N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Province tightens restrictions as omicron variant now confirmed
3 cases of omicron confirmed and 4 more presumed, 2 deaths, 100 new cases
- Vaccination update
- Breakdown of new cases
- Contact tracing protocol changes coming
- 42 new cases confirmed in 29 schools across province
- 5 cases at 5 child-care facilities
- Atlantic COVID roundup
New Brunswick is tightening COVID-19 measures amid soaring COVID cases and, now, the confirmed presence of the highly transmissible omicron variant in the province.
One case has been confirmed in the Moncton region, Zone 1, and two cases in the Miramichi region, Zone 7, Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, announced Monday.
They are linked to the recent outbreak at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., following events related to the annual X-Ring ceremony at locations both on and off campus, she told a live briefing.
Four other cases in Zones 1 and 7 are directly linked to the confirmed three and presumed to be omicron, Russell said.
"We fully expect to see more."
The province has also recorded two more COVID-related deaths and 100 new cases of COVID-19.
A person in their 60s in the Moncton region and a person in their 70s in the Miramichi region have died as a result of the virus.
There are now 1,048 active cases, she said.
As a result, Premier Blaine Higgs announced new "interim measures" aimed at containing the spread of the virus and preventing hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
"I know that people are concerned, as am I," he said. "The holiday season is here and with more people gathering and socializing, it is vital that we work together to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our province, as we have done before, while still finding a balance of living with COVID."
The holiday break for students in kindergarten to Grade 6 will begin at the end of the day Friday, a week early, he said, noting "the majority" of cases are in children, and 50 to 60 per cent are related directly to activity in schools.
Extending the school break to three weeks will help reduce transmissions as health officials "get caught up" with vaccinations for this age group and will limit the number of children in a cluster when exposures occur said Higgs.
We very well, in the next few days, could go to a full Level 2, or beyond.- Blaine Higgs, premier
Asked why the province didn't start the holiday break early for all students, Higgs pointed out the K-6 students are not yet eligible for vaccination.
"That is the biggest difference — one group can be vaccinated and the younger ones can't."
All sports and organized activities for children under 12 will also be suspended, effective at 11:59 p.m. Monday. This includes all tournaments.
For those 12 and older, sporting competitions and games, including upcoming tournaments, are also suspended, effective at 11:59 p.m.
But practices and skill drills are permitted if they only involve one team at a time, and the organization has an operational plan that includes "reasonable effort to ensure distancing and sanitization."
Starting Friday at 11:59 p.m., people must limit their household contacts to a maximum of a steady 20.
Entertainment centres, such as movie theatres, professional sporting events and casinos, can operate at 50 per cent capacity with physical distancing.
Restaurants can continue to offer dine-in with two-metre distancing between tables.
These measures are less restrictive than moving to Level 2 of the winter plan, noted Higgs.
"We're going to try to manage it in increments," he said. "But we very well, in the next few days, could go to a full Level 2, or beyond."
'"We could be back here on Wednesday talking about a full Level 2."
New Brunswick has entered a new phase of the pandemic with the confirmed presence of omicron, said Russell.
It's at least 30 per cent more transmissible than the delta variant, and its doubling time is roughly every two days.
Omicron will "soon overtake" delta as the dominant strain in the province, she said.
"What we don't fully understand is the severity … It is not clear yet if it will lead to stronger or milder cases of infection."
But it appears people who have had COVID-19 can be reinfected with this variant.
It's more important than ever for people who are eligible to get their booster dose to maximize the effectiveness of their vaccine protection, Russell stressed.
Asked what the projections are for new cases and hospitalizations in the coming weeks, the province's top doctor said "it's a bit of a complicated question."
She confirmed the province uses federal modelling to come up with its own modelling, but said she doesn't know "how formal the modelling is.
"I have had verbal conversations with my epidemiologist, my team to discuss that."
She did say officials expect to see "second, third, fourth-generation transmission in the next four to eight days."
"We're very, very concerned here in the province, as well as the rest of the country," she added.
Asked whether any of the three confirmed cases are being treated in hospital, she said she didn't have "exact details" on their status. "We'll keep you posted on that."
Eligibility for booster doses will be expanded to those in their 40s "in the coming weeks," and then to all other New Brunswickers.
The province needs to increase its capacity first, said Health Minister Dorothy Shephard.
"So we are engaging with many different professions who have the ability to inject doses because we would like to see an expansion of another 50,000 spaces between now and the end of the year.
"We are determining now if we can make that happen," she said, "but we will most definitely be increasing capacity for the early, early, early New Year to ensure that we get as many boosters in arms as soon as possible."
As of Monday, 69,863 New Brunswickers, or 9.2 per cent of the eligible population, have received a booster dose.
"It's about where we expected it to be," said Shephard, but with omicron now confirmed in the province, efforts are being stepped up. Additional booster clinics will be available through regional health authority community COVID-19 vaccination clinics and at participating pharmacies.
A total of 82.3 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, unchanged, and 88.6 per cent have received their first dose, up from 88.4.
Among children aged five to 11, 28.1 per cent have received their first dose.
Breakdown of new cases
Forty-one people are in hospital with COVID-19, up from 39, including 14 in intensive care. Five of them are on a ventilator.
Of those in hospital, 23 are over the age of 60 and one is under 19.
Five of the people in hospital were initially admitted for other reasons and contracted COVID-19 due to outbreaks at the Moncton Hospital, Saint John Regional Hospital and Miramichi Regional Hospital.
"Most of these people are exhibiting mild to moderate symptoms," Public Health said in a news release.
If the number of hospitalizations and ICU admissions rises significantly, it will have an impact on all New Brunswickers, the health minister warned Monday.
"We know that our health-care system is fragile. We are all aware of its challenges and vulnerabilities," said Dorothy Shephard.
She noted some hospitals have already been forced to temporarily cut back on some services. "This is something we want to avoid as much as possible, so people can continue to have appointments and routine surgeries and treatments.
"Other jurisdictions have experienced a much worse situation in which health care professionals have been forced to make heartbreaking decisions about who to care for and who to turn away," she said. "This is something we must avoid at all costs in New Brunswick."
The 100 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed Monday are spread across all seven health regions.
The breakdown includes:
- Moncton region, Zone 1 — 12 cases
- Saint John region, Zone 2 —14 cases
- Fredericton region, Zone 3 — 52 cases
- Edmundston region, Zone 4 — seven cases
- Campbellton region, Zone 5 — one case
- Bathurst region, Zone 6 — three cases
- Miramichi region, Zone 7 — 11 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 province has had 9,704 confirmed cases of the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, with 8,512 recoveries so far and 142 COVID-related deaths.
A total of 580,348 tests have been conducted to date, including 2,665 on Sunday.
Contact tracing protocol changes coming
Public Health is revising its contact tracing protocols because omicron "transmits so quickly that it is almost impossible to keep up," the chief medical officer of health said Monday.
"We're trying to pivot and adapt," Dr. Jennifer Russell told reporters.
Everything from who is a close contact and how they're contacted, to who has to isolate and how long, is being reviewed, she said.
Officials are trying to maximize efficiencies, "knowing that there will be limitations."
42 new cases confirmed in 29 schools across province
Forty-two new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in 29 schools across six of the seven health Zones since Friday, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development's website shows.
Eight of the schools are in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, and fall under new mandatory daily testing rules the government announced for some students in this region last Friday, citing the recent high number of positive cases.
Of the 1,019 active cases in the province, the Fredericton region has the highest number, at 437, as of Sunday.
All students in kindergarten to Grade 8 in Fredericton region schools that have had a confirmed case of COVID-19 over the past 14 days or within the next two weeks will be required to rapid test daily until Dec. 23, regardless of their vaccination status.
Staff working with K-8 students are "encouraged" to do daily rapid testing, but it's not mandatory, unless they're identified as a close contact of a positive case.
Rapid-test kits are expected to be distributed to all K-8 students in that region today. Families can also pick up rapid tests at several locations around the province.
Daily testing is also recommended in schools that have not had a confirmed case during the same period, but it is not mandatory.
Anyone who receives a positive rapid-test result, or who is experiencing one symptom of COVID-19, must isolate immediately and book a test at an assessment centre.
If the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, lab test result is positive, they must continue to isolate and await further instruction from Public Health.
"Because of the recent uptake in testing and positive cases, Public Health is experiencing some delays in follow up and testing," the government said in a news release Sunday. "Detailed follow-ups are being prioritized and may be delayed."
Public Health added extra resources to the Fredericton assessment centre Sunday and again today to help reduce any testing backlogs.
"All priority groups, which include unvaccinated and vaccinated symptomatic individuals as well as individuals with a positive point of care test result, are being booked for a test within 24 hours," the release said.
Fifteen schools are having a COVID-19-related operational day today, which means either all the students or specific groups are learning from home.
In the Miramichi region, Zone 7, North and South Esk Regional High School, which was not previously affected, has at least one case.
The other schools where at least one new positive case of COVID-19 has been confirmed include:
- Caledonia Regional High School (Zone 1)
- École Anna-Malenfant (Zone 1)
- École Le Sommet (Zone 1)
- Evergreen Park School (Zone 1)
- Forest Glen School (Moncton Zone 1)
- Maplehurst Middle School (Zone 1)
- Port Elgin Regional School (Zone 1)
- Centre scolaire Samuel-de-Champlain (Zone 2)
- Island View School (Zone 2)
- Rothesay Park School (Zone 2)
- Westfield School (Zone 2)
- Devon Middle School (Zone 3)
- École Les Éclaireurs (Zone 3)
- George Street Middle School (Zone 3)
- Gibson-Neill Memorial Elementary School (Zone 3)
- Hartland Community School (Zone 3)
- Meduxnekeag Consolidated School (Zone 3)
- Nashwaaksis Middle School (Zone 3)
- Priestman Street Elementary School (Zone 3)
- Carrefour de la Jeunesse (Zone 4)
- École Mgr-Matthieu-Mazerolle (Zone 4)
- École Saint-Jacques (Zone 4)
- Polyvalente Thomas-Albert (Zone 4)
- Saint Mary's Academy (Zone 4)
- Le Galion des Appalaches (Zone 5)
- Sugarloaf Senior High School (Zone 5)
- Gretna Green School (Zone 7)
- Max Aitken Academy (Zone 7)
The website does not indicate how many cases are at each school or whether the cases involve students, teachers or staff.
Fifty-eight schools are currently affected.
A total of 708 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in 170 schools since the beginning of the school year.
5 cases at 5 child-care facilities
Five child-care facilities not previously affected by COVID-19 each had one positive case confirmed over the weekend, according to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development's website. The facilities include:
- Centre éducatif la Marelle Educational Center (Zone 1)
- Kreative Kids (Zone 1)
- Rhymes and Chymes Daycare (Zone 2)
- Fredericton Regional Family Resource Centre (Zone 3)
- ReConnect (Zone 3)
The website does not indicate whether that case involves a child, staff member or volunteer.
There have been 117 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 114 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, putting its active case count at 379. Six people are in hospital, including two in intensive care.
Newfoundland and Labrador announced a three day total of 15 new cases Monday, and has 23 active cases.
Prince Edward Island confirmed seven new cases on Friday. The province has 37 active cases.
Public exposure notices
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.
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