New Brunswick

N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Single-day high of 174 new cases, 2 more deaths

New Brunswick recorded a single-day record high of 174 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and two more COVID-related deaths.

Nearly half of new cases involve youth

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said work is underway to add more vaccination clinics to supply pediatric vaccines and booster doses. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Latest

  • No plan to tighten restrictions in Fredericton region, despite spike
  • Breakdown of new cases
  • No need for proof of vax at major retailers, province says
  • 15 cases in schools, child-care facilities
  • 66 travellers from omicron-barred countries now isolating
  • Atlantic COVID roundup

New Brunswick recorded a single-day record high of 174 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and two more COVID-related deaths.

The previous record was 140 new cases on Oct. 2.

A person in their 50s in the Campbellton region, Zone 5, and a person in their 50s in the Miramichi region, Zone 7, have died as a result of COVID-19, Public Health said in a news release.

This raises the pandemic death toll to 138.

Nearly half of the new cases involve youth. Forty-four are under 10 and 38 are aged 10 to 19.

This age group has now had more confirmed cases than any other, at 1,339, the COVID-19 dashboard shows. Another 1,151 cases have been 10-19.

Together, they represent nearly 27 per cent of the 9,223 total cases to date.

People in their 30s account for 1,336 cases, followed by those in their 20s, with 1,323 cases.

"We are continuing to see a high number of cases in people under the age of 19, especially in Zone 3, the Fredericton region," Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said in a statement.

The increase "does not come as a surprise," she said, as those aged five to 11 only recently became eligible for vaccination.

But the province is encouraging parents and guardians to take advantage of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development's rapid-testing program for their children.

Under the program, aimed at detecting the virus and slowing the spread, parents or guardians of unvaccinated children identified as close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case can pick up rapid-test kits at their child's school.

"Unlike older people and those who have underlying health conditions, the vast majority of young people who catch the virus experience relatively mild symptoms and do not require hospitalization," said Shephard.

The increase in cases, however, "emphasizes the importance of children receiving the vaccine and the need for parents and guardians to get vaccinated, and get their boosters when they are eligible, to help reduce the spread and keep our number of hospitalizations manageable."

No plan to tighten restrictions in Fredericton region, despite spike

Of the 174 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed Thursday, 94 are in the Fredericton region, Zone 3. It has quickly outpaced the Moncton region, Zone 1. It leads the province with 361 of the 892 active cases.

But it will not be moved to a more restrictive COVID-19 alert level despite the recent spike in cases, at least not yet, says Premier Blaine Higgs.

The situation doesn't meet the criteria for Public Health to assess whether it should be moved to Level 2 under the new COVID-19 Winter Action Plan, he told reporters.

"We did ask the question because of case counts that we're seeing, and they said, "Well … we know where the cases are. We know, it's primarily to a great extent within the school population, and it isn't at this point affecting hospitals," he said.

"I mean, all that, I guess, could change over time. But right now, they've said that they aren't going to trigger a zone assessment right today. But I guess [we'll] see the next few days, and if it continues to rise, that could change."

Premier Blaine Higgs said the 'biggest challenge' the province faces now is getting people who are eligible for boosters to get their shot before their immunity wanes. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

At least half the cases are coming from schools, he said.

And while there are "a number" of new cases, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has stayed around 40.

Whether the hospitals can manage the cases, he said, is key in all decisions.

The entire province is currently at Level 1, the least restrictive level of the plan, which limits informal indoor household gatherings to 20 people and informal outdoor gatherings to 50 people. Masks are required in outdoor public spaces when physical distancing can't be maintained. In addition, retailers and salons must enforce physical distancing or require proof of vaccination.

Among the changes at Level 2, gatherings are limited to two-household bubbles, people can only eat out with their bubble, restaurants, retailers, salons and gyms are reduced to 50 per cent capacity, and no travel is permitted to other regions, except for essential reasons.

"The biggest challenge we face right now is getting people the booster shot and ensuring that we don't run the risk of people losing their immunity because they've gone past the due date on boosters," said Higgs.

On Wednesday, he told reporters Wednesday the province is reducing the time people 50 or older have to wait to get their COVID-19 vaccine booster to five months.

Until now, people have only been eligible for a booster dose of an mRNA vaccine if six months have passed since their second dose, based on the advice of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).

But in a news release, Public Health said people 50 and older who are due for a booster any time in December can book an appointment now, even if a full six months have not passed.

Anyone who is 50 or older or in a current eligible group and received their second dose in July, will be eligible for their booster dose anytime in January, it said.

A total of 82.2 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, up from 82.1 per cent, and 87.9 per cent have received their first dose, up from 87.8.

The province's goal is to get at least 90 per cent of the total population fully vaccinated.

According to the CBC vaccine tracker, 78.1 per cent of the total population is double-dosed, while 83.5 per cent have received at least one dose.

In the coming weeks, eligibility for booster doses will be expanded to people in their 40s, followed by all other New Brunswickers.

Appointments for booster shots for those eligible and for first and second doses can be scheduled for a regional health authority community COVID-19 vaccination clinic through the online booking system or at a participating pharmacy.

Breakdown of cases

In addition to the 174 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed Thursday, Public Health reported 61 more recoveries, pushing the province's active case count to 892, up from 781.

Forty people are hospitalized with COVID-19, down from 43, including 16 in intensive care, a decrease of two. Eight of them are on ventilators.

Of those in hospital, 24 are over the age of 60 and one is under 19.

Seven of the people hospitalized were initially admitted for other reasons and contracted COVID-19 because of 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.

New cases of COVID-19 were reported in all seven health zones Thursday, with the highest number, 94, being in the Fredericton region, Zone 3. (CBC News)

The regional breakdown of the new cases includes:

Moncton region, Zone 1 — 25 cases:

  • Five people nine or under
  • Seven people 10-19
  • Eight people 30-39
  • A person 40-49
  • Two people 50-59
  • Two people 70-79

Fifteen of these cases are under investigation and 10 are contacts of previously known cases.

Saint John region, Zone 2 — 32 cases:

  • Seven people nine or under
  • Three people 10-19
  • Two people 20-29
  • Seven people 30-39
  • Four people 40-49
  • Four people 50-59
  • Four people 60-69
  • A person 70-79

Seventeen of these cases are under investigation and 15 are contacts of previously known cases.

Fredericton region, Zone 3 — 94 cases:

  • 26 people nine or under
  • 27 people 10-19
  • Nine people 20-29
  • 12 people 30-39
  • Four people 40-49
  • Six people 50-59
  • Seven people 60-69
  • Three people 70-79

Sixty-six of these cases are under investigation and 28 are contacts of previously known cases.

Edmundston region, Zone 4 — four cases:

  • Three people nine or under
  • A person 60-69

Three of these cases are under investigation and the other one is a contact of a previously known case.

Campbellton region, Zone 5 —  five cases:

  • Two people nine or under
  • A person 10-19
  • A person 40-49
  • A person 60-69

Three of these cases are contacts of previously known cases and the other two are under investigation.

Bathurst region, Zone 6 — four cases:

  • Two people 20-29
  • A person 50-59
  • A person 60-69

All four of these cases are under investigation.

Miramichi region, Zone 7 — 10 cases:

  • A person nine or under
  • Two people 20-29
  • Three people 40-49
  • Two people 50-59
  • A person 60-69
  • A person 70-79

Eight of these cases are contacts of previously known cases and the other two are under investigation.

New Brunswick has now recorded 9,223 cases of the illness and 8,192 recoveries.

A total of 574,278 tests have been conducted so far, including 2,144 on Wednesday.

Liberals call for independent review

The Liberals called Thursday for an independent review of the province's handling of the pandemic.

Interim party leader Roger Melanson tabled the motion, saying it could help guide responses to future emergency responses.

"It's been a very difficult pandemic and there's been some decisions made good, and maybe been decisions made that were not as good, we don't know. There maybe have been situations where decisions should have been made and they were not made," he said.

"We're not trying to blame anybody here."

Liberal Leader Roger Melanson's motion called for an independent comprehensive review of the New Brunswick pandemic response, which would provide recommendations for consideration by government. (Government of New Brunswick)

Higgs countered, saying Melanson was "well aware of what the responses were because at one time he was very directly involved, until he quit" the all-party COVID committee.

He said he's proud of his government's response, citing spending to help businesses and people recover, record immigration, and interest in properties.

The motion was defeated 23-20 by the Progressive Conservative majority.

We are still dealing with issues related to [the] health and safety of citizens.- Blaine Higgs, premier

Higgs later told reporters now is not the time for any review, and described it as an opposition tactic.

"We are still dealing with issues related to [the] health and safety of citizens," he said.

"You may do reviews later and say, 'What would we do differently? How would you react differently?' But in the middle of a pandemic, you don't do a, basically a review or a study, that takes away from the resources that you need to deal with the issues at hand."

Asked whether he would support the idea later, he said, "Sure," if the government feels it can "learn something," such as whether different actions could have had a better impact.

"Lessons learned are always helpful in analysis of past situations."

No need for proof of vax at major retailers, province says

All major retailers in New Brunswick where proof of vaccination is not required plan to enforce physical distancing instead of starting to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination, says Public Health.

Under the new COVID-19 Winter Action Plan, physical distancing is required in public spaces where proof of vaccination is not required.

That means places such as grocery stores, retail stores and salons must now enforce physical distancing between patrons, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced last Friday.

"Alternatively, they also have the option of requiring proof of vaccination from all patrons, but we will leave that decision up to individual businesses," she said.

Since then, there has been chatter on social media about gates and QR scanners being installed at the entrances of stores and fears of unvaccinated people being denied the right to buy necessities, such as food.

Sobeys will not ask customers for proof of vaccination at its New Brunswick stores, a spokesperson said. (Sam Nar/CBC)

But "at this time, all major retailers have indicated they will enforce physical distancing instead of requiring proof of vaccination," Public Health said Wednesday.

Sobeys will not be asking customers for proof of vaccination at its New Brunswick stores, confirmed spokesperson Paul Wyke.

"We have followed Public Health requirements and mandates every step of the way, and should the rules from provincial governments change we will always adjust," he said in an emailed statement.

"The health and safety of our customers and store teammates continues to be our top priority and we have many health and safety measures in place to help keep our customers and teammates safe."

Loblaw and Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Retail businesses can ensure physical distancing of two metres is enforced through measures such as using directional arrows, reducing their capacity and preventing groups from congregating, Public Health said.

They can further reduce contacts by offering delivery and curbside pickup options.

15 cases in schools, child-care facilities

Fifteen new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in schools and child-care facilities Thursday in Zones 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7, with the majority impacting the Moncton and Fredericton regions.

"We know that COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness and they help keep our schools healthy, safe and open," Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy said in a statement.

"I strongly encourage parents and guardians to get their children over the age of five vaccinated as soon as they are able … This protects children, their families and the community."

About 80 per cent of active cases within schools are in elementary schools. "Often the virus was transmitted outside of the school setting or in instances when safety measures were not followed," the government said in a news release.

66 travellers from omicron-barred countries now isolating

The number of people in isolation in New Brunswick after travelling from countries where the new, potentially more transmissible omicron COVID-19 variant has been identified has risen to 66, Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane told CBC News on Thursday.

That's an increase of two in as many days, and an increase of 58 since Dec. 1 when Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced about eight travellers were isolating.

There are still no confirmed or suspected cases of omicron in the province, Macfarlane said.

The people who are isolating are being monitored, he said.

Each has been in one of the 10 countries affected by federal restrictions to reduce possible spread of the new variant: Botswana, Egypt, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Atlantic COVID roundup

Nova Scotia reported 52 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the active caseload in the province to 194. Nine people are in hospital with the coronavirus, including four in intensive care.

Newfoundland and Labrador announced five new cases on Wednesday and has 17 active cases.

Prince Edward Island confirmed six new cases on Wednesday. The province has 27 active cases.

Public exposure notices

The province listed potential COVID-19 public exposure notices for all seven health regions on Thursday, including restaurants in the Moncton region, Zone 1, a racetrack and pubs in the Saint John region, Zone 2, a casino, public transit bus and movie theatre in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, a vaccination clinic and grocery store in the Edmundston region, Zone 4, an arena in the Campbellton region, Zone 5, a banquet hall in the Bathurst region, Zone 6, and a self-help group 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.

With files from Jacques Poitras

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