N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Province to end restrictions and go green next Friday at midnight
No case now for keeping emergency order, Premier Blaine Higgs says
- What you can do when New Brunswick goes green
- 1 million doses, 3 new cases, 10 active cases
- No case for keeping emergency order, Higgs says
- People will take to green at their own pace, Russell says
- 15 out of 18 July cases not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all
- Premier says hospitals catching up, and more so
- Medical society optimistic
- Atlantic COVID roundup
- Mobile vaccination clinics
New Brunswick will lift all COVID restrictions next Friday and go green — regardless of whether the province meets vaccination targets, Premier Blaine Higgs says.
That means that all travel and public health restrictions will be lifted and masks will not be required, he announced at a COVID-19 briefing on Friday.
"We have surpassed our goal of 75 per cent of the eligible population with their first vaccine and are now at 81 per cent," said Higgs.
"By the end of next week, the percentage of eligible New Brunswickers vaccinated with the second dose will be high enough to balance out many of the risks of living with COVID-19. With our experiences of the past 17 months, low case numbers and climbing vaccination rates, we believe we are safe to take this next step and learn to live with COVID-19 without the mandatory order."
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said she's confident that even when the mandatory order is lifted, there are enough public health measures at her disposal to manage the risks of COVID-19 should cases begin to spike again.
The restrictions will be lifted effective at midnight next Friday night, even if the province doesn't reach its target of getting two vaccine doses into 75 per cent of those eligible before moving to the green phase.
The province announced that the lifting of the mandatory order will:
Remove all mandatory travel and public health restrictions that have been in place over the course of the pandemic, which hit New Brunswick in March 2020.
End all provincial border restrictions, stop provincial border checks, and end the requirement of registration to enter New Brunswick from anywhere in Canada.
Lift all limits on gatherings and the number of people within various facilities. Capacity limits in theatres, restaurants and stores will no longer be required.
End the requirement to wear face masks in public.
Higgs said he didn't think the province was rushing too quickly to lift restrictions.
He said "the case to maintain a mandatory order, emergency order, no longer exists."
Higgs said the province is trying to strike a balance between keeping people safe and keeping the province open as much as possible.
With so few cases, vaccination rates so high, and no one in hospital, he said it's a tough sell to keep the emergency order in place.
Russell said she's encouraged by Alberta's experience. That province lifted restrictions when it was at 70 per cent of first doses and 38.2 per cent of second doses.
"And since then, they've continued to increase their vaccination rates and … they're continuing to see their case numbers go down, and their hospitalization rates go down."
Some may not be ready
While mandatory restrictions will be lifted, some people and some businesses may not be ready to return to pre-COVID habits, said Russell. She and the premier encouraged New Brunswickers to be kind and patient with those who may not be ready — for either physical or psychological reasons.
"When we move to green, not everyone will feel ready to jump back into life as if nothing happened," Higgs said. "We all will have to adapt to this new environment in our own way
"For some, the return to normal will be at a fast pace. Others may want to ease out of the safety measures we have been surrounded by for so long. There is no right way to do this. Everyone must do what feels best for them while remaining safe."
Some people, Higgs said, may want to continue to wear a face mask, even though masks will not be required after next Friday.
Russell said, "It's important to remember that people will move to this next phase at their own pace. And that's OK. Some people will feel excited and eager to resume their pre-pandemic lifestyle. Others will feel stress, anxiety and worry for different reasons."
Atlantic premiers given notice, Higgs says
Higgs said Friday's announcement wouldn't have come as a surprise to other Atlantic Canadian premiers, as he gave them notice that morning of the pending changes.
"They knew we were on a path to green and that path was taking us to August 2nd," he said.
"So we advised them to that we are moving that to July 30th, so that's not a big, a big change or big shift in their view."
Higgs said he's not aware of any other Atlantic provinces planning to impose travel restrictions on New Brunswickers as a result of the earlier switch to the green phase.
"They did not give us any indication that they would be making any changes to reinforce or enhance restrictions in any way.
"So I think they will be monitoring their activities in their own province, which they are doing, and make a decision themselves in the coming weeks about their next step, because that's more of the indication that that we received, is that they, too, want to, to move along this area."
One million doses
New Brunswick is expected to hit another milestone Friday, administering its millionth dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
A total of 997,798 doses have been administered so far, including another 7,006 second doses and 1,363 first doses added to the COVID-19 dashboard Friday.
The province currently stands at 62.7 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers aged 12 and older being fully vaccinated and 81.2 per cent having had a first dose.
Three new cases
Public Health reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Friday — two in the Saint John health region and one in the Fredericton region.
The two cases in Zone 2, the Saint John region, are 19 and under, and both are travel related.
The case in Zone 3, Fredericton region, is an individual 20 to 29 years old. This case is under investigation.
The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick is 2,350. Since yesterday, there has been one new recovery for a total of 2,293 recoveries.
There have been 46 deaths and the number of active cases is 10. No one is hospitalized with COVID-19 in New Brunswick. Since yesterday, 727 tests were conducted for a total of 376,470.
On Friday, Russell said the vast majority of new cases are travel-related — and nearly all of those are in people who have not been fully vaccinated — and that the province is doing a good job of managing those cases once they're here.
"Since July 1st, 16 out of the 18 cases have been linked to travel," said Russell. "And of the 16 cases, 15 were either not vaccinated at all or they weren't fully vaccinated."
Despite a complete shutdown of most surgeries in the early days of the pandemic, Higgs said waiting lists for surgeries aren't inordinately long.
"We don't believe we're that far behind what would have been normally scheduled, because, other than early on, the hospitals and procedures and surgeries were able to keep going."
In fact, he said surgeries for hip and knee are "actually ahead of schedule." He said the wait times dropped from three years to a year and a half.
Doctors 'cautiously optimistic'
The New Brunswick Medical Society is "cautiously optimistic" about lifting public health restrictions.
In a statement released on Friday afternoon, the group's president said it was important to "continue this trajectory" by continuing to do the things that got us to this point — get vaccinated, keep washing your hands, and stay home if you're sick."
"The vaccines are our best protection — as individuals and as a community — from the virus and its variants," said Dr. Jeff Steeves.
"New Brunswickers should also feel comfortable continuing to wear masks in public settings if they wish. These are steps that can mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the common cold, and other infectious diseases."
Mobile vaccination clinics
Russell encouraged those who have had one vaccination, not to stop there. She said vaccinations have never been more available in the province, including with mobile and walk-in clinics.
"We know that efficacy is best with two doses," she said. "And if you got your first dose, please don't skip your second dose. We need all the protection we can get. We don't know what lies ahead with respect to what's happening in other jurisdictions that aren't vaccinated in the world. And we don't know what variants of concern are going to emerge."
Clinics are taking place today and next week at the following locations:
Four Seasons Complex, 2551 Route 111, St. Martins, today, Friday, July 23, between noon and 5 p.m.
Ambulance New Brunswick station, 523 St-Jean St., Unit A, Saint-Léonard, today, Friday, July 23, between noon and 6 p.m.
Village Hall, 199 Main St., Canterbury, Monday, July 26, between noon and 5 p.m.
Triple C Recreation Centre, 817 Rockland Rd., Rockland, Tuesday, July 27, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Juniper Community Centre, 6840 Route 107, Juniper, Wednesday, July 28, between noon and 4 p.m.
Recreation Centre, 160 Klokkedahl Hill Rd., New Denmark, Thursday, July 29, between noon and 4 p.m.
Saint-Paul Golden Age Club, 6532 Route 515, Saint-Paul, Thursday, July 29, between noon and 6 p.m.
Knights of Columbus Hall, 22 Hallett Rd., Beechwood, Friday, July 30, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
People attending a mobile vaccination clinic are asked to bring their Medicare card, a record of vaccination if receiving their second dose, and a signed consent form.
A list of upcoming mobile and walk-in clinics is available online.
Atlantic COVID roundup
Nova Scotia reported two new cases on Friday, and has 12 active cases. The government announced it will be closing community vaccine clinics on Aug. 15.
Newfoundland and Labrador has no new confirmed cases, but 32 active cases. Thirty-one of the cases are on a ship anchored in Conception Bay.
Prince Edward Island has no new cases and no active cases as of its last report on Tuesday.
Maine reported 55 new cases on Friday.
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 Tele-Care 811 or their doctor, and follow instructions.