N.B. COVID-19 roundup: 160 new cases, 11 of them Omicron variant
In-person learning to continue at all alert levels, except in level 3 based on Public Health advice
- Outbreak at Dumont hospital
- Breakdown of cases
- Outbreak at Shediac jail
- Outbreaks on 2 more units at Miramichi hospital
- New case in Moncton Hospital outbreak
- Maritime Junior Hockey League postpones 14 games in N.B., N.S.
- First come, first served seating for Sea Dogs games
- Atlantic COVID roundup
- Public exposure notices
New Brunswick has 160 new cases of COVID-19, including another 11 cases of the Omicron variant, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced Wednesday.
This brings the total number of active cases in the province to a record-high of 1,141, and total number of the new, highly transmissible variant cases to 14.
"We know there will be many more," said Shephard.
Omicron is at least 30 per cent more transmissible than the delta variant, she said, and its doubling time is roughly every two days.
"It's going to kick our butt."
Shephard told reporters she could not say where the new omicron cases are located. "I don't have the zones because we actually just got confirmation at one o'clock."
She was also unable to provide any details about the condition of these individuals, or the first three cases confirmed on Monday, or say whether any of them are under 19. "We can try to follow up."
Shephard did say children and teens now represent the largest group among daily new infections, and it has been a challenge to slow the spread among them.
"But it's very important for kids to be in school," she told a COVID briefing.
"We want to be sure there is an appropriate plan in place that will keep our kids healthy and safe while they learn."
Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy announced details at the briefing about the province's plans for schools and child-care centres in the new year. The plans provide facilities with direction on operations, in alignment with the province's COVID-19 winter plan three-level alert system.
New Brunswick will continue with in-person learning at every level of the plan, except in level 3, when exceptions may be made, based on Public Health advice, Cardy said.
"So if Public Health say that we need to close a school, we will do that. But this is a plan of how we keep schools open and safe," he said, noting this applies to early learning and child-care centres as well.
The province is also expanding the rapid testing program for schools.
"Any time a case is confirmed in a school, all students in a K to 8 school, unvaccinated students in a high school, as well as all close contacts throughout the system will be required to rapid test daily, regardless of their vaccination status," said Cardy.
"Regular rapid testing may also be required at schools in communities experiencing severe outbreaks in level 2 or 3, even if a case hasn't been confirmed at that school."
In addition, the province will hold a "holiday testing blitz" for all students, said Shephard. This will help to quickly identify new infections and slow the spread, she said.
Students in kindergarten through Grade 6 will each be supplied with two rapid testing kits over the holidays, while those in grades 7 through 12 will each get one kit because they will not be out of school as long as the younger children.
On Wednesday morning, Cardy told the legislature that the government may "move toward online learning if we have to, despite all the drawbacks that entails."
"We're looking at a situation here ... that is, in many ways, what we feared would come toward us in March of 2020."
We are in a time of making the least-worst choices, not making good choices.- Dominic Cardy, education minister
New Brunswick announced its first three confirmed cases of Omicron on Monday — one in the Moncton region, Zone 1, and two in the Miramichi region, Zone 7.
They are linked to the recent outbreak at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said.
Three cases announced in Prince Edward Island on Tuesday have also been linked to the St. FX outbreak. The first case confirmed in Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday is related to travel within Canada.
"The preliminary information that we're receiving around the Omicron variant is that it is significantly more risky for children compared to the previous editions," Cardy told the legislature.
Shephard said early studies show a 25 per cent increase in hospitalizations in children.
"Omicron changes the water on the beans," she said. "I don't know how to express it more emphatically than that.
"When the spread is happening in our younger population, and the spread is going to happen to our older population because of that, we have to take measures in order to protect everyone."
Among the other measures under Level 1 for schools:
- Class groupings will be used for students in kindergarten to Grade 8
- Masks will be required indoors
- Masks will be required outdoors, with exceptions for K-8 students who are within their grouping
- There will be limited singing and limited use of wind instruments
- Visitors will be limited
For early learning and after-school child-care facilities, Level 1 measures include:
- Children will be in groups of no more than 20
- Children aged two and under will not be required to wear masks
- Children aged three to five will be required to wear masks when not in their group
- Children five and older and staff will be required to wear masks unless eating or drinking
- There will be limited singing and limited use of wind instruments
- Visitors will be limited
Guidelines also provide direction to schools and facilities on extracurricular activities, sports, spectators, physical education, field trips, and the use of school spaces such as the cafeteria, auditoriums, and community use of schools. The full plan is available online.
Michelle Conroy, the People's Alliance MLA for Miramichi, challenged the government's decision earlier this week to suspend all sports and organized activities for children under 12.
She stressed the importance of these extracurricular activities to the physical, mental and emotional health of youth and asked the education minister whether cancelling them is going to slow down the spread of the virus more than employing enhanced safety protocols.
Cardy said the province is seeing spread within schools despite safety measures, and noted some other provinces, states and countries where Omicron has been confirmed have reached the point where schools that have no cases in the morning are shut down by the end of the day.
"I don't want to for a moment minimize … the negative impacts of this," he said. "We are in a time of making the least-worst choices, not making good choices."
Outbreak at Dumont hospital
A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared on the nephrology unit (4F) of the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton after two patients and a health-care worker tested positive, the Vitalité Health Network announced Wednesday.
An exposure notice for the unit had been issued on Dec. 7 after the first positive case was detected.
There are also outbreaks at the Moncton Hospital, Saint John Regional Hospital, and Miramichi Regional Hospital.
Vitalité has implemented full infection prevention and control precautions, such as increased cleaning, as well as regular screening and contact tracing, according to a news release.
"For the moment, the outbreak is not directly impacting the care and services being delivered," it said.
Designated support persons are not allowed to visit patients on the nephrology unit until further notice and existing
restrictions on visits remain in effect on other units.
Breakdown of cases
The 160 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed Wednesday are spread across all seven health regions.
Here is the breakdown:
- Moncton region, Zone 1 — 15 cases
- Saint John region, Zone 2 — 59 cases
- Fredericton region, Zone 3 — 46 cases
- Edmundston region, Zone 4 — four cases
- Campbellton region, Zone 5 — four cases
- Bathurst region, Zone 6 — three cases
- Miramichi region, Zone 7 — 29 cases
The province has stopped providing a further breakdown of the cases, including ages and origins, in its daily updates, directing people instead to its "enhanced" COVID-19 dashboard.
The previous record-high for active cases in the province was 1,103 on Oct. 14.
Forty-two people are in hospital with COVID-19, a decrease of two, including 14 in intensive care. Six of them are on ventilators.
Six of the people hospitalized were initially admitted for other reasons and contracted COVID-19 due to outbreaks at hospitals at Moncton Hospital, Saint John Regional Hospital and Miramichi Regional Hospital, Public Health said in a news release. Most of these people are exhibiting "mild to moderate symptoms," it said.
It's unclear how the province defines "mild to moderate" and Shephard could not immediately provide an answer Wednesday.
A total of 82.4 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers are fully vaccinated against COVID, unchanged, 88.9 per cent have received their first dose, up from 88.7 per cent, and 10.2 per cent of those eligible have received a booster dose, up from 9.6.
As of Wednesday, 31 per cent of children aged five to 11 have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and more than 17,000 appointments are scheduled for that age group.
New Brunswick has had 9,973 confirmed cases of the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, with 8,686 recoveries so far and 144 COVID-related deaths.
A total of 585,259 tests have been conducted to date, including 2,355 on Tuesday.
Outbreaks on 2 more units at Miramichi hospital
COVID-19 outbreaks have been declared on two more units at the Miramichi hospital — 4 East alternate level of care and 2 West medical stepdown unit, the Horizon Health Network announced Wednesday evening.
On Tuesday, one patient and two health-care workers on 4 East tested positive, according to a news release. Contact tracing was completed and a second inpatient case was identified on 2 West.
"All patients have been isolated to their rooms, enhanced cleaning has been implemented, contact tracing is ongoing and patients are being monitored closely for COVID-19 symptoms," the release said.
Patients and health-care workers on affected units are being tested. No patients will be admitted to or transferred from these units during this time.
There are now three units at the hospital with COVID outbreaks. On Nov. 27, an outbreak was declared on the intensive care unit and family practice unit (2 West) after one patient tested positive. Surgeries, procedures and treatments have been affected by that outbreak, as staff were needed to open and sustain a second ICU, Horizon has said.
"It is critically important for New Brunswickers to get tested for COVID-19 when they experience any symptoms, even mild ones." Horizon stressed.
"If you are displaying symptoms of COVID-19, complete the self-assessment by visiting gnb.ca/coronavirus or [call] Tele-Care 811."
The hospital will continue to provide essential services, including surgeries, labour and birth services, palliative care, ambulatory care and professional services and Horizon will notify the public of any temporary service closures or interruptions.
The public is urged to visit the emergency department only in emergencies, Horizon said.
Existing visitor restrictions remain in place and the designated support person (DSP) program on the affected units is suspended.
New case in Moncton Hospital outbreak
Another patient has contracted COVID-19 in connection with outbreaks on five units at the Moncton Hospital, the Horizon Health Network told CBC News on Wednesday.
A patient on the family practice and geriatric unit, Unit 5100, tested positive since the last update on Dec. 9, said spokesperson Kris McDavid.
A total of 44 cases — 33 patients and 11 staff — have now been confirmed in these outbreaks, which began on Nov. 22.
There are two active patient cases, including the new case, said McDavid.
On the family medicine and palliative care unit, Unit 3600, patients were expected to be retested Wednesday and again on Dec. 22. "Pending all negative results, [the] outbreak can be declared over Dec. 24," he said in an email.
On the rehabilitation unit, Unit 4400, patients are scheduled to be retested Thursday, Dec. 22, Dec. 29, and Jan. 4. If all these results are negative, the outbreak on this unit can be declared over on Jan. 5, McDavid said.
On the COVID-19 unit, Unit 6600, a "large number" of staff underwent rapid testing Tuesday and all tested negative, he said. "Staff will continue to be tested."
No new cases have been identified at the Saint John Regional Hospital or at the Ridgewood Veterans Wing in Saint John, but outbreaks remain in place for 28 days following the most recent positive case, said McDavid. He did not indicate when that will be.
Two patients tested positive in the outbreaks at the hospital's orthopedic surgery (3CS) and internal medicine (4CN) units and three staff tested positive at the veterans wing.
Outbreak at Shediac jail
A COVID-19 outbreak was "recently" declared at the Southeast Regional Correctional Centre in Shediac, the Department of Justice and Public Safety confirmed to CBC News on Wednesday.
Thirty-two cases have been confirmed to date — 28 inmates and four staff, said department spokesperson Geoffrey Downey.
He did not say whether any of them involve the omicron variant, or how many other people are isolating because they've been identified as close contacts.
"Operations are stable," he said in an emailed statement.
"Movement in two of the units has been modified and court appearances are being held virtually to help contain the spread."
Another round of mass testing is scheduled for Thursday.
The facility is following Public Health guidelines and protocols, and staff are all fully vaccinated, said Downey. He did not say what the vaccination rate is among inmates.
There was an outbreak declared at the jail in August involving the alpha variant. At least 10 people tested positive in that outbreak.
Maritime Junior Hockey League postpones 14 games in N.B., N.S.
The Maritime Junior Hockey League (MHL) is postponing 14 regular season games in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, citing Public Health rules that take effect on Friday.
The affected games include all those between Dec. 17 and Jan. 2, according to a news release.
A decision regarding the Dec. 30 game between the Campbellton Tigers and Summerside Western Capitals in Summerside is pending, it said.
Earlier this week, New Brunswick announced professional sporting events can only operate at 50 per cent capacity with physical distancing between groups as part of new COVID-19 measures aimed at slowing the spread of the omicron variant.
"The MHL will continue discussions with Public Health officials in all three Maritime provinces in the days and weeks ahead," the news release said.
A decision on games scheduled after Jan. 2 will be made at a future date.
When the postponed games are rescheduled, an announcement will be made.
On Nov. 30, the league announced a player with the Miramichi Timberwolves tested positive for COVID, which led to two games being postponed. A few days later, a player with the Fredericton Red Wings also tested positive, which postponed another game.
First come, first served seating for Sea Dogs games
Starting Saturday, when Saint John Sea Dogs attendance is restricted to 50 per cent capacity under new Public Health measures, fans will be seated on a first come, first served basis, not based on the seats on their tickets.
The only exceptions will be for those who require accommodation for mobility issues and disabilities, the team said in a news release Wednesday.
"If you are concerned about seating, we strongly suggest arriving early to select your seats."
All patrons 12 or older must be double vaccinated and have a valid government ID to enter TD Station, a team spokesperson said.
This does not apply to younger children because those aged five to 11 only recently became eligible to receive their first dose, and those under five are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, the spokesperson said.
Under the revised seating plan at TD Station, seats will be sectioned off and social distanced.
Fans will be required to socially distance from those outside of their group. "This means one row to the front and behind, and three seats in between each group," according to the release.
Social distancing must be maintained at all times and masks must be worn at all times.
All concessions will be closed.
No one will be allowed in the lobby except to enter and exit the building, and the pedway will be closed 1 ½ hours before and 1 ½ hours following each game.
Atlantic COVID roundup
Nova Scotia reported 178 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. Due to a backlog in entering case data into Panorama, the province's public health information system, it's unclear how many active cases are in the province. Six people are in hospital with COVID-19, including two in intensive care.
Newfoundland and Labrador reported 13 new cases Wednesday and confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant. The province has 34 active cases of COVID-19.
Prince Edward Island reported three cases on Tuesday and has 36 active cases.
Public exposure notices
Public Health has listed a number of possible public exposure notices Wednesday, including a restaurant in the Moncton region, Zone 1, a hospital ambulatory clinic in the Saint John region, Zone 2, gyms, a library and restaurants in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, and a convenience store, furniture store and coffee shop 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.