COVID-19 projections 'evolving,' but demands will be significant, says top doctor
Regional medical officer tells Sussex emergency group the peak in cases expected to hit the week of April 21
The peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in New Brunswick is expected to hit the week of April 21, according to Dr. Kim Barker, the medical officer of health for the southern region of the province.
She offered the projection to the Town of Sussex's emergency operations group during a COVID-19 update on Wednesday and the group posted a report about her teleconference briefing on the town's Facebook page.
It is the first public projection from any official, despite daily briefings held by Premier Blaine Higgs and New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Jennifer Russell.
When asked Friday about the projection, Russell told reporters she has the "utmost respect" for Barker, noting she led the region through the measles outbreak last year and is "passionate" about protecting the health of the population.
"I do understand the context that she was speaking about this topic was really couched in all of the phrases that we have been using this whole time that, you know, there is no real perfect way to project what's going to happen in the future," said Russell.
"This is an evolving situation."
Russell said she could not predict Friday when the peak of the outbreak will be but did say she expects to present some projections next week on the "anticipated course of the pandemic."
On Thursday night, Premier Blaine Higgs told CBC's Power and Politics there wasn't enough data yet to model "what actually we think is going to happen in New Brunswick."
"I think we will be able to do that within a week."
At that time, New Brunswick had 91 confirmed cases and 22 recoveries.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday the federal government isn't ready to release that sort of data at this time.
New Brunswick now has 95 cases, with the four new cases Russell announced at Friday's news conference.
Her team has been working on modelling projections for the province for the past month, she said, based on "all different types of information from around the world."
They've studied various measures put into place to slow the spread of COVID-19 and then calculated two incubation periods of the virus — about 28 days — to get a "snapshot of what the situation was at that time," she said.
Once New Brunswick closed its provincial borders to any unnecessary travel, for example, the medical officers could start to watch for travel-related cases to end and could try to predict community transmissions, Russell explained.
The modelling is to help the health-care system prepare, she said.
Focus on delaying peak
"When we know how many hospital beds we have, how many ICU beds we have, we put that together with modelling to project what are the types of numbers that we would hope to not see this go above to be able to absorb and manage."
The demands will be significant whether the predictions are accurate or not, said Russell.
"We still will have to go forward and deal with this and adjust our plans as that happens."
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In the meantime, the focus must remain on trying to flatten the curve and protect health-care providers, she said.
"Let's not find out that the peak is sooner rather than later. Let's delay it as long as possible."
It's crucial people who have been directed to self-isolate continue to do so and that others stay at home as much as possible.
"This is in your hands, so keep your hands clean," she said.
Barker did not respond to a request for comment.
Sussex Mayor Marc Thorne said he missed Barker's briefing but confirmed the town's Facebook page post about her peak projection.
I think when people can see some sort of light at the end of the tunnel it gives them hope, and I think that's extremely important.- Marc Thorne, Sussex mayor
"I think a lot of people will take that very positively as a sign of hope that somewhere in all of this there may be, you know, the beginning of an end in sight," said Thorne.
"Because I think right now so many people across the world that have been caught up in this have been subjected to emergency measure orders or whatever and it just seems that everybody's life is in suspension. And of course for private sector people, they're hurting very badly.
"So I think when people can see some sort of light at the end of the tunnel it gives them hope, and I think that's extremely important."
According to the town's Facebook post, "Dr. Barker is expecting the peak week to be the week of April 21st."
"After that date there is expected to be a gradual release of restrictions, if, conditions warrant. Restrictions will be re-implemented if conditions warrant," it states.
On Thursday night, Premier Blaine Higgs told CBC's Power and Politics New Brunswick could run out of COVID-19 testing supplies within a week with ramped up testing and personal protective equipment within three or four weeks.
"But we have orders that are pending and hoping to arrive," he said.
At Friday's news conference, Russell said she shares Higgs's concerns about supplies, but the province is working with federal partners to ensure there will be enough when they are needed.
She remains confident there will be, "as long as we are prudent in our use," she said.
The federal government has said a shipment is slated to arrive on April 6, she added.
Supply shortage might delay testing
As of Thursday, the province had about 3,700 testing kits and 4,900 swabs left, Russell said.
The lab in Moncton is analyzing about 500 tests a day but has the capacity to do about 1,000 and will be ramping up in the coming days.
No one who needed to be tested has gone without a test because of a shortage of supplies to date, Russell told reporters.
But if the province runs out of testing supplies, people might have to wait, the premier said.
"The only issue that would arise might be some delays in the testing, as opposed to missing any test," he said.
The best way to manage both material and human resources to ensure anyone who needs to be tested can get tested is for everyone to do what they can to avoid contracting or spreading the disease, said Russell.
"And that means staying home as much as you possibly can."