New Brunswick

3 more Campbellton COVID-19 cases linked to doctor who didn't self-isolate

Three more COVID-19 cases in northern New Brunswick have been linked to a doctor at a hospital who contracted the coronavirus outside the province and didn't self-isolate when he returned.

RCMP investigating whether charges warranted for doctor who saw patients after visit to Quebec

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, described the outbreak as 'completely preventable.' (Government of New Brunswick)

Three more COVID-19 cases in northern New Brunswick have been linked to a doctor at a hospital who contracted the coronavirus outside the province and didn't self-isolate when he returned.

That brings the total cluster of cases in the Campbellton region to six, the chief medical officer of health announced Thursday.

A second health-care worker is among the new cases, said Dr. Jennifer Russell. The new cases include a person under 19, someone in their 40s and someone over 90.

Based on contact tracing, she expects to see more cases emerge in the days ahead, she said. The incubation period of the virus is about 14 days.

"The outbreak … is upsetting to everyone, including me," she said, describing it as "completely preventable."

Until last week, New Brunswick had no active cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. All 120 people infected since the pandemic began in March had recovered.

Russell said health officials don't yet know the extent of the outbreak because they're still contact tracing, but she hopes they will be able to "turn the tide" with tighter restrictions and widespread testing.

On Wednesday, Premier Blaine Higgs announced a medical professional in their 50s, travelled to Quebec for personal reasons, "was not forthcoming about their reasons for travel upon returning to New Brunswick and they did not self-isolate as a result."

This professional then saw patients for two weeks at the Campbellton Regional Hospital and possibly other locations, forcing Higgs to order that region back into a stricter phase of pandemic recovery, known as the orange phase.

Neither Higgs nor Russell would say whether the person was a doctor or in some other health profession, but CBC News has confirmed the individual is a male doctor.

WATCH | New N.B. COVID-19 cluster linked to doctor:

Just days after New Brunswick lifted more of its COVID-19 restrictions, many are furious about a new outbreak caused by a local doctor that is stripping those new freedoms from thousands of people. 1:51

Russell said Thursday the policy for any health-care workers who travel outside the province for any reason is to self-isolate for 14 days. "It is mandatory."

Information about the case has been passed along to the RCMP to determine exactly what took place and whether charges are warranted, Higgs told reporters during a news conference in Fredericton.

"I know many people have questions about professional ramifications, but this must be left in the hands of the professionals," he said.

Subject to disciplinary action

Gilles Lanteigne, the president and CEO of the Vitalité Health Network, told CBC News he could not talk about an individual case, but he did explain in general terms what happens in such cases.

"In this situation, or in a situation like this, anyone who has not fulfilled his responsibility, according to the working agreement that we have with him or her, would be subject to disciplinary action."

Dr. Ed Schollenberg, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick, the licensing body for doctors in the province, declined to comment.

Medical society 'deeply concerned'

The New Brunswick Medical Society is "deeply concerned" about the situation, said president Dr. Chris Goodyear.

"Physicians across New Brunswick have been working diligently for months battling the COVID-19 pandemic to protect New Brunswickers," he said in an emailed statement.

"All health-care professionals have a responsibility to abide by Public Health guidelines and the provincial state of emergency. No one is or should be exempt from the rules and recommendations put in place to protect our province."

On Wednesday, the premier had expressed frustration, saying the region is now at a higher risk "due to the actions of one irresponsible individual."

2nd part of yellow phase delayed

The province moved into the yellow phase last Friday, which allows people to extend their two-household bubble to close family and friends, more businesses to reopen, and more recreation.

The rest of the province will remain in the yellow phase, but additional restrictions scheduled to be lifted Friday have been delayed until June 5, said Higgs.

They include:

  • Outdoor public gatherings of up to 50 people practising physical distancing.
  • Religious services, including weddings and funerals, of up to 50 people, indoors or outdoors, with physical distancing.
  • Regional health authorities increase the number of elective surgeries and non-emergency services.
  • Swimming pools, saunas, water parks can reopen.
  • Gyms, yoga and dance studios, rinks, pool halls and bowling alleys can reopen.
  • "Low-contact" team sports are permitted.

"This will allow us time to see how widespread the outbreak is," said Higgs. If further restrictions are required to prevent the spread of the virus, he will not hesitate to put them in place, he said.

Three more cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the Campbellton region, health zone 5, on Thursday, bringing the total number of active cases to six. (CBC)

The province's state of emergency declaration has been extended by another two weeks, he said.

The legislature has also adjourned until June 9 to ensure the politicians don't contribute to the spread of the virus and to allow the all-party COVID cabinet committee to continue to respond to the outbreak.

The legislature had just reconvened Tuesday for its first regular sitting day since March 13, with new physical distancing precautions in place.

At least 150 people exposed

At least 150 people were exposed to the infected doctor, including 50 health-care workers at the Campbellton Regional Hospital and 100 people in the community, according to the head of the Vitalité Health Network.

Jess Day, who lives in Listiguj First Nation in Quebec, said the usual harmony with neighbouring Campbellton has turned hostile since COVID-19 shut down the border. (Submitted by Jess Day)

There are "definitely more," said Lanteigne.

He expects 500 people to be tested within the next couple of days.

Jess Day, who says she is a patient of the doctor in question, said his actions have triggered widespread fear and she doesn't know if she could trust him again.

"I'm disappointed actually because he's somebody who's supposed … be knowledgeable and responsible," she said. "And you know, we have a lot of trust in our physicians and I feel like he disregarded that trust."

Day lives in the Listiguj First Nation across the border in Quebec, but doctors in the region are in short supply. For the past seven years, she would take a taxi or walk across the bridge to see her doctor.

She hasn't seen him for months, but said that's not much comfort.

"It's one of those things where it kept me up all night because I realized that this person would have been in contact with, we have no idea how many people. And then they were in contact with, we don't know how many people. And you know, it feels like the whole pandemic just started all over again."

2 municipal offices close

The Village of Nigadoo posted a notice on Facebook Thursday that someone in its municipal office has been potentially exposed to the virus. Nigadoo is located about 55 minutes southeast of Campbellton.

As a precaution, the village office will be closed until June 15 unless otherwise noted.

"The health of our community is our main priority," the post states.

The Village of Pointe-Verte also announced on Facebook Thursday that its office will be closed as a precaution until June 15 after someone close to one of its employees was potentially exposed.

A couple of hours later, the village, located about 50 minutes southeast of Campbellton, posted a second notice.

"Following numerous messages and calls, we want to reassure citizens of Pointe-Verte.none of the municipal employees have COVID-19 or even have direct contact with someone with COVID-19. It is a precautionary principle. Thank you for your understanding."

Hospital closures extended

The Campbellton Regional Hospital is "basically shut down" until early next week, said Lanteigne.

The ER is closed, all surgeries and non-urgent health-care services have been put on hold, no admissions are being accepted and ambulances are being diverted to the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst — about an hour southeast.

Hospital officials are also looking into whether some patients can be safely sent home early, he said.

Visitors are prohibited except for patients nearing end of life, those in pediatrics, intensive care and obstetrics, where only one designated visitor is allowed per patient.

The closure of the Campbellton Regional Hospital's ER and cancellation of all non-urgent or elective health care services will continue until early next week 'due to the high risk of transmission of COVID-19,' the Vitalité Health Network said Thursday. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Widespread testing

​​​​​​Testing centres will be set up Friday through Sunday at the Memorial Civic Centre in Campbellton and the Dalhousie Inch Arran Ice Palace for anyone in the region who wants to get tested — whether they've had contact with the infected doctor or not, and whether they have symptoms or not.

The region, also known as health Zone 5, extends from Whites Brook to the Village of Belledune, including Tide Head, Atholville, Campbellton, Dalhousie, Eel River Dundee, Eel River Bar First Nation, Balmoral, Charlo and Belledune.

There are roughly 25,000 people in the region.

We want to take all necessary measures to prevent a second wave of the pandemic.- Gilles Lanteigne, Horizon president and CEO

The objective is to get the most accurate picture possible of the prevalence of the coronavirus in the region, said Lanteigne.

"We want to take all necessary measures to prevent a second wave of the pandemic," he said.

"We hope that large numbers of people will participate in this initiative. It is time to hit the reset button and to give the Restigouche the chance to return to the yellow phase as quickly as possible."

Anyone who wants to get tested must call Tele-Care 811 for an appointment.

The chief medical officer of health said 219 people had been referred over the past 24 hours.

Those with symptoms or considered at-risk will be given priority.

The 50 identified staff members, including physicians, were tested for the virus Wednesday night and the results were expected later Thursday, said Lanteigne.

The 100 identified community members were expected to be tested Thursday.

As of Thursday morning, Zone 5 had the lowest number of completed COVID-19 tests in the province at 951, followed by the Miramichi region, Zone 7, at 997.

The Moncton region, Zone 1, leads the province with 7,292 tests, followed by the Fredericton region, Zone 3, at 5,289.

A total of 23,693 coronavirus tests have been performed in New Brunswick to date.

Premier Blaine Higgs said the next recovery phase from the COVID-19 pandemic will be delayed a week. 2:02

Officials from WorkSafeNB and the Department of Public Safety are in the Campbellton region to ensure compliance with the return to the orange phase of recovery.

Non-regulated health professionals, such as acupuncturists and naturopaths, and personal services, such as hair dressers and spas, which were allowed to open last Friday under the yellow phase, cannot operate until further notice.

Area residents should stay home as much as possible, avoid any close contact outside their two-household bubbles, and not travel outside the region.

Any non-essential travel to the area should be limited.

The two other active cases include a person in their 90s and a child who attended two daycares.

None of the individuals who tested positive for coronavirus are in hospital with COVID-19.

New Brunswickers who have travelled to the Campbellton area or been in close contact with anyone from the area are advised to monitor for symptoms for 14 days.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include: a fever above 38 C, a new cough or worsening chronic cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, new onset of fatigue, new onset of muscle pain, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell, and difficulty breathing. In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.

A COVID-19 self-assessment tool is available on Public Health's website. Anyone who develops symptoms should call Tele-Care 811 to get a referral for testing.

With files from Rachel Cave

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