N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Province transitioning to new 'normal,' rules may extend beyond green
Unvaccinated people could face different restrictions than those who are immunized
- 3 new cases
- 33.6% of eligible population double-dosed
- Province poised to reach 75% vaccination target by end of July
- 24 active cases, lowest since early January
- 4 of 114 new cases in June were fully vaccinated
- Risks of travel
- Vaccine for children under 12 pending
- Atlantic COVID roundup
- Latest public exposure
- Previous public exposures
New Brunswick is moving toward a new normal with COVID-19, with more than a third of the eligible population now fully vaccinated and Public Health restrictions on track to be lifted before the end of July, the chief medical officer of health said Wednesday.
But even after the province reaches the green phase of COVID recovery, people could still be ordered to self-isolate, unvaccinated people could face different rules than those who are immunized, and some measures, such as wearing masks, could be brought back, "if necessary," said Dr. Jennifer Russell.
"We are in a transition period," she told the live COVID briefing in Fredericton. "We are moving from a pandemic state to a more endemic state, which means that COVID will be part of our normal everyday life.
"It'll be just another communicable disease that's reportable to Public Health."
Russell reported three new cases of COVID-19 and said vaccinations continue to rise.
A total of 14,131 doses were administered Tuesday, including 12,947 second doses and 1,184 first doses.
That pushed the second-dose vaccination rate to 33.6 per cent, and the first-dose vaccination rate to 77.8 per cent.
If the province keeps up its current pace, it will reach its path to green goal to have 75 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 12 or older fully vaccinated before the scheduled Aug. 2 date, said Russell.
She thanked New Brunswickers who have rolled up their sleeves so far to help move the province closer to the green phase of COVID recovery and lifting of all Public Health restrictions, but expressed concern for the nearly 200,000 who remain unvaccinated.
The coronavirus will continue to circulate and find new hosts, said Russell. They are at greater risk of contracting and transmitting the virus.
Vaccination remains the best way for these people to protect themselves and those around them from the most serious effects of the coronavirus, said Russell.
"This is not just an opinion. We have the numbers to prove it."
Over the past month, as the province's vaccination campaign has accelerated, the number of active cases has "significantly declined" to 24, as of Wednesday, the lowest it has been since early January, said Russell.
"But behind these numbers is another story — how vaccines are clearly reducing the threat that COVID-19 poses to our province," she said.
Of the 114 new cases confirmed in June, only four were in people who had two doses.
As more of us become fully vaccinated, we form a barrier to the spread of infection.- Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health
Thirty-six cases were in people who had received one dose more than 14 days prior to becoming infected, while 74, nearly two-thirds of the total, were in people who were either unvaccinated or who became infected before their vaccine took full effect.
In addition, no one fully vaccinated has been admitted to hospital or died in the past month, Russell said.
Earlier this year, at least five of the six residents of a special care home in Grand Falls who died in a COVID-19 outbreak had been vaccinated. Four had received at least one dose of vaccine, while one was fully vaccinated. No details about the vaccination status of the sixth victim were released.
"As more of us become fully vaccinated, we form a barrier to the spread of infection," said Russell.
And when infections do occur, they will be "less likely" to lead to serious illness or death, she said, encouraging everyone to get vaccinated.
Asked whether those who are unvaccinated could face different restrictions, Russell said if they are close contacts of a positive case of COVID, they would "most likely" be required to self-isolate, depending on the risk assessment by the regional medical officer. "That's what we expect right now."
"There are probably some workplaces where if a person was not vaccinated, they would have to continue with masking."
And she noted some locations require two vaccines to visit.
"There's no question that protective measures should remain in place until we get a majority of the population vaccinated with two doses," said Russell.
In fact, some jurisdictions that attained their vaccination goals had to "walk back" some of the restrictions they had lifted, she said, citing Israel's mask policy as an example.
"So never say never. I think we're just going to keep on the path that we're on, try to get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can and continue to monitor the situation."
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said she's "thrilled" with the province's vaccination rates so far.
She pointed out it was just last week that all New Brunswickers became eligible to book an appointment for their second dose of vaccine if 28 days had passed since their first dose.
"Since then, our province has repeatedly broken records for the number of appointments booked in a day, the number of vaccines administered and the number of people vaccinated in one week," she said.
For now, the province's plan continues to be to lift restrictions and remove the state of emergency mandatory order once three quarters of the eligible population has been double-dosed, said Shephard.
"If newer information comes forward and, in conjunction with Public Health, we need to make any decisions, you know, that would contradict that, we certainly would like to hope that we can give our population notice," she said.
I think New Brunswickers understand that we need this component of vaccine levels in order to have the freedom that we all want.- Dorothy Shephard, health minister
If the emergency order has already been lifted by then, the Public Health officers "have a tremendous amount of authority in making decisions," said Shephard. "If we need to back that up in some way, I'd certainly look at it."
Under the Public Health Act, Russell said Public Health officers have the authority to issue certain orders, such as to self-isolate.
If Public Health requires additional authority, she would go to cabinet and the departments of justice and public safety to ensure whatever is necessary is in place, she said.
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Shephard remains optimistic that won't be necessary.
"We've given New Brunswickers reasons to always attain for the prize. And I think that seeing the numbers that we're seeing now, and seeing how second doses are really ramping up and going so well that I think New Brunswickers understand that we need this component of vaccine levels in order to have the freedom that we all want.
"So as we see first doses continuing to increase, albeit slow, they are still increasing, we're going to keep pushing."
Russell said the province is targeting the group of people for whom vaccination is "just not in their brain space right now."
They are the most likely to eventually get a vaccine, she said. "It's just not a huge priority for them right now."
Some of them might just need more encouragement, or the reminder or convenience of a pop-up clinic. Others might need help with transportation to a clinic or with booking an appointment
"So we do have different approaches to target people with respect to communications and the types of flexibility that we're trying to offer," she said.
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For anyone looking for a vaccination appointment for their first or second dose, the province has "lots of availability and no shortage of vaccines," Shephard said.
While most vaccination clinics will be closed for the July 1 holiday, there are appointments available at some locations. These include:
- Campbellton – Public Health Office, from 9:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
- Fredericton – Brookside Mall (back of the building), from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.
- Miramichi – Miramichi Public Health, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
- Saint John – Exhibition Park, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
- Tracadie – Public Health Office, from 8:45 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Some pharmacies will also have appointments available. The Corner Drug Store in Sackville, for example, will be offering a mass vaccination clinic at the Tantramar Veterans Memorial Civic Centre.
For a second-dose appointment, they are asked to bring a copy of the record of immunization they received after getting their first dose, a signed consent form and their medicare card.
Breakdown of new cases
The three new cases reported Wednesday include:
Moncton region, Zone 1, two cases:
- A person 30 to 39
- A person 50 to 59
One case is related to travel and the other case is a contact of previously confirmed case.
Fredericton region, Zone 3, one case:
- A person 40 to 49
This case is travel-related.
Four people are in hospital in New Brunswick with the respiratory disease, none of them in intensive care.
A total of 362,635 COVID tests have been conducted, including 658 on Tuesday.
There have been 2,329 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic started, with 2,258 recoveries and 45 COVID-related deaths.
Risks of travel
New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health "strongly recommends" people wait until they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before they travel outside the province, even if two doses of vaccine is not required by the place they wish to visit.
"I know that everyone is anxious to enjoy summer to the fullest, especially those who are now fully vaccinated. We are moving in that direction, but please remember that we aren't there yet," Russell said Wednesday, as Nova Scotia opened its borders to New Brunswickers with no need for isolation.
Travel is increasing in the Atlantic region and other parts of Canada as COVID restrictions are reduced, and when people move, the coronavirus also moves, she said.
New variants, such as the Delta variant, are also highly contagious compared to the original version of COVID-19. "Infections can and will happen through casual contact," said Russell, urging people to be mindful of the risks travel brings to themselves and their family.
For those who do decide to travel, they should make sure they know the rules they will be required to follow when they reach their destination, Russell said.
Whether people are travelling or staying close to home this weekend, it's very important they continue to follow the Public Health measures, such as wearing a mask in indoor public places, maintaining two metres of physical distance from others whenever possible and regular hand washing, she added.
Vaccine for children under 12 pending
New Brunswick hopes to be able to vaccinate the remainder of school-aged children this fall, the chief medical officer of health said Wednesday.
As it stands, only children aged 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated in Canada. Pfizer-BioNTech is the only vaccine approved for use in Canada for anyone under the age of 18.
But Pfizer is expected to provide a submission to Health Canada in the early fall regarding vaccines for children aged five to 11 and six months to five years old. "So that's very, very encouraging," said Russell.
Until then, she encourages as many people as possible to get their shots to protect children who can't be vaccinated. "It's that extra layer of protection, a cocooning, so to speak."
The number of unvaccinated children under 12 in the province is roughly 112,000, according to the Department of Health.
The province has not seen widespread transmission in school settings so far, said Russell. "That doesn't mean that we won't."
Atlantic COVID roundup
Nova Scotia reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. The province has 55 known active cases.
Newfoundland and Labrador confirmed one new case and its active case count remains at five.
Prince Edward Island has no new cases and one active case.
Latest public exposure
Public Health has identified a positive case of COVID-19 in the Fredericton region, Zone 3:
- Lake George Petro Canada Gas Station and Restaurant, 10 Route 635, Lake George, June 19, between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Public Health is offering COVID-19 testing to anyone who has been in a public exposure area, even if they are not experiencing any symptoms. Residents may request a test online or call Tele-Care 811.
People experiencing one or more symptoms are also encouraged to get tested.
Previous public exposures
Public Health has identified a positive case of COVID-19 in a traveller who may have been infectious while on the following flights:
- Air Canada Flight 404 – from Toronto to Montreal, departed at 8:30 a.m. on June 18.
- Air Canada Flight 8902 – from Montreal to Moncton, departed at 12:45 p.m. on June 18.
Public Health has also identified numerous potential public exposures to the coronavirus in many communities across the province, so many that it has stopped listing them individually in its daily news release.
A detailed list of the potential exposures, including the locations and dates, is available on the government's COVID-19 website. It is updated regularly.
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:
Fever above 38 C.
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.