New Brunswick is at a "critical stage" of the pandemic, with rising cases and a worrying lack of compliance with rules in some areas, Dr. Jennifer Russell and Premier Blaine Higgs said at a livestreamed update Thursday.
Both the premier and the chief medical officer of health used their turn at the podium to hammer home the message that the risk is everywhere around us, both in the province and just beyond its borders.
Maine has more than 17,000 active cases — with 1,000 of those in Aroostook County, "our nearest neighbours to the west" — and Quebec is averaging more than 2,500 new cases a day, Russell said.
"Our neighbours' houses are on fire and the embers are flying onto our roof," she said. "If we don't take action to keep this fire at bay, it will engulf us as well."
Higgs said that while the vast majority of New Brunswickers are following the rules, "we still don't see the compliance we need to," and warned that moving back to the red level "is indeed a possibility" if that doesn't change.
"Not following rules is going to have consequences," he said. "It's a must, people are dying. ... We have an opportunity to continue the great work we have done for the past 10 months, or we can lose it all.
"We could lose it all from one birthday party."
Earlier this week, inspectors visited 172 business sites and found 99.4 per cent of patrons were wearing masks, Higgs said.
However, "only 88.9 per cent of employees" were wearing masks, and fines were issued to two employees and one retail business.
Higgs said the time for issuing written warnings is over and that, "going forward," businesses that fail to follow the rules will face fines of up to $10,000.
"I will be asking [enforcement officers] to enforce the rules, because we must," Higgs said.
23 new cases reported Thursday
Public Health is reporting 23 new cases in New Brunswick on Thursday, with cases in six of the seven zones.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, made the announcement at a livestreamed update.
There are currently 2,161 New Brunswickers in self-isolation and 246 active cases in the province.
"While the dire projections made last spring have not yet come to pass, we may yet experience a surge in hospitalizations and deaths," Russell said. "We are not out of the woods by any stretch."
The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick during the pandemic is 859 and 600 people have recovered. There have been 12 deaths, and three patients are currently hospitalized.
As of Thursday, 167,776 tests have been conducted, including 1,773 since Wednesday's report. Across the province, 2,161 people are self-isolating.
The new cases break down as follows:
Moncton region, Zone 1, seven cases:
an individual 19 and under
two people 20-29
a person 30 to 39
a person 40 to 49
a person 50 to 59
a person 60 to 69
Saint John region, Zone 2, two cases:
a person 19 or under
a person 40 to 49.
Fredericton region, Zone 3, four cases:
three people 19 or under
a person 40 to 49
Edmundston region, Zone 4, five cases:
a person 20 to 29
two people 30 to 39
a person 40 to 49
a person 70 to 79
Campbellton region, Zone 5, four cases:
two people 19 or under
a person 20 to 29
a person 40 to 49
Bathurst region, Zone 6, one case:
a person 40 to 49
All in on orange, or else: Blunt talk from Dr. Russell
The second wave of the pandemic has seen New Brunswick go from being the envy of the country to the hotspot of Atlantic Canada, with rising case numbers that eclipse those of our Maritime neighbours.
Asked Thursday why our latest numbers are so much higher than those of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, Dr. Jennifer Russell said there are "many hypotheses" around that.
"The majority of cases are travel-related and they have transmitted to household members as a result of not self-isolating properly," she said.
"We have had holiday gatherings where people attended with symptoms, we have people who have gone to work with symptoms. There was also large drop in testing over the holiday season, and that has definitely contributed to what we're seeing right now."
However, Russell said, the biggest single issue the province is facing right now is that people "really aren't taking into account the major increase in risk of the increasing numbers around us."
"We can tighten borders, we can tighten our testing, we can tighten our restrictions, but unfortunately even since transitioning to the orange phase, these things aren't working," Russell said.
"We are still seeing people going to work sick, having gatherings that really shouldn't have happened, businesses that don't have operational plans — we've gone to the orange phase rules aren't working ... so why aren't they working?"
Russell said the fact that most New Brunswickers are complying with the rules makes the situation even more frustrating, because the actions of a small minority can wipe out the efforts of the majority.
"I am urging every single person, 100 per cent of the population, to follow Public Health guidance, abide by the restrictions, and move together as a province against COVID-19," she said. "It is the only way that we're going to prevent what we're seeing in other jurisdictions, and I can't be more blunt than that."
Active case counts in Atlantic Canada as of Thursday:
Prince Edward Island: eight active cases
Nova Scotia: 32 active cases
Newfoundland and Labrador: four active cases
New Brunswick: 246 active cases
Should you be worried if you shopped at Dollarama?
Nine Dollarama stores in the province were ordered closed for deep-cleaning Wednesday following a confirmed case in an employee who had visited the stores in the course of their duties.
On Thursday, Dr. Jennifer Russell was asked how concerned residents should be if they visited any of those stores. (Public Health has previously said they do not issue a public exposure notification if it is determined there was no risk to the public.)
Russell said that in this case, it was determined there was no risk to the public, but she noted that this assumes people are following the Public Health guidelines that "we have been preaching for months now."
"Individuals have a responsibility here," Russell said. "So if you were at the dollar store and you weren't wearing your mask and you didn't stay six feet away from people and you didn't disinfect your hands, then yeah, I would be concerned. If you have symptoms, please get tested, no matter where you are in the province … and please don't visit anyone, anywhere. Stay home."
The nine stores ordered closed Wednesday are expected to reopen Saturday.
5 Trinity Ave.
1381 Regent St.
125 Two Nations Crossing
528 Smythe St.
102 Main St.
Outside of Fredericton:
337 Connell St., Woodstock
15 Mowin St., Edmundston
11 Madawaska Centre Blvd., Saint-Basile
1198 Onondaga St., Oromocto
Vaccine efforts to step up, clinics coming Friday
A shipment of 2,700 doses of the Moderna vaccine arrived in the province Thursday and will be used to vaccinate residents and staff of eight long-term care homes in the coming days, Premier Blaine Higgs said at Thursday's COVID-19 briefing.
An additional 3,900 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech arrived earlier this week.
This will allow for vaccination clinics to take place this weekend in Campbellton, Edmundston, Fredericton and Saint John for members of priority groups, such as staff at regional health authorities, the extramural program, Ambulance New Brunswick and health-care workers in First Nations communities, Higgs said.
A three-day clinic also started Thursday in Moncton to deliver a second dose of the vaccine to 1,034 health-care workers.
"We are now better able to provide vaccines across the province as the supply increases and our ability to store and distribute them improves," Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, said.
"Starting Friday we will be conducting vaccine clinics at long-term care facilities in the Saint John region, including those operated by Shannex."
Russell urged patience with the vaccine rollout, saying she hears concerns "every single day" from people who wish they were higher up on the vaccine priority list.
"It will take time," Russell said. "You will eventually get your vaccine. … We will get there, together."
4 confirmed cases at Maple Lodge group abattoir
At least four employees of the Nadeau Ferme Avicole abattoir in Saint-François-de-Madawaska have contracted COVID-19, Maple Lodge group farm general manager Yves Landry confirmed Thursday.
The new cases are not related to a case confirmed last week in a trucker with the company, Landry said, noting that truckers are not allowed on the site.
Landry said he learned Saturday that two employees contracted the disease during the holiday gatherings in the community.
After testing this week, two other employees tested positive.
Screening for employees and their families is scheduled for Friday.
"We are working very closely with public health to ensure that this does not spill over into the community," Landry said.
The affected employees were ordered to self-isolate at home and only leave their homes to go to work, until January 22.
The plant's operations are not affected and are continuing normally, Landry said.
'At-home learning day' Friday for Edith Cavell, T.E.S.S. students
A school in Moncton and a school in Quispamsis have new cases of COVID-19.
Edith Cavell School on Park Street, for students in kindergarten to Grade 8, announced a second case in an email to parents on Wednesday night.
In a tweet Thursday night, Anglophone East District said Edith Cavell and T.E.S.S. (Therapeutic Education Support Site) students would have an "at home learning day on Friday.
Kennebecasis Valley High School closed Thursday morning, and the Anglophone South School District later reported the school's first case of COVID-19 in an email to parents.
Both schools say they're working with Public Health to identify any students or staff who may have been in contact with the positive cases.
"We understand you may feel anxious over the coming days," the district said in an email to parents.
"Public Health officials will contact you if your child has been in close contact with the confirmed case and will tell you if your child needs to self-isolate."
At both schools, only those contacted by Public Health will need to self-isolate.
Edith Cavell was one of two schools to confirm COVID-19 cases Wednesday.
The Anglophone East School district announced the school's first positive case in a tweet.
Polyvalente-A.-M. Sormany High School in Edmundston also reported a positive case of COVID-19, but it remains open.
Several schools have reported cases since the holidays.
Three schools asked students and staff to self-isolate over the weekend, after they all reported cases.
Académie Notre-Dame in Dalhousie in Campbellton reported one case, while Townsview School announced one case and three cases were confirmed at Woodstock High School.
The cases were all confirmed Saturday.
Garderie Tic Tac Toe, a Dalhousie daycare centre, also reported one case.
Public Health identified a positive case in a traveller who may have been infectious while on the following flights:
Jan. 3 – Air Canada Flight 8910 from Toronto to Moncton, arrived at 11:23 a.m.
Jan. 6– Air Canada Flight 8910 from Toronto to Moncton, arrived at 11:30 a.m.
Public Health also identified potential public exposure at the following locations:
Gusto Italian Grill & Bar, 130 Westmorland St., Moncton, on Jan, 3, 4 and 7, from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Bo Diddley's Lounge,295 Collishaw St., on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. (285 Collishaw St., Moncton)
Miss Cue pool hall,495 Mountain Rd., Moncton, Jan. 1 to 3 from 6:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.
Foggerz Five-O-Six, an e-cigarette store in Woodstock, has closed because of possible COVID-19 exposure.
If you were at any of these locations, and you have no symptoms of COVID-19, self-monitor and follow all Public Health guidelines. If you are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 and do not need to talk to a nurse, complete the self-assessment and get tested.
What to do if you have a symptom
People concerned they might have COVID-19 symptoms can take a self-assessment test online.
Public Health says symptoms shown by people with COVID-19 have included:
A fever above 38 C.
A new cough or worsening chronic cough.
New onset of fatigue, muscle pain, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell.
In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.
People with one of those symptoms should:
Stay at home.
Call Tele-Care 811 or their doctor.
Describe symptoms and travel history.