Doctors plead with Zone 4: 'We're very worried about the next few weeks'
Hospitals could easily get overwhelmed if COVID-19 continues to spread, doctors say
Six doctors in northwest New Brunswick are going public with a direct plea to residents of Zone 4 to work harder to follow COVID-19 cases as a spike in the area continues.
They say with case rates in the region at the same level as the city of Montreal, but far fewer health-care resources to draw on, they risk being overwhelmed by further spread of the virus.
Much of the advice they gave in the one-hour session was the same guidance provided by Public Health officials during the pandemic, but they said it was time to convey it directly.
"There are parts of the message not getting through," said Dr. Gaëtan Gibbs, a family doctor in the village of Saint-Quentin.
He told the more than 1,600 people watching live on Facebook that a negative test doesn't mean that you can ease up on precautions or that you can end your quarantine ahead of the 14-day duration.
As of Wednesday, there were 150 active cases in Zone 4, giving it a rate of 311 cases per 100,000 people.
That's more than seven times the per capita rate in Zone 1 in southeast New Brunswick and is in the same range as large urban centres such as Montreal.
But the difference with Montreal is there aren't hundreds or even thousands of hospital beds that can be used to cope with a surge in cases, said intensive-care unit internist Dr. Jean-Philippe Lepage.
"The system is very fragile and it can overwhelm our capacity very quickly," he said.
"We're very worried about the next few weeks if we continue this trend and people don't respect the rules and it gets worse. We could be overwhelmed."
For now, he said, the ICU at the Edmundston hospital can cope with the numbers.
But if outbreaks at nursing homes in the region continue, eventually those numbers will start to spill over into hospitals.
The Maison Belle Vue nursing home in Edmundston had 34 cases among residents and employees as of Tuesday. It's one of three long-term care homes with outbreaks in Zone 4.
WATCH | Edmundston surgeon fears region isn't taking virus seriously:
Dr. Kim Pettigrew, who works in palliative care, said nursing home residents are vulnerable and are suffering from isolation and loneliness, and every new outbreak diverts resources away from other patients who need care.
"Every outbreak is a catastrophe," she said.
Dr. Paul Cloutier, a surgeon at the Edmundston Regional Hospital, said there were examples at an NB Liquor store in the region last week of security staff having to tell customers to wear their masks over their noses.
Anecdotes like that persuaded the doctors that news coverage of provincial COVID-19 briefings isn't enough, and it is time to speak up before things get out of control.
"We need to step up," Cloutier said, "and for people from Grand Falls, from St-Quentin and from here in Edmundston, probably seeing our familiar faces shows that we're here right now, and we want to talk to you."
The news conference by the physicians, based in three communities throughout the zone, was hosted on the City of Edmundston's Facebook page.
Dr. Claude Richard of Grand Falls said there's a misperception that cases are only in the two largest municipalities in the zone and people living elsewhere can relax.
"COVID cases, or contacts with COVID cases, have been everywhere in Zone 4," she said. "It's not just Edmundston and it's not just Grand Falls. They're everywhere."
Several times, residents were urged to get tested even if they experienced mild symptoms and to be honest when contacted by contract tracers working for Public Health.
Emergency department physician Dr. Vincent Moreau told people not to go to the ER with mild to moderate symptoms and to stay home while waiting for test results.
"The situation could deteriorate to the point that the hospital simply couldn't keep up with demands," he said.
"We don't want to have to choose who gets care and who doesn't."