New Brunswick

N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Premier tests positive for COVID-19; non-urgent surgeries cancelled

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has announced he has tested positive for COVID-19 after a result from a rapid test. Higgs participated in a news conference Friday morning virtually.

Province can expect up to 100 COVID patients in hospitals if 1,000 cases per day is reached in January

While attending Friday morning's news conference virtually, Premier Blaine Higgs announced he tested positive for COVID-19 in a rapid test and is isolating with his family. (GNB/YouTube)

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has announced he has tested positive for COVID-19 after completing a rapid test. 

Higgs participated virtually in a news conference Friday morning to update the public on COVID-19 testing, isolation and contact tracing in light of the dominant Omicron variant.

The premier said he came into close contact with others who were positive and is now awaiting a PCR test result. Higgs, who had received two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine and a booster shot, said he is experiencing mild cold-like symptoms in the form of a cough, sore throat and head congestion. He is isolating with his family.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau conveyed his best wishes Friday for the premier's recovery. 

"At the current rate of growth, we could see as many as 1,000 new cases every day within a week," said Health Minister Dorothy Shephard at the news conference.

She said while hospitalization numbers remain relatively low, that is likely to change in the days ahead.

WATCH | N.B. braces for major impact from Omicron: 

N.B. braces for major impact from Omicron

1 year ago
Duration 6:15
Fearing that cases of the Omicron variant will overwhelm New Brunswick hospitals, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced Friday that they will move to emergency services only.

The provincial government announced that non-urgent and elective surgeries and procedures are being cancelled due to the strain on the province's health-care system from the COVID surge.

"We're on the precipice of the most serious situation our province has seen since the COVID-19 pandemic began," Shephard said.

The minister was not able to provide a figure for the number of procedures that are now cancelled. The provincial update came as New Brunswick once again broke its record for new COVID-19 cases.

On Friday, the province announced 682 new cases. Active cases now total 3,522.

There are 45 people in hospital with 21 in intensive care. Of those in hospital, 29 are over the age of 60 and 11 people are on a ventilator. No one under 19 is currently hospitalized.

A person between the ages of 50 and 59 in the Saint John region has died as a result of COVID-19.

As well, Correctional Service Canada has confirmed that three inmates and seven staff members at Atlantic Institution in Smiths Crossing have tested positive for COVID-19. 

The new cases reported Friday break down this way:

Moncton region, Zone 1

  • 228 cases.

Saint John region, Zone 2

  • 265 cases.

Fredericton region, Zone 3

  • 43 cases.

Edmundston region, Zone 4

  • 100 cases.

Campellton region, Zone 5

  • 3 cases.

Bathurst region, Zone 6

  • 26 cases.

Miramichi region, Zone 7

  • 17 cases. 

Changes in booster eligibility, PCR testing, isolation requirements 

The province announced that in January it will reduce the age eligibility for those seeking a booster vaccination dose.

To preserve the supply of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needed for future booster clinics for those aged 12 to 29, groups that are currently eligible for boosters will be offered Moderna, regardless of which vaccine was administered for previous doses.

PCR testing has been limited to select groups as of Tuesday at 11:59 p.m.

For those who are symptomatic, but under the age of 50 and do not live in a vulnerable setting, they are advised to take point-of-care rapid tests.

A positive rapid test will be treated as a positive result for COVID-19 and people will be asked to register their result through a new form that will be available online next week. They will also need to follow new isolation guidelines.

PCR tests will now be reserved for:

  • People in areas at highest risk, including health-care workers and those who live or work in long-term care. facilities, homeless shelters and correctional facilities.
  • People who are symptomatic and aged 50 and over.
  • People who are symptomatic and immunocompromised or pregnant.
  • People who need a PCR test for travel.
  • People who are identified as a priority by Public Health.

Isolation requirements have also changed for individuals who are either vaccinated or unvaccinated and their vaccinated, asymptomatic, close household contacts.

Vaccinated people who have tested positive will need to isolate for five days, while those who are unvaccinated will need to isolate for 10 days.

Close contacts outside of a household will be asked to mask continuously, avoid vulnerable settings and people, and limit their contacts as much as possible for at least 10 days.

Upon release from isolation, people must wear a mask continuously and avoid vulnerable settings and gatherings for the next five days. If a close contact develops symptoms, they will be directed to take a rapid test, unless they meet the requirements for a PCR test.

Due to the high number of cases and lack of resources, contact tracing among the general public is no longer feasible. Instead, people who test positive will be asked to notify their close contacts and members of their household. Case and contact tracing will be reserved mostly for people in vulnerable settings to help prevent transmission among those who are most likely to be hospitalized.

Hospitals reduce services

Both the Horizon Health Network and Vitalité Health Network are reducing services and managing bed capacity to adapt to staffing challenges in managing the pandemic. 

Horizon says 59 surgeries have been cancelled since Dec. 20, and noted that 468 staff members cannot work due to COVID-19. The breakdown includes: 

  • 300 staff members in the Saint John area.
  • 75 staff members in the Fredericton/Upper River Valley area.
  • 67 staff members in the Moncton area.
  • 26 staff members in the Miramichi area.

All Horizon hospitals are at over 90 per cent occupancy, except for the Upper River Valley Hospital in Waterville.

  • Non-urgent medical procedures and elective surgeries will be postponed, unless patients are contacted by Horizon to re-schedule.
  • Non-urgent ambulatory outpatient clinic and professional services are to be postponed. This includes: laboratory services, blood and specimen collection and diagnostic imaging appointments.

For Vitalité hospitals, the following services are being maintained or have been changed:

  • Inpatient care and services: Care and services provided to inpatients will be maintained in all hospitals.
  • Emergency departments: All emergency rooms will be open.
  • Surgical services: Reduced activities; elective surgeries will be postponed.
  • Ambulatory care services: Reduced activities.
  • Oncology and hemodialysis services: Services will be maintained.
  • Professional services (physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, audiology, nutrition, respiratory therapy, etc.): Reduced activities.
  • Medical imaging services (x-rays, scans, etc.): Reduced activities.
  • Phlebotomy (bloodwork): Patients can come in for their blood tests.

General visits are still completely prohibited in all hospitals. Exceptions are in place for patients who are eligible for a designated support person, unless otherwise stated for specific hospitals. 

Return to classroom delayed

Beginning Jan. 11, all students from kindergarten to Grade 12 will begin learning from home until Jan 21.

Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy announced a delay to in-class learning for all students until the week of Jan. 17, when the decision will be reassessed.

In the coming days, the minister said there will be discussions with schools and staff on how to support vulnerable students and families who rely on school services. 

The current interim measures for school sports and extracurricular activities will remain in place during this time.