N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Man in his 30s has died, 14 new cases reported
Saint-Basile man is N.B.'s youngest victim of COVID-19, vaccine appointments now open to those 70 and older
- One new death, death toll now 31
- Residents 70 and up can now book vaccine
- 14 new cases in three zones
- 163 active cases
- Researchers develop immunity test for COVID-19
- Hairdressers struggle to stay open in pandemic
- List of exposures
- What to do if you have a symptom
An Edmundston region man has died of COVID-related causes at age 38, bringing the province's death toll to 31 and underscoring a worrying trend of younger adults being seriously affected by the disease.
In a news release Wednesday, Public Health confirmed that a person between the ages of 30 and 39 "has died as a result of COVID-19" in the Edmundston region, Zone 4.
The news release had been updated from earlier saying the individual "died as a result of underlying complications, including COVID-19."
Family members confirmed to Radio-Canada that that person was Luc Bélanger of Saint-Basile, and that he died Tuesday after contracting COVID-19.
Bélanger is the youngest person to die of COVID-related causes in New Brunswick to date, with the previously recorded youngest death being a person in their 40s.
In an interview with Radio-Canada on Wednesday, Bélanger's sister, Nathalie Bouchard, urged New Brunswickers to take the virus seriously.
"People need to realize it doesn't just affect old people," Bouchard said. "I'd like for people to open their eyes, the virus is here and this is the reality."
She described her brother, who was also a husband and father, as someone who "really loved life," loved helping others and loved spending time outdoors and with his family.
On one occasion, Bouchard said, "we rented a little cottage and it was a weekend with just the family. We had a great time ... I loved that moment."
He had a future ahead of him, a family he is leaving behind.- Réal Lévesque, president of the ATV Club du Nord-Ouest
Bélanger's death at such a young age has rattled his community, with messages for the family pouring in on social media.
Réal Lévesque, president of the ATV Club du Nord-Ouest, of which Bélanger was a member, recalled a vibrant young man who was "always in a good mood," and said it was distressing to see his health decline after his COVID-19 diagnosis.
"We initially said to ourselves that he was going to get by," Lévesque said in an interview with Radio-Canada.
That hope changed to worry in the days following Bélanger's hospitalization at the end of March, when he sank into a coma that lasted 12 days.
"He had a future ahead of him, a family he is leaving behind," Lévesque said.
Dr. Jennifer Russell and Russell and Premier Blaine Higgs offered condolences to the family in the news release.
"Each life lost in our province as a result of this virus is painful for those who knew and loved them," Higgs said.
Why are young people getting hit hard this time around?
Why are more young people getting seriously ill with COVID-19 than they have in the first and second wave of the pandemic?
There's a deceptively obvious conclusion, according to one Atlantic region epidemiologist.
"It's tempting to conclude that the variants like young people better," Dr. Rodney Russell, a professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Memorial University of Newfoundland, said Wednesday. "But there's no scientific evidence available yet to support that."
While older age has been associated with higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, many older individuals have now been vaccinated, "so it's not surprising that we are seeing less of that age group becoming seriously ill."
"However, that does not explain why younger people are getting hit harder now," Russell said.
"Either the variants of concern have adapted to better infect the younger groups who might have been spreading them, or perhaps younger people who have been believing that this virus won't hurt them have not been taking it seriously, so we are now seeing more of them infected" and ending up in hospital.
It's also possible that most young people are relatively asymptomatic, so the spread is faster in that age group.
The fact that people tend to be lulled to let their guard down when cases ease for a while could also be a factor, he noted, and even if it isn't, it's something to remain cautious of.
"In Newfoundland and Labrador, we had no virus for a long time and we were definitely a little relaxed," he said.
"So when the B117 variant was spreading unknowingly in our teenagers for a couple of weeks, it quickly started to go out of control. … When cases are low, masking and distancing should contain outbreaks if one emerges, but if people aren't being careful, the outbreak can quickly explode."
Russell said he sees increased testing, including random testing in low-risk populations, and vaccines as the solution to third-wave virulence.
"All the vaccines work at least somewhat against all the variants, and some immunity is better than no immunity," he said.
"In places where the case count is still low, I believe we can get a head start in the vaccine/variant race if we ramp up vaccination before a third wave hits."
New group eligible for vaccine
People age 70 or older can now schedule an appointment to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The appointments can be scheduled online through Vitalité or Horizon Health Network or by contacting a participating pharmacy, Public Health said in a release Wednesday.
Only those who are part of an eligible group are allowed to make an appointment, although a caregiver or family member can make the appointment on a person's behalf.
"Those who book an appointment at a clinic for which they are not eligible will be turned away without receiving a vaccine," Dr. Jennifer Russell said in the news release.
14 new cases reported
There are 14 new cases being reported, affecting three zones, on Wednesday.
The cases break down in this way:
Moncton region, Zone 1, two cases:
- an individual 20-29
- an individual 40-49
One case is travel-related and the other one is under investigation.
Fredericton region, Zone 3, one case:
- an individual 70-79. This case is travel related.
Edmundston region, Zone 4, 11 cases:
- an individual 19 and under
- two people 20-29
- two people 30-39
- three people 50-59
- an individual 60-69
- an individual 70-79
- an individual 80-89
Of the 11 cases, eight are under investigation and three are contacts of a previously confirmed case. Seven of these cases are related to the outbreak at the Foyer Saint-Jacques, a special care home in Edmundston.
Public Health declared an outbreak at the home on April 3. Members of the provincial rapid outbreak management team are on site to support residents and home staff.
The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick is 1,679, and the number of active cases is 163. Since Tuesday, 12 people have recovered for a total of 1,484 recoveries.
There have been 31 deaths. Eighteen patients are hospitalized, including 12 in an intensive care unit.
A total of 263,002 tests have been conducted, including 914 since Tuesday's report.
In-person classes to resume this fall for colleges, universities
Post-secondary education institutions should expect in-person learning to resume this fall, according to the province.
Throughout the 2020-21 school year, colleges and universities were forced to take classes online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"With the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines expected to be available to all New Brunswick adults by early summer, we are optimistic that these institutions will be able to offer on-campus instruction safely and successfully during the 2021-22 academic year," said Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health.
Russell said it's still critical to take COVID-19 and its variants seriously. But Public Health realizes the pandemic has had negative impacts on the mental health and financial stability of students and staff.
"Permitting a safe return to in-person education with continued adherence to public health measures is in everyone's best interests," Russell said in a statement released Wednesday.
Since post-secondary institutions are independent from government, Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Trevor Holder said they will make their own decisions as to when they will resume in-person learning.
Colleges and universities will also be responsible for implementing COVID-19-related safety protocols.
"I know we are ready for this step and well-positioned to react should there be a change in circumstances over the coming months," Holder said.
Researchers develop immunity test for COVID-19
Researchers in Ontario have designed a test that will determine whether someone is immune to COVID-19.
Although thousands of Canadians are being vaccinated for the virus, John Trant said researchers still don't know how long immunity will last — varying anywhere between six months to two years.
"If it wears off after a year or two years, we will need to get booster shots because we won't be safe until everybody in the world is immune," said John Trant, a chemistry professor who is leading the research team at the University of Windsor.
He said if anyone in the world acts as a reservoir for the disease, it will spread again.
"We saw how quickly it spread this time."
That's why monitoring people's immune status is important, Trant said.
The test, which doesn't have an official name yet, is similar to a pregnancy test.
A person takes a drop of blood and puts it on a lateral flow cassette. Within about five minutes, the test will reveal a line or no line at all.
"That will basically say, 'Yes you're immune or no you're not, or your immunity is fading and it's time for a booster,'" he said.
Then, a pharmacist or doctor will decide next steps, such as getting an updated booster shot.
Once people are vaccinated they are protected against COVID-19 for six months to two years.
"After that it's going to vary person to person," he said. "Everybody's immunity is going to fade at different rates."
Eventually, they're hoping testing will be in the form of a nasal swab.
He said it should be done with a regular checkup, a hospital visit or visit to the pharmacy once every six months and will cost about $10.
Clinical trials are taking place right now and the test is expected to be ready in the next year.
Hairdressers struggle to stay open in pandemic
New Brunswick hairdressers say their businesses are struggling to survive the pandemic.
Gaye Cail, chair of executive officers of the Cosmetology Association, says many members are scared and few hairdressers qualify for existing government relief programs.
Most of the members are self-employed and run their own establishments.
"With the Opportunities New Brunswick benefit, they don't qualify for that because they don't have two or more employees or staff in there," said Cail.
She said it also doesn't make sense for members to receive a loan from the province, as they're continuously being shut down.
"How would they ever pay back the loans?"
As long as they have an operational plan, salons are permitted to open in the orange phase of New Brunswick's COVID-19 recovery plan. But the association has been lobbying for permission from government to remain open in the red phase.
"There's been no transmission in cosmetology," she said. " ...It just seems a bit heavy handed on our behalf."
Cail said the prospect of closure orders has also led many hairdressers to switch to mobile operations or working at home.
"We're not sure what to expect in the future."
List of exposures
- Saint John Regional Y on April 1, 2021, between 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
- March 31 between 12 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. – Scotiabank (75 Canada Rd., Edmundston)
- March 30 between 12 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. – Scotiabank (75 Canada Rd., Edmundston)
- March 29 between 8:45 a.m. and 4 p.m. – Scotiabank (75 Canada Rd., Edmundston)
- March 22 between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. – Sparta Progressive Gym (113, 44th Avenue D, Edmundston)
Public Health is advising anyone who used the female changing room at the Saint John Regional Y on April 1 and in that time frame to call Public Health at 506-658-5188. Public Health is also advising staff and patrons who scanned into the Regional Y through Membership on the specified time and date — regardless of their location within the building — to self-monitor for symptoms until midnight of April 11.
"The YMCA of Greater Saint John's first priority is the health and safety of the children, families and staff who are part of our Y community," said Shilo Boucher, president & CEO of the YMCA of Greater Saint John.
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.
Radio-Canada, Jennifer Sweet, Information Morning Moncton and Fredericton