A growing number of health-care workers are in self-isolation, either because they have COVID-19 or came into close contact with a confirmed case in one of two ongoing outbreaks in the province that saw five new cases announced Friday.
Fifty health-care workers are self-isolating — 25 in the Campbellton region and 25 in the Moncton region.
Thirty-two of them work for the Vitalité Health Network.
"Our most updated numbers indicate 25 employees from the Restigouche [Campbellton] region and [seven] from the Moncton region are currently in isolation, either because they have COVID-19 or were found to be close contacts through Public Health's contact tracing," spokesperson Thomas Lizotte said in an emailed statement.
That's seven more than at the beginning of the week, when the numbers stood at 20 and five, respectively.
Lizotte did not respond to a request for more information about how many of them have tested positive for the respiratory disease.
He didn't say which facilities they work at, the type of work they do, or how much interaction they typically have with the public either.
The Horizon Health Network has 18 staff from the Moncton Hospital self-isolating and monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms due to a potential exposure — 16 nurses from the emergency department and two phlebotomists, technicians who draw blood.
"These staff members were tested on multiple occasions with all results coming back negative," Horizon president and CEO Karen McGrath said in an emailed statement.
They will all be eligible to return to work as of Monday, she said.
McGrath did not say how many Horizon employees have tested positive for COVID-19.
"We are unable to provide a firm figure," she said. "While Horizon has referred staff to Employee Health for testing, there are others who have been referred through Tele-Care 811 or self-referral, which is information we would not have access to."
The five new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in New Brunswick on Friday are all in the Campbellton region (Zone 5).
There are now 92 active cases in the province: 41 in the Moncton region, or Zone 1, two in the Saint John region (Zone 2), one in the Fredericton region (Zone, 3) and 48 in the Campbellton region.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, has said the source of the Campbellton outbreak is still under investigation.
The Moncton outbreak, centred at Manoir Notre-Dame special care home, is travel-related, she has said.
But she has refused to reveal whether the travel case was a person who was not required to self-isolate under provincial rules or a person who failed to self-isolate, citing privacy. She wasn't asked for information that identified a person.
The four leaders on the province's COVID panel defended Russell's decision not to reveal more information about the travel-related case.
No known 'patient zero' investigations
The Department of Justice and Public Safety has not been asked to investigate whether the source of the outbreaks violated any of the Emergency Measures Act regulations, according to spokesperson Geoffrey Downey.
"The Department of Health is still investigating the outbreaks," he said in an emailed statement. "The Department of Justice and Public Safety will conduct an investigation if called upon."
RCMP spokesperson Const. Hans Ouellette declined to say whether the force has been asked to investigate.
"As a general rule, the RCMP would not confirm whether any particular individual is the subject of a complaint or investigation, as well as any investigation that is ongoing," he said. "The same would apply for any investigation where any criminal charges have not been laid."
Court appearance Oct. 26 related to May outbreak
During the COVID-19outbreak in Campbellton in May, Premier Blaine Higgs had asked the RCMP to investigate whether the alleged source had violated the self-isolation rules.
Although Higgs never publicly named the individual, he blamed a cluster of COVID-19 cases in the Campbellton region and a resurgence of the coronavirus in the province on an "irresponsible" medical professional who travelled to Quebec for personal reasons, "was not forthcoming about their reasons for travel upon returning to New Brunswick" and didn't self-isolate.
Dr. Jean Robert Ngola, 50, was soon widely identified as the individual and became the subject of threats and racism.
Ngola had travelled to Montreal the week of May 10 to pick up his four-year-old daughter and immediately returned to work at the Campbellton Regional Hospital without self-isolating for 14 days. He was informed by Public Health on May 27 that he had tested positive for the virus, though he says he didn't have any symptoms.
After a six-week investigation, police decided against laying criminal charges, but Ngola could still face a hefty provincial fine for violating the Emergency Measures Act. He is set to appear in provincial court in Campbellton on Oct. 26.
The outbreak claimed two lives, infected 41 people and forced that northern part of New Brunswick back into the orange phase of recovery.
He plans to sue the provincial government and Vitalité Health Network, and his lawyers are calling for a public and criminal inquiry into how he was treated.
They allege his confidential health information was leaked on social media within an hour of him receiving his test results.
Ngola, who is now based in Louiseville, QC, recently received a letter of support signed by more than 1,500 doctors across Canada.
The five new cases in the Campbellton region include two people 19 and under, one person 20 to 29, and two people 50 to 59.
All five people are self-isolating, and their cases are under investigation, Public Health said.
Two people have recovered since Thursday, but four people remain in hospital, including one in intensive care.
New Brunswick has had 297 cases since the pandemic began in March and 203 people have recovered. Two people have died.
A total of 89,852 tests have been conducted to date, 1,140 of them on Thursday.