N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Edmundston region bumped to orange level, eighth person has died
24 Edmundston hospital employees in isolation, eight new cases reported Friday
- Edmundston region rolls back to orange at midnight
- Eighth person has died
- Eight new cases Friday, six of them in Edmundston region
- Impact on hospital services
- Refresher on protocols for health-care workers
- City's sports facilities, activities affected
- Changes to mask rules
- 1 case at Edmundston school
- 78 active cases in New Brunswick
- Exposure notification
- Campobello ferry extended
The Edmundston region is being bumped back to the more restrictive orange level of COVID-19 recovery at midnight Friday because of a growing outbreak at the hospital that includes another death, the eighth in the province, the chief medical officer of health has announced.
Six of the eight new cases in the province are in the Edmundston region (Zone 4), said Dr. Jennifer Russell, and four of them are health-care workers at the Edmundston Regional Hospital. The region now has 15 active cases.
"We have seen a rapid increase in the number of cases over the past week, a doubling of case counts within five days and a positivity rate from testing that is well above the provincial average," she said.
A person in their 60s died Friday as a result of underlying complications, including COVID-19.
Seven health-care workers at the hospital are infected, up from three Thursday when the outbreak was announced, and at least 24 are self-isolating to limit the spread of the virus.
This will impede the hospital's ability to respond, should there be more cases requiring hospitalization, said Russell.
The hospital is also considered a high-vulnerability setting where there is risk of transmission to the community, she said.
At the orange level, residents are restricted to a single-household bubble.
In-person faith services are limited to 50 participants or fewer, depending upon the size of the facility, based on two metres of physical distancing. Continuous mask wearing is required and no singing is permitted.
Asked whether there's any chance of people in the region celebrating the holidays at the yellow level since the estimated incubation period of the coronavirus is up to 14 days and Friday marked two weeks before Christmas, Russell replied, "Never say never."
"I think all we can do is do our best at this point in time and see how things go."
Most of the other outbreaks in the province have taken longer than two weeks to get under control, she said, but in some cases, it was less.
She encouraged everybody in the affected communities to "pull together, and we'll see what we can do all together."
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said the 14-day self-isolation rules for people coming into New Brunswick will not be changing before Christmas.
"If you are not already in New Brunswick and self-isolating, you should not be opening presents with your family on Christmas morning, nor should you be having Christmas dinner with your family on that day," she said.
"The risk is high," with more than 90 per cent of the province's cases being travel-related.
"If you don't follow the rules, if you don't self-isolate for 14 days as required, we could have surges of cases in January, and most likely will," said Shephard.
"Today's update serves as a reminder that the virus is still with us and that given the opportunity, it will spread quickly. Now is not the time to get complacent. There is a light at the end of the tunnel [with the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine expected next week and immunization expected to continue throughout 2021], but we're not quite there yet."
This is the first time the Edmundston region has been rolled back to the more restrictive orange level since the province came out of the spring lockdown.
The move comes the day after the Saint John region (Zone 2) was returned to the yellow level, which briefly saw the entire province at the less restrictive level.
Russell said the source of the Edmundston outbreak has been traced back to two index cases, both of which are travel-related. Each has created a "cluster."
She declined to provide any other details, such as whether the individuals failed to self-isolate, citing confidentiality and the ongoing investigation.
"I can say that there is no community transmission," she said.
On Thursday, Russell said three health-care workers who worked in intensive care had been diagnosed with the respiratory disease, two COVID-19 patients were in intensive care and a third patient had been admitted to hospital.
A "massive screening" of employees at the hospital began Thursday and could continue into Sunday, the Vitalité Health Network said in a statement.
Twenty-four employees are isolating either because they've tested positive for COVID-19 or have been in close contact with a confirmed or potential case, it said.
The health minister said Vitalité was sending resources from hospitals in the northern region to help.
Impact on hospital services
Some ambulatory care services and elective surgeries will be temporarily reduced at the Edmundston Regional Hospital, Grand Falls General Hospital and the Hôtel-Dieu-Saint-Joseph de Saint-Quentin, the Vitalité Health Network announced Friday.
"These measures allow us to continue our investigative work while preparing for a potential influx of COVID-19 patients," president and CEO Dr. France Desrosiers said in a statement.
Zone 4 residents with hospital appointments are asked to present themselves at their scheduled date and time, unless they are contacted to reschedule.
The emergency departments at the three hospitals remain open, but Vitalité requests that people whose health condition does not require urgent care make an appointment with their family doctor or nurse practitioner, consult with their community pharmacist, visit a walk-in clinic or call Tele-Care (811) instead.
Visits to the three hospitals are prohibited, with some exceptions.
Visits will be restricted to one designated visitor per patient at the obstetric, pediatric and intensive care units and to two designated visitors (one at a time) for palliative care (end-of-life) patients.
For patients who will receive medical assistance in dying, the presence of two designated visitors will be allowed (one at a time), except in exceptional cases where one of the visitors would require assistance to go to the patient's bedside.
Refresher on protocols for health-care workers
Dr. John Tobin, head of the family medicine department at the Edmundston Regional Hospital, said the outbreak is like "a slap in the face."
"We did not see it coming," he said. "We thought we had put in place all the safeguards that we had to have. There's a loophole somewhere. We're trying to find the loophole and see what exactly happened."
Everything possible is being done to prevent the spread of the virus, said Tobin.
The New Brunswick Nurses Union said it's working closely with its members at the hospital to ensure they have the proper equipment and are adequately protected.
Having access to the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is imperative, said president Paula Doucet, as is the support and training for proper donning and doffing of PPE.
"It is disappointing that we haven't learned more lessons from the first wave to ensure safety for our members and all health care workers on the front lines providing care under already difficult situations," she said in a statement.
The province's chief medical officer of health took issue with that statement. Dr. Jennifer Russell said there has been an updating of protocols and a lot of work done with all health professionals in both regional health authorities since the first wave of the pandemic.
At the Edmundston hospital, "they just did a refresher class to remind them how to apply all the protocols to fight this infection," she said.
City's sports facilities, activities affected
The City of Edmundston issued a statement Friday to reassure citizens that all basic services are maintained at the orange level of COVID-19 recovery.
If municipal facilities need to close, citizens will be notified via the city's website, media and social media, it said.
There are, however, some changes to sports facilities and activities.
Skating sessions, including family, warm-up and recreational, are cancelled because it's not possible to maintain the distance guidelines.
The free field hockey sessions are cancelled because of physical distancing requirements.
Public swimming is cancelled.
The climbing facility is closed.
Racket sports must be practised in singles only.
The showers and locker rooms in the Sports Pavilion are no longer accessible.
A physical distance of two metres and a mask are mandatory for low-intensity activities such as walking, yoga and stretching; and a physical distance of three metres is mandatory for high-intensity activities such as cardio, dance and aerobics.
Changes to mask rules
The chief medical officer of health announced changes Friday to mask rules.
People in regions at the orange and red alert levels of COVID-19 recovery will only be required to wear a mask in outdoor public spaces in situations where two metres of physical distance cannot be maintained, said Dr. Jennifer Russell.
Public Health has determined that if a person is outdoors and able to maintain physical distancing, the risk of transmission is minimal, she said.
Outdoor public spaces include parks, playgrounds, markets, festival sites, dog parks and walking trails.
Wearing a mask in indoor public spaces continues to be required in all alert levels.
In addition, masks are no longer required at a drive-thru in yellow zones, said Russell. But people in orange and red zones still have to be masked at a drive-thru.
1 case at Edmundston school
Nearly 200 students in Edmundston are off Friday after a positive case of COVID-19 was confirmed at Saint Mary's Academy.
Anglophone West School District superintendent David McTimoney notified parents in an email Thursday.
"Whereas we have found this out late in the day and to allow for the proper response, school is cancelled," he said.
Public Health will conduct contact tracing at the K-12 school, which has 177 students, according to its website.
"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.
The memo does not indicate if the person diagnosed is a student, teacher, staff member or someone else, only that it's an individual "associated with" the school.
To date, no student-to-student transmission has been determined in any school, Public Health said Friday.
78 active cases
The new cases of COVID-19 in the Edmundston region include one person in their 30s, one person in their 40s, three people in their 50s and one person in their 60s. They are under investigation.
The two other cases confirmed Friday include one person in their 30s in the Fredericton region (Zone 3) and one person in their 60s in the Bathurst region (Zone 6).
Both of these cases are travel-related and self-isolating, said Russell.
New Brunswick now has a total of 78 active cases. Four people are in hospital, three of whom are in intensive care.
The active cases include: eight in the Moncton region (Zone 1), 33 in the Saint John region (Zone 2), 18 in the Fredericton region (Zone 3), 15 in the Edmundston region (Zone 4), and four in the Bathurst region (Zone 6).
New Brunswick has had 554 confirmed cases since the pandemic began in March and 468 people have recovered.
A total of 137,234 tests have been completed to date, including 675 on Thursday.
Public Health added three new flights Friday to its list of possible exposures. A person who has tested positive may have been infectious while travelling on Dec. 4 on the following flights:
- Air Canada flight 8372 from Fort McMurray to Calgary.
- Air Canada flight 144 from Calgary to Toronto.
- Air Canada flight 8918 from Toronto to Moncton.
Anyone who travelled on these flights should "continue to follow the directives given to them during the travel registration process and when they entered New Brunswick," the advisory said.
Campobello ferry extended
The Campobello ferry run has been extended until Jan. 10 to "offer appropriate coverage for the holiday season," the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure announced on Friday.
Without ferry service, Campobello Island — located in the Bay of Fundy off the province's southwest coast — is only accessible by crossing a bridge from Maine.
The ferry, which usually only operates from late June until September, connects Campobello Island to Deer Island, where people can take a year-round ferry to mainland New Brunswick.
The ferry is privately owned and operated by East Coast Ferries Ltd.
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 Radio-Canada and Hadeel Ibrahim