New Brunswick has eight new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the province's total to 26, the chief medical officer of health announced on Wednesday.
Dr. Jennifer Russell said the province could be dealing with the effects of the viral infection for another 18 to 24 months before a vaccine or other treatments are available.
"This is the most serious health challenge any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes," said Russell, urging everyone to stay home and self-isolate as much as possible.
"We know we can't stop COVID. All we can do is slow it down," she said.
"What happens next, depends on you."
Although some concerns have been raised about testing in the province, Russell said the amount of testing being done and the criteria being used are "adequate, efficient and increasing to meet the ever-changing shape of the current pandemic."
The lab at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton has the capacity to conduct 600 tests a day and provide results within 24 to 48 hours of receiving a sample, she said.
It will soon be able to process 1,000 tests daily, Russell told reporters during the daily update in Fredericton.
Since the outbreak began, more than 1,700 tests have been completed. Of those, 1.7 per cent have been confirmed cases, she said.
All eight of the new cases are directly or indirectly travel-related, said Russell, including two people who had been on a cruise.
On Tuesday, Public Health broadened its travel criteria for COVID-19 testing to include anyone who has travelled outside the province in the past 14 days.
This aligns with other provinces and territories, said Russell. "The purpose of this is to capture a broader range of the population and to identify triggers, such as community transmission."
New data from the Public Health Agency of Canada this week show almost half the COVID-19 cases in the country are a result of community spread from an unknown source, while 42 per cent are tied to travel and seven per cent are linked to close contact with a traveller who tested positive.
"We remain focused on testing the right people to track down those with this disease and those that have come in contact with them so that we can isolate them and slow the spread of COVID-19 in the province," said Russell.
Public Health has also started testing people with symptoms and no connection to travel, looking for cases of community transmission, Russell said Tuesday.
In addition, people entering New Brunswick from another province must immediately self-isolate for 14 days.
Here is a roundup of other developments.
Fewer details being made public
Russell has decided to provide less information about new COVID-19 cases and will not indicate the gender of anyone who tests positive.
She told reporters she made this decision following a complaint from a female patient who felt the information Russell had released about her — which would only include her gender, age range and which health region of the province she lives in — made her identifiable.
The new confirmed cases include:
Zone 1, southeast
- An individual in their 30s.
- An individual in their 50s.
- An individual in their 60s.
Zone 2, south
- An individual between 10 and 20, who had been on a cruise.
- An individual in their 20s, who is a close contact of a travel-related case.
- An individual in their 50s, who had been on a cruise.
Zone 3, central
- An individual in their 30s.
Zone 4, northwest
- An individual in their 30s — the first case in that health region.
One of the 26 patients is hospitalized but is not in intensive care, said Russell.
More than 425,000 people worldwide have been infected by the virus and almost 19,000 have died, according to a Johns Hopkins University case tracker.
About 60,000 people have used the New Brunswick government's online self-assessment tool launched last week, said Russell.
New Brunswick will set up screening checkpoints at Quebec, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. borders to control the spread of COVID-19, said Premier Blaine Higgs.
"Unnecessary travel is no longer permitted," he said, citing as an example non-residents entering the province to socialize or shop.
Higgs said travellers will be asked for their place of residence, place of travel, licence number and phone number.
"If they're saying they're moving through our province to go to Nova Scotia, we'll want to check up on if that's actually happening," he said.
The province's public safety officers will track this information. If people do not oblige, they could be fined up to $10,000.
Last week, the province also ordered non-essential businesses to close to prevent the spread.
There have not been any fines issued for travellers and businesses not complying to these new regulations so far.
700 health-care students, retirees offer to help
More than 700 health-care students and retirees have responded to an appeal from the Horizon Health Network to provide back-up support during the COVID-19 outbreak, "should the need arise."
The regional health authority is "encouraged and humbled" by the response, Maura McKinnon, chief human resource officer, said in an emailed statement Tuesday.
It demonstrates the "strong sense of care and compassion health care professionals possess," she said.
It was only a few days ago that Horizon issued its plea for reinforcements via social media. "Horizon Retirees and Students: We need your help!" the post said.
It included a link to an online questionnaire, which anyone interested in offering their services was asked to complete.
Horizon has received more than 700 responses so far, said McKinnon.
Fifty-one of them are from retirees, she said. "In addition, many retirees have reached out to Horizon leadership directly to express interest," she said. No numbers were provided.
Expressions of support are now being prioritized and processed. McKinnon said she anticipates a variety of roles will be available for students. Nursing students, for example, could potentially be employed as patient-care attendants, she said.
Tenants still have to pay rent
Last week the province suspended the right of landlords to evict tenants for non-payment of rent until May 31, and on Wednesday, Premier Blaine Higgs clarified what that means.
"We are not saying tenants don't have to pay rent," he said. "They absolutely do. We're simply asking for flexibility that may be required as people and businesses lose income."
Higgs said the province cannot have "unnecessary moving" during the outbreak.
"At some point, every tenant is going to need to make arrangements with their landlord concerning their rent, or they will indeed find themselves evicted. Just not now."
Marathons in doubt
Runners in the middle of training for spring and summer marathons are wondering whether the events will still happen.
The Fredericton Marathon, which was scheduled for May 9 and 10, is cancelled.
Marathon by the Sea in Saint John is scheduled for the weekend of Aug. 22 and 23 and organizers are still planning to go ahead.
The Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon in Halifax, previously scheduled for the Victoria Day long weekend, has been pushed to Nov. 6 and 8.
Meanwhile, the 124th Boston Marathon, which sees many participants from New Brunswick each year, is also postponed.
The marathon was to be held on April 20 and is now scheduled for Monday, Sept. 14.
MPs respond to financial aid package
The federal government unanimously passed emergency legislation early Wednesday to free up $82 billion to help Canadians feeling the repercussions of COVID-19.
Fredericton MP Jenica Atwin represented the Green caucus in the emergency Commons session in which 32 MPs took part.
"I'm glad that we were able to make it work in the wee hours of the morning, so that Canadians could wake up and feel some of that relief," Atwin said.
John Williamson, Conservative MP for New Brunswick Southwest, said the bill was "needlessly politicized."
He wishes the aid package was more comprehensive, but he's glad parties were able to come together, adjust the bill and pass it.
"The big hole in this plan is on help for small businesses," Williamson said.
"I have numerous small and medium-sized businesses who have laid off their employees, they have shuttered and what's been offered by the government is not going to bridge them through."
Atwin is glad the federal government provided clarifications on EI benefits, but agreed with Williamson that small businesses are the backbone of the economy.
Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long is happy with the aid package and that his residents who don't qualify for EI will be able to apply for the emergency support benefit.
Hold onto your recycling
The Fundy Regional Service Commission is asking residents to hold onto their recycling because the waste management service isn't able to sort through materials.
The facility hand sorts recyclables, but has suspended its services because of COVID-19.
Curbside pickup in Greater Saint John is still operating on its normal schedule, but recycling is suspended. Items that are typically recycled are being directed to the landfill.
Compost collection will continue, but that material will also go to the landfill.
The landfill is open regular hours during the week, but is now closed Saturdays.
FERO Waste & Recycling in Fredericton has suspended rural recycling collection, but is continuing to collect garbage.
The Fredericton Region Solid Waste landfill is closed to the public but open to commercial customers.
The Southeast Regional Service Commission is asking people to stay away from its solid waste facility. The company has closed its recycling and composting facilities. All recycled material will be brought to the landfill.
What to do if you have symptoms?
Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough or breathlessness. In this case, residents should:
Stay at home.
Immediately call Tele-Care 811.
Describe symptoms and travel history.
Follow instructions carefully.