UNB COVID outbreak is travel-related, but other details scarce

·3 min read
The University of New Brunswick said Public Health will contact anyone who is considered a close contact to the COVID-19 cases at Magee House in Fredericton and provide further direction. (Google Street View - image credit)
The University of New Brunswick said Public Health will contact anyone who is considered a close contact to the COVID-19 cases at Magee House in Fredericton and provide further direction. (Google Street View - image credit)

Two universities and a college in Fredericton remain under lockdown Tuesday after six cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at a residence at the University of New Brunswick.

But few new details have been made public about the outbreak at Magee House, which has 101 apartment-style units for mature students, some of whom may have school-age children.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell confirmed the outbreak is travel-related, but declined to be more specific.

"Whether you travel outside of the province, in another area of this country, or another country, the variants are everywhere," she told reporters during the COVID briefing.

Public Health officials are "very concerned about the fact that this outbreak in Zone 3 [the Fredericton region] is a variant and it's the India variant that we're very, very concerned about in terms of being very, very, very aggressive in terms of being contagious and causing more severe symptoms," Russell continued, without clearly stating whether the case of the variant first recorded in India confirmed Monday in the Fredericton region is at Magee House.

Niether the Department of Health nor UNB officials would say.

Russell said she "wouldn't necessarily say" the outbreak started because someone failed to self-isolate properly.

"You know, I think people try to do their best and they try to take all the precautions necessary. But I don't really have any more details around this particular situation."

UNB did not answer questions about the protocols it had in place for students returning from travel, how those were communicated to students, or what precautions it took to ensure travelling students self-isolated properly.

Residents, family members and staff of Magee House were tested Sunday afternoon.

As of about 4:45 p.m. AT Tuesday, Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said the results were "starting to trickle in." He did not say whether anyone else has tested positive.

A second round of testing is planned for Wednesday, he said.

Dr. Jennifer Russell said the transmission pattern of the variant in this outbreak is 'very concerning.'
Dr. Jennifer Russell said the transmission pattern of the variant in this outbreak is 'very concerning.'(Government of New Brunswick)

Meanwhile, because of an exposure to a case of COVID-19, residents and staff of UNB's Elizabeth Parr-Johnston residence were expected to be tested Tuesday.

This building, which has two or three single bedrooms per suite, each with a shared washroom, kitchen and living area, can house up to 169 people.

None of those test results has been released.

UNB spokesperson Heather Campbell did not answer questions about how many students and children are self-isolating and undergoing testing.

St. Thomas University and the New Brunswick Community College switched Monday to the essential services model for 72 hours because of their proximity to UNB and the potential for exposure.

Ventilation upgrades

Asked Tuesday about the ventilation of the two UNB residences, Russell said some "minor changes" were recommended "to make sure that there is no problems in terms of contamination of the airflow, et cetera.

"So they're working on that as we speak."

Magee House opened in 1970 and Elizabeth Parr-Johnston opened in 2006, according to the university's website.

UNB president and vice-chancellor Paul Mazerolle said in a statement the university understands the presence of COVID-19 variants is "a significant concern," and it takes the threat "very seriously."

"We have been in constant communication with New Brunswick Public Health, sometimes on an hourly basis," he said.

"As more contact tracing and testing is completed, plans and actions may need to be revised to minimize the risk of spread."