N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Province moves to least restrictive Level 1 on Feb. 18
Premier Blaine Higgs says all restrictions could be removed by the end of March
- Protesters risk stiff penalties
- What's different under Level 1?
- Hospitalizations will 'rise modestly and then stabilize'
- Changes to isolation, testing requirements
- 6 more deaths, marks 47 in 12 days, since move to Level 2
- Campbellton Tigers hit with 8 positive cases
New Brunswick will move to Level 1, the least restrictive level of the COVID-19 winter plan, on Feb. 18 at 11:59 p.m., Premier Blaine Higgs announced Wednesday, as the province recorded six more COVID-related deaths.
The decision was based on the advice of Public Health, he said.
By the end of the winter, he hopes to lift all COVID restrictions, he told a COVID briefing, later defining that as the end of March.
Hospitalizations will need to decrease as projected to ensure the health-care system is not placed under "unnecessary strain," Higgs said.
But the end of the mandates "is definitely in sight," he said.
"When we make that decision, it will be based on science, as all of our COVID-19 decisions have been."
This easing of restrictions has nothing to do with the so-called Freedom Convoy being organized in Fredericton this weekend, Higgs stressed.
I think letting it seem as though protests have brought us to this point undervalues the sacrifice made by New Brunswickers to get us this far.- Blaine Higgs, premier
"It is something that we have been working towards, and I think letting it seem as though protests have brought us to this point undervalues the sacrifice made by New Brunswickers to get us this far."
The protest, being promoted on social media, calls on participants to gather at the provincial legislature, starting Friday at 1 p.m. "Come together & grid lock Fredericton while our fellow NB Freedom Fighters hold the line in Ottawa."
It also tells participants to "be prepared to sleep in your vehicle & and ride this out."
Higgs said he understands people are "frustrated" with how COVID has affected their lives. He's "equally frustrated," he said.
"People have the right to protest if the protest is peaceful, legal and safe," he said.
Certain actions, such as those seen at the 13-day protest gripping the nation's capital, where a state of emergency has been declared, however, are "unacceptable."
Protesters risk stiff penalties
New Brunswick has amended its emergency order to prohibit the use of vehicles or other objects to partially or completely block traffic on any road or highway in the province.
Anyone participating in, financing, organizing or aiding in the interruption of traffic flow, including delivering food, drink, fuel or other supplies to anyone who is interrupting traffic flow, will face fines ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 per person, per incident, he said.
For corporations that participate, the fines will range from $20,000 to $100,000.
In addition, anyone convicted of using a vehicle to block or restrict the flow of traffic will lose their driver's licence for a year, and the registered owner and insurer of the vehicle will be notified.
Abandoned vehicles can also be seized.
Earlier this week, Higgs told CBC News he hoped an announcement about loosened restrictions would "take the steam out of" any planned protests of COVID mandates.
On Wednesday, he reiterated that he believes it will be enough to persuade at least those he described as "moderates" from participating.
"I'm hopeful it'll make a difference, but I guess it remains to be seen over the coming days."
What's different under Level 1?
New Brunswick has been at Level 2 of the COVID-19 winter plan, the middle level, since Jan. 28 at 11:59 p.m. It spent the previous two weeks at the most restrictive Level 3 at the request of the regional health authorities, to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed by soaring Omicron cases.
Among the changes under the least restrictive Level 1, household gatherings will be limited to a maximum of any 20 people, and outdoor informal gatherings will be limited to a maximum of any 50 people. There is no longer a requirement for a household to have a steady number of contacts.
Businesses that were required to reduce their capacity to 50 per cent under Level 2, including entertainment centres, gyms and restaurants, will return to full capacity under Level 1, but must continue to require proof of full vaccination. Spas and salons must require proof of vaccination or maintain physical distancing between patrons. Physical distancing will no longer be required at gyms or entertainment centres.
Retail businesses can also open to full capacity with physical distancing.
Under Level 1 revisions, singing in places of worship will now be permitted, even if proof of full vaccination or medical exemption is not required. However, if attendees are not required to show proof of vaccination, faith venues must still operate at 50 per cent capacity, ensure physical distancing is in place, and collect names of attendees by row or have an assigned seating plan.
Masks will still be mandatory in all indoor public places, as well as outdoor public places when physical distancing can't be maintained.
Starting Feb. 11 at 11:59 p.m., Level 2 guidance for recreation and sport guidance will change to allow children aged five to 11 to play with a two-team bubble until Level 1 rules kick in.
Hospitalizations will 'rise modestly and then stabilize'
Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said the latest wave of the pandemic is beginning to loosen its grip on the province.
"While the virus continues to infect many New Brunswickers and our health care system remains under strain, we are seeing the first signs that the Omicron wave is slowing down."
In the past 10 days, the province has seen daily admissions to hospital due to COVID-19 — "a key indicator of the prevalence of serious illness due to the virus — level off and begin to decline," she said, without disclosing the number.
There are 139 people in hospital, down from a peak of 165 last week, and the number of health-care workers off the job after testing positive for COVID has also "stabilized."
"This means our hospitals will be better positioned to handle the current caseload, as well as any increase in cases that may follow a reduction of Public Health measures," Russell said.
As of Wednesday, 329 health-care workers are isolating, an increase of four from Tuesday, the COVID dashboard shows, including 178 at the Horizon Health Network, 113 at the Vitalité Health Network and 38 at Extra-Mural/Ambulance New Brunswick.
If the province were to move to Level 1 now, projections indicate there would be a "significant spike" in hospitalizations, said Russell. But by waiting another week, hospitalizations will "rise modestly and then stabilize," she said.
Russell also announced COVID-19 vaccine boosters are available to immunocompromised teens aged 12 to 17, if 28 days have passed since their second dose, as well as healthy teens aged 12 to 17, with consent, as long as five months have passed since their second dose.
In addition, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Comirnaty is now available as a booster to New Brunswickers 30 and older, said Russell.
The province had temporarily reserved the vaccine to people under 30 because of a national shortage and "evidence that the risk of myocarditis/pericarditis for this age group is decreased with the Pfizer vaccine as opposed to Moderna." But supply issues have now been resolved, she said.
"While there is no difference in risks between the vaccines for people who are 30 and older, we understand that some people may prefer to receive the same vaccine for all three doses," Russell said in a statement.
"Now that we have more doses of the Pfizer booster available, we are able to offer it to more New Brunswickers without worrying about running out of vaccine for younger people."
People who already have booster appointments booked to receive the Moderna Spikevax vaccine are urged to keep them to ensure everyone who needs a booster shot will get one in a timely way without wasting any vaccine doses.
Changes to isolation, testing requirements
The province has also changed its isolation and testing requirements.
People with one of the following symptoms should isolate and get tested for COVID-19:
- Loss of sense of taste
- Loss of sense of smell
People with two or more of the following symptoms should isolate and get tested for COVID-19:
- A new cough or worsening chronic cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- New onset of fatigue
- Purple markings on fingers or toes of children
If people have only one of these symptoms, they should self-monitor and seek testing if other symptoms emerge, said Russell.
The exception to this is if another person in your household has already tested positive for COVID-19. In that situation, people should seek testing if any one of these common symptoms emerge, even if it seems mild, she said, noting Omicron can spread very quickly within households.
6 deaths mark 47 in 12 days, since move to Level 2
The six deaths confirmed Wednesday mark 47 in 12 days, since the province returned to Level 2 from the most restrictive Level 3.
The latest deaths are spread across the province, the dashboard shows.
They include a person in their 60s in the Moncton region, Zone 1, a person in their 70s and another in their 90s in the Saint John region, Zone 2, a person in their 70s in the Edmundston region, Zone 4, a person in their 80s in the Bathurst region, Zone 6, and a person in their 80s in the Miramichi region, Zone 7.
During Wednesday's briefing, Premier Blaine Higgs addressed the recent increase in deaths. "I've asked the same question as many of you — why?"
A series of factors … played a role in the deaths of these people.- Blaine Higgs, premier
The Department of Health examined the deaths of 49 people between Dec 1, 2021 and Jan. 20, 2022. They all were either admitted to hospital for COVID-19 or tested positive after admission.
"A series of factors … played a role in the deaths of these people," Higgs said, citing age or a secondary illness as examples.
Of the 49 cases, 71 per cent were over the age of 70.
Of these, 71 per cent had only partial or no vaccine protection against COVID 19. The provinces defines "partial or no protection" as being fully vaccinated for more than six months, partially vaccinated or unvaccinated.
"For individuals with partial or no protection, approximately 73 per cent had directives in place, indicating their preference not to be resuscitated in certain circumstances," he said.
"For individuals who were fully protected through vaccination, 67 per cent had the same directives."
Of the 49 cases, Higgs also noted 76 per cent had at least one of the following conditions: hypertension, cardiovascular issues or diabetes.
"While the data helps us to better understand the shift in the numbers it is important for us to remember that these people are more than that. Each of these deaths represents a loss to our province, a loss for their family and friends. And I offer my sincere sympathies."
Hospitalizations decreased by 12 from Tuesday. Of the 139 people now in hospital, 62 were admitted for COVID-19, while the other 77 were originally admitted for something else when they tested positive for the virus, according to dashboard.
Fifteen people are in intensive care, a decrease of two, and seven of them are on ventilators, down one.
Among those in hospital, one person is aged 19 or under, and among those in ICU, one person is in their 20s.
The seven-day average of hospitalizations decreased to 156 from 159, while the seven-day average of the number of people in intensive care remained steady for a fifth day at 16.
Through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab tests, Public Health confirmed 321 new cases of COVID, putting the province's active case count at 3,315.
An additional 573 people self-reported testing positive on rapid tests.
The regional breakdown of PCR-confirmed cases includes:
Moncton region, Zone 1
108 new cases and 1,204 active cases
Saint John region, Zone 2
32 new cases and 700 active cases
Fredericton region, Zone 3
67 new cases and 520 active cases
Edmundston region, Zone 4
37 new cases and 303 active cases
Campbellton region, Zone 5
17 new cases and 115 active cases
Bathurst region, Zone 5
39 new cases and 305 active cases
Miramichi region, Zone 7
21 cases and 168 active cases
A total of 703,538 PCR tests have been conducted to date, including 1,909 on Tuesday.
As of Wednesday, 46.8 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have received their booster shot, up from 46.6 per cent, 85.6 per cent have received two doses of a vaccine, up from 85.5 per cent, and 92.4 per cent had received one dose, unchanged.
New Brunswick has had 31,597 cases of COVID since the beginning of the pandemic, with 28,005 recoveries so far and 275 COVID-related deaths.
Campbellton Tigers hit with 8 positive cases
The Campbellton Tigers team has eight positive cases of COVID-19, including players and staff, the Maritime Junior Hockey League announced Wednesday.
As a result, three games have been postponed, including Wednesday's game against the Fredericton Red Wings in Campbellton.
The affected players and staff are isolating, as required, according to a news release. No other details are being released for privacy reasons, the league said.
"The team continues to work with Public Health while following the MHL's Return to Play plan, and are continuing testing," the release said.
The other postponed games are:
- Feb. 12 - Miramichi at Campbellton
- Feb. 13 - Campbellton at Grand Falls
The MHL says it will release more information "if, and when, it is necessary."
The league says it's committed to ensuring the safety of players, fans, and team staff.