N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Province expands testing to include those with no travel links
Newest confirmed case is a woman in her 20s in southeastern New Brunswick, bringing total up to 18 cases
New Brunswick is ramping up COVID-19 testing to include anyone with symptoms of the viral infection, even if they have no connection to recent travel, the chief medical officer announced Tuesday, as the number of confirmed cases in the province increased to 18, and two patients have required hospitalization.
People entering New Brunswick from another province must also now self-isolate for 14 days, said Dr. Jennifer Russell.
The moves come as new data from the Public Health Agency of Canada show almost half the COVID-19 cases in the country are caused by spread in the community from an unknown source, which experts say could mean there's a silent epidemic happening across the country.
Of the 1,044 cases the agency had provided epidemiological data on as of Monday, 48 per cent are a result of infection from community transmission, while 42 per cent are tied to travel and seven per cent are linked to close contact with a traveller who tested positive.
Premier Blaine Higgs continued to call Tuesday for a "national plan" to deal with the pandemic, including interprovincial travel, but was outnumbered by his provincial and territorial counterparts during a call Monday night.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said most premiers don't think it's necessary to invoke the federal Emergencies Act to deal with the pandemic "at this time."
Higgs maintained enacting a national state of emergency is the "best tool to ensure consistency across our country in the level of health care, safeguarding our supply chain, and mitigating the economic impact."
But he also announced provincial aid for workers or self-employed people in New Brunswick who have lost their job because of the state of emergency.
$900 income benefit
This one-time $900 income benefit will be administered through the Red Cross and will help to bridge the time between when people lose their employment or close their business and when they receive their federal benefit, he told reporters during the daily update in Fredericton.
Further details on how to apply will follow in coming days, he said.
Here is a roundup of other developments.
The newest confirmed case in New Brunswick is a woman in her 20s in southeastern New Brunswick who recently returned from international travel, said Russell.
The two people who have required hospitalization include someone in the south, who was hospitalized "briefly" and has since been discharged, and someone in the central part of the province, whose condition is being evaluated, she said.
All of New Brunswick's cases to date are related to international travel or close contacts to a confirmed case that has travelled outside the province.
But "we expect to see community transmission very soon," she said.
"We are working to increase the number of COVID-19 tests to effectively capture those who may have the disease, those who have been in contact with cases, and those who are most vulnerable to its effects," she said.
As of Monday, New Brunswick's reported total test results for COVID-19 were the lowest number per person of any province.
There have now been 1,237 tests that had negative results. The province has eliminated any presumptive cases on its website because it is now able to confirm test results locally.
On Monday, Higgs said he favoured the federal government invoking the Emergencies Act in response to COVID-19 to provide a consistent, national approach to stopping the spread of the virus.
Triggering the act would give the federal government sweeping powers to regulate or prohibit travel, requisition and use property, order qualified people to provide essential services, regulate the distribution of goods, resources and services and establish emergency shelters and hospitals.
The Emergencies Act, which came into effect in 1988, replacing the War Measures Act, has never been invoked by the federal government.
You're in isolation. What do you have to do?
If you're self-isolating, chief medical health officer Jennifer Russell says you should stay in a separate room from family. If possible, you should also use a separate bathroom. They should stay two metres apart from family and keep interactions brief.
If self-isolation, you should also:
Avoid sharing personal items like toothbrushes, towels, bed linen and electronic devices.
Ask others to get groceries and supplies.
Go outside for fresh air without putting anyone in danger. This can include standing outside on your deck.
Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently used, like telephones, bedside tables, remotes, toilets, sinks, doorknobs, counters.
Avoid contact with people with chronic conditions, compromised immune systems and older adults.
Not staying home? You could be charged
The government has set up a toll-free information line and email address to answer non-health related questions, including questions about non-compliance with the state of emergency.
Higgs said a lot of people called the line, and he was concerned about some of the reports, which were investigated.
Some businesses have continued to operate without ensuring social distancing practices, he told the daily briefing.
"That's a serious problem, and a violation of the emergency declaration," he said. "Additionally, it puts us all at risk."
The province has found a 94 per cent compliance rate from businesses required to close, he said.
"Not being in compliance will either result in penalties related to fines or a shut down of the facility."
The province also received reports of travellers returning to New Brunswick and refusing to self-isolate. Some of those people have returned to work or headed to social gatherings like parties.
"This shows incredibly poor judgment and disregard for your fellow citizens and neighbours," he said.
Officers will follow up on every complaint that has been emailed or called in. Anyone who is in violation of the emergency declaration risks being charged.
Some of those fines could range up to $10,000.
Flooding and COVID-19
Premier Blaine Higgs the Emergency Measures Organization is closely monitoring water levels, and he'll take flooding. action "as required" during the coronavirus outbreak. Right now, melting conditions are typical for the month of March.
But the province is prepared "to do what's necessary to protect citizens."
The province has seen severe flooding over the past two years.
Higgs hopes the province won't need to call in the military to help with flooding, but "it's nice to know they're there when we need them."
Atwin in Ottawa
Fredericton MP Jenica Atwin is representing the Green caucus in the emergency session of the House of Commons today.
The MPs are returning to vote on measures to spend billions on aid for families and businesses struggling to cope as the coronavirus outbreak hammers the economy.
"The most important thing we can do today is enable the government to get money flowing to Canadians," Atwin said in a news release.
Atwin is one 32 debating the bill being brought forward by the Liberal government. She drove from Fredericton to Ottawa on Sunday, which is about 1,000 kilometres.
Elsipogtog sets up checkpoints
A First Nations community is taking action to protect residents against the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Elsipogtog council says checkpoints will be established at the edges of the community about 90 kilometres north of Moncton. Only community members and essential staff are allowed to enter the Elsipogtog territory.
Gaming centres and other establishments are closed, and if they open or if people continue to gather at those locations, they could be reprimanded.
The checkpoints are for monitoring only. Searches will not occur.
If residents don't follow the new measures, a curfew could be implemented.
The Trudeau government announced last week it's spending $305 million to help Indigenous communities deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Indigenous communities can draw from a $100 million set aside to help them build stocks medical supplies and develop a response plan.
Indigenous people are believed to face a higher risk because of health inequities and higher rates of underlying conditions. A lack of clean drinking water is one of the factors that makes Indigenous communities disproportionately vulnerable to infectious disease outbreaks.
What about breakfast and lunch programs?
School districts and community organizations have been working to get things in place so students and families that relied on school breakfast and lunch programs will receive help.
In Moncton, Anglophone East School District has partnered with a number of non-profit organizations.
The first lunches were handed out Tuesday at three locations in the city at different times and will continue each weekday.
The lunches can be picked up at:
- The Westbrook Circle Park at 11:45 a.m.
- White Frost Village Park at 12:15 p.m.
- Marsh Street Park at 12:45 p.m.
Officials are asking that only one person should pick up the lunches for elementary, middle school and high school students.
Last week, the Fredericton Community Kitchen began its first pantry delivery system to get emergency food boxes to students and families of the School Hunger Program.
They've partnered with 10 schools in Fredericton.
The Saint John Youth Ministry began distributing bagged lunches to children in need last week.
Snowmobile season closed
The New Brunswick Federation of Snowmobile Clubs Inc., has cancelled the snowmobiling season as of Sunday at midnight. The announcement was made in a Facebook post over the weekend.
The season legally ends in New Brunswick on April. 15.
Ross Antworth, general manager of the New Brunswick Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, said the season has never closed this early.
But the federation wanted to align itself with the provincial government and support its state of emergency.
He said it's the right thing to do.
"When you step back and be an adult about it, you understand it had to happen."
When government announced earlier this month, that residents need to stay home and avoid social gatherings, he said snowmobilers were still gathering in warming huts along the trails.
"It was a problem," he said. "We knew people were [congregating] in the warming huts … putting us all at risk."
There are at least 150 warming huts along the 8,303 kilometres of trails across New Brunswick.
Hotels almost empty
Gerald Normandeau, president of the Moncton Hotel Association, expects the hotel industry will lose millions of dollars because of COVID-19.
"In the last two weeks we've basically had no reservations," Normandeau said.
Some hotels in the Moncton area only have three rooms occupied each night, and many have already cancelled bookings for July and August.
Normandeau, who's also the general manager at the Crowne Plaza Moncton, said he's been forced to lay off 60 to 70 per cent of staff.
"It's hard times ahead," Normandeau said. "I've been in this business for quite a few years and worked through SARS and 9/11 and all those other disasters that have happened and nothing comes close to this."
President Cup playoffs cancelled
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League officially cancelled the 2020 President Cup playoffs on Monday.
The league has three New Brunswick teams: the Saint John Sea Dogs, Acadie-Bathurst Titans and Moncton Wildcats.
The QMJHL had already cancelled all remaining regular season games.
The Canadian Hockey League, a governing body made up of three regional leagues including the QMJHL, has also cancelled the Memorial Cup, which would've crowned an overall champion between the three leagues.
Saint John helps customers with water bills
Saint John Water announced Tuesday that it has set up a payment deferral program for customers who need it.
The program has immediately gone into effect, where residents and businesses experiencing financial hardship can defer water and sewer payments for two months.
There will be no late payment charges or interest charges applied.
Ratepayers now have until May 31 to make their payments to avoid interest payments.
Saint John Water has also suspended any disconnection of water service for non-payment until further notice.
What to do if you have any symptoms?
Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough or breathlessness. In this case, residents should:
Stay at home.
Immediately call Tele-Care 811.
Describe symptoms and travel history.
Follow instructions carefully.
With files from Sarah Morin, Gail Harding