New Brunswick health officials report province's 32nd COVID-19-related death

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FREDERICTON — A person in their 60s from New Brunswick's Edmundston region is the 32nd COVID-19-related death in the province, health officials said Friday.

Premier Blaine Higgs expressed his condolences to the person's family in a news release. "On behalf of all New Brunswickers, I would like to share my sincere sympathies with this person’s loved ones," Higgs wrote.

Health officials reported eight new cases of COVID-19. Six are in the Edmundston region, in the northwest of the province, which has 113 of New Brunswick's 140 active reported cases. The Moncton and Fredericton regions each have one new case.

Nineteen patients are hospitalized with the disease, including 13 in intensive care.

Meanwhile, Rick Cuming, co-president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Federation, said Friday he has concerns for the safety of students and staff at high schools in the Edmundston region.

The province announced this week that high schools in the area will remain open even though the region is under the province's red pandemic-alert level. The schools will maintain a hybrid learning model where students alternate between remote and in-person classes.

Cuming, however, said with the high number of active COVID-19 cases in the region and the presence of the B.1.1.7 variant — which is considered more virulent than the original strain — distance learning should be privileged.

"We recommend that the safest method to deliver curriculum is remotely when in a red zone," he said in an interview. "Teachers just don't feel that their concerns are being heard and they don't feel that their well-being is a priority."

Students at high schools across the rest of the province will return to full-time in-person learning on Monday, April 12. Cuming said he worries that may not be safe.

"It is absolutely crucial that we keep safety as the No. 1 priority," he said. "The question right now is whether it's safe to have all of our students back full time with the variant present in these outbreaks in our communities."

Meanwhile, the Liberal member of the legislature for Edmundston is also calling on the government to keep schools in the area closed while hospitalizations remain high.

"I completely understand how people in our region are feeling — they are deeply concerned for the safety of their children and truly feel that the safest place for them until the current situation improves is at home," Francine Landry wrote in a statement Monday.

But in a statement Friday, Education Minister Dominic Cardy said he knows how important school is to support the mental and physical well-being of students. He said increased health and safety measures are in place.

"These measures include requiring students and staff to stay home if they have even one symptom of COVID-19 and actively screening school staff when they report to work every day," he wrote. "Should a positive case of COVID-19 be confirmed at a school in the red phase, then the school will close to students for three consecutive days to allow for contact tracing and testing of school staff to be carried out."

He said when students are in school, strict health and safety protocols are in place. "Their social needs can be met, while maintaining physical distancing, using masks, and being encouraged to maintain proper hygiene," Cardy said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2021.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press