Calgary, departed 6:10 a.m
- Air Canada Flight 144 on Nov. 28 from Calgary to Toronto, departed at 11:15 a.m.
- Air Canada Flight 8918 on Nov. 28 from Toronto to Moncton, departed at 8:30 p.m.
What to do if you have a symptom
People concerned they might have COVID-19 symptoms can take a self-assessment test online.
Public Health says symptoms shown by people with COVID-19 have included:
A fever above 38 C.
A new cough or worsening chronic cough.
New onset of fatigue, muscle pain, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell.
In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.
People with one of those symptoms should:
Stay at home.
Call Tele-Care 811 or their doctor.
Describe symptoms and travel history.
With files from Jacques Poitras