Looking for COVID-19 March break advice? The answers depend on who you ask

Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said New Brunswickers should assess and manage their personal risk for COVID-19 while travelling this March break. (Government of New Brunswick - image credit)
Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said New Brunswickers should assess and manage their personal risk for COVID-19 while travelling this March break. (Government of New Brunswick - image credit)

Are you getting ready to travel for March break and wondering what actions you should take to protect yourself from COVID-19? It depends on who you ask.

The chief medical officer of health's advice hasn't changed.

Dr. Jennifer Russell says "everybody's assessing their own individual risks and what protections they want to use."

Vaccination, she said, is "the most important one."

"So we would love to see more people getting their third or fourth doses and if they're eligible for the bivalent one, getting that one.

"So we're still really hoping that people hear that message that vaccines are really important and especially if you're going to be travelling."

Only 2.3% of school-aged children have 2nd booster

As of Tuesday's COVIDWatch report, a total of 30.2 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have now received their second booster.

Among school-aged children, the second-booster vaccination rate is only about 2.3 per cent as of Feb. 23, according to figures provided by the Department of Health.

That includes 2,073 youth aged 15 to 19, 622 aged 10 to 14, and 38 aged five to nine.

"Dose counting is not as meaningful as it once was in understanding the booster uptake," department spokesperson Sean Hatchard has said.

The department is more focused on whether people are "up to date" on their vaccines, meaning they've received a booster within the past five months.

Masking best way to avoid infection

Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, agrees vaccination offers the best protection against severe illness and hospitalization.

But in his view, masking in indoor public places is the best protective measure people can take. "In other words, don't force your immune system to cope with COVID. Avoid that in the first place," he said.

People might argue about whether there's more or less COVID now, or whether a new variant is more or less contagious, said Furness.

"But the fact of the matter is COVID is endemic. It's around, and the more often you get infected, the more likely you are to have severe health outcomes," he said.

People have to decide whether they're willing to get COVID or not, and if they want to avoid COVID, masking is the best choice, Furness said. "It just is because… it's a Wild West in terms of safety.

CBC News
CBC News

"You can't assume that someone near you isn't extremely sick and knows they're sick and is out there anyway because they've come to believe that that's an OK thing to do."

A family can be "quite safe" if they just drive somewhere and rent a place, he said.

Getting on an airplane without a tight-fitting respirator mask is risky though, according to Furness — particularly prior to take off and after landing because the air circulation systems aren't operating.

"That's a lot of people in a very, very small air space," he said.

Similarly, if people are standing in line at the airport or any other indoor queue next to people for "some period of time," Furness recommends masking.

"So if people are travelling, those are things to think about," he said. "There's ways to do it where you minimize contact with others."

Asked specifically about her recommendation on masking, Russell said it is "a personal choice based on your comfort level and your risk.

"I would hope that if you are exhibiting signs and symptoms of [a] cold or anything … cough or runny nose etcetera, that you wear a mask when you're out in public, if you want to protect other people," she added.

Post-break spike not anticipated

Asked what concerns she has about students and their families travelling out of province or out of country to areas that might have higher rates of COVID-19, Russell replied, "I don't really have anything else to add other than, you know, everybody is going to have to look at their individual risks."

Furness said the more people travel and the more people gather, the more exposure opportunities there are.

But he doesn't expect to see the same kind of spike in cases that have tended to follow holiday gatherings earlier in the pandemic.

There's a different "disease dynamic" now, he said, with increased population immunity through vaccinations and prior infections.


The break from students being together in schools could actually help slow spread, he noted. "That's conceivable as well. It's really hard to say."

If there's no "giant explosion" in cases after March break, Furness worries it could reinforce the perception some people have that "there really isn't any COVID anymore."

But as long as cases continue to rise and fall without stabilizing and dropping to zero, we're still in an endemic state, he stressed.

On Tuesday, Russell described New Brunswick's COVID numbers as "becoming quite stable."

The province reported nine more deaths from COVID, 11 people admitted to hospital because of the virus, including two who require intensive care, 363 new lab-confirmed cases and a test positivity rate of nearly 21 per cent — the highest it's been since Aug. 28, which is as far back as the COVIDWatch data dates. A high test-positivity rate indicates a high level of community transmission.

"We're hopeful that we're moving beyond the worst of it now," Russell has said.

According to COVID-19 Resources Canada, an estimated one in 49 New Brunswickers is currently infected with COVID-19.