N.B. COVID-19 roundup: 'Superspreader' event responsible for 80% of Saint John cases

·14 min read

A "superspreader" event in Saint John last month is responsible for more than 80 per cent of current active cases of COVID-19 in Zone 2, the chief medical officer of health announced on Tuesday.

Sixty people have contracted the respiratory disease from the event — 34 who attended and 26 others who were infected when they came into contact with attendees, said Dr. Jennifer Russell.

Public Health has determined an asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic individual originated the outbreak, said Russell.

"This isn't about casting blame, it's really about a teaching moment."

The event, which was held at two venues over a single evening, illustrates the importance of wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance at all times when in public, she said.

"It is not possible to know who is carrying the virus, so it is best to assume at all times that everyone around you is infected and act accordingly."

A superspreader event happens when a large number of infections are traced to a single gathering or event, with COVID-19 being transmitted from one individual, or a relatively small number of individuals, who were in attendance, while infectious, said Russell.

Upwards of 200 people have been implicated in superspreader events, such as weddings and funerals, in other jurisdictions, including Ontario and Newfoundland, she noted.

Asked for more information about the Saint John event and whether Public Health measures were being followed, Russell told reporters she didn't have any.

On Nov. 20, when Russell first mentioned the superspreader event in response to a question from CBC News, she said it involved "many" health-care workers.

CBC
CBC

There are now 72 active cases in the Saint John region, including four of the seven new confirmed cases reported in New Brunswick on Tuesday.

The new Saint John cases include one person under the age of 19, one person in their 20s and two people in their 50s, said Russell.

The other three new cases are in the Fredericton region: one person under 19, one person in their 50s and one person in their 60s.

The total number of active cases in the province now stands at 116. No one is in hospital, Russell told reporters at a COVID-19 briefing in Fredericton, the first one held since last Thursday.

New Brunswick has had 508 confirmed cases since the pandemic began in March. Seven people have died and 385 have recovered.

A total of 126,678 tests have been conducted so far.

Community transmission in Moncton

Two cases of COVID-19 in the Moncton region, Zone 1, have been deemed community transmission, the chief medical officer of health announced on Tuesday.

Community transmission, where no link to an existing case can be established, has been "relatively rare" in New Brunswick, said Russell.

Only three per cent of all cases in the province in the past eight months have been confirmed as community transmission, she said.

The Public Health dashboard lists community transmission as the origin of 16 cases, with 152 listed as travel-related and 322 as close contacts of a case. Eighteen cases are still under investigation, according to the website.

None of the active cases in any of the other zones, including the 72 in the Saint John region (Zone 2), have been deemed community transmission, said Russell.

Shannex retesting continues

Asked about the source of the outbreak at the Shannex Parkland community in Saint John, Russell reiterated that all of the cases in Saint John are linked. "And that's all I can say, really, about the source of the Shannex" outbreak.

There are 15 confirmed cases at the Shannex complex, including four employees and 10 residents at the Tucker Hall nursing home and one employee at Carleton Hall, an independent-living retirement building.

Google Maps
Google Maps

Another 25 employees are self-isolating.

Residents and employees at Tucker Hall were retested Tuesday, while 69 individuals at the adult residential facilities Howe Hall and Millidge Hall were retested Monday.

"Anyone with a positive test result will be notified immediately and it will be our priority to communicate with all individuals about their test results as soon as they are available," Shannex said in a statement.

School Christmas break could be extended

New Brunswick students and teachers may get an extended Christmas holiday because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government is looking into the possibility, Education Minister Dominic Cardy said Tuesday.

"It is one of the measures that we are considering right now to see if it would allow us to reduce stress for the school staff and also students and their parents," Cardy told reporters.

"But it is only one element on a long list of things considered every day," he said.

The Christmas break is currently scheduled for Dec. 18 until Jan. 3.

"If there is something to announce, we will do so in the upcoming days," Cardy said.

Government of New Brunswick
Government of New Brunswick

The minister urged parents to continue to send their children to school. He acknowledged it's a stressful time, but said he is confident in the measures being followed and stressed the importance of school for students, not just for their academics, but also for their mental health and well-being.

"Let me reassure you that no news continues to be good news when it comes to COVID-19," he said, referring to the fact that Public Health will contact families who are close contacts of any confirmed cases.

If the situation gets dangerous, Cardy vowed he won't hesitate to move to online learning, the same way the government didn't hesitate to shut down the schools in the spring when the pandemic began.

Competitive sports in orange-zone schools suspended

Competitive sporting events at schools at the orange level of COVID-19 recovery cannot continue, Education Minister Dominic Cardy said Tuesday.

"It would not be prudent," he said, noting eight anglophone schools and two daycares across zones 1, 2 and 3 have reported positive cases of COVID-19 and one possible exposure.

"This is not an end to school sports. This is not a permanent restriction.

"This is a hopefully a short temporary measure to allow us to get through the end of the pandemic, get back to normal, and then get our teams back out on the field, where they belong."

In the meantime, the minister urged players to continue practising their drills and honing their skills.

He also encouraged students and families "to use every avenue they can find to stay active and healthy." That is often a challenge during a regular New Brunswick winter, but it will be even more important this winter, during the pandemic, he said, suggesting walks, hikes, biking or just playing together as possibilities.

Testing backlog progress

A COVID-19 testing backlog in the Saint John and Fredericton regions caused in part by a "technical glitch" involving fax machines has been cleared up — at least as far as the case officials are aware of — the chief medical officer of health said Tuesday.

Nearly 1,400 swabs were taken between Saturday and Monday, said Russell.

But an investigation into how many online requests for COVID-19 tests "got missed or lost" is ongoing, she said.

"Those people, if they ... make up part of the group that said they had waited for seven days [for a call for a testing appointment], we are inviting them to resubmit another online form or call 811 and get tested."

In fact, anyone who has waited more than 48 hours for a call after submitting their online request for a test is being encouraged to resubmit, said Russell.

Shutterstock
Shutterstock

This is the "best approach at this point, again, because there have been some gaps," she said.

The online registration forms for COVID-19 tests are received by the designated testing centres by fax, Public Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane has said.

Asked why faxes are used, he replied: "With assessment centres being set up and taken down throughout the province on an as-needed basis, fax machines have been used in this infrastructure due to their ease of mobility and for confidentiality."

He did not elaborate. The Department of Health has had electronic medical records for years.

University of Moncton reports another COVID case

A third case of COVID-19 has turned up at the University of Moncton.

The university sent an email to students and staff on Monday confirming the latest case of the respiratory virus.

The university said the recent case poses a low-risk to the campus community, and New Brunswick Public Health has already been in contact with individuals who were in close contact with the individual.

"If Public Health hasn't contacted you directly, you don't need to take those extra precautions," the email said in French.

CBC
CBC

The individual is in isolation.

Public Health confirmed two new cases of COVID-19 in the Moncton region on Monday. Both cases involve individuals in their 20s.

Last month, an employee at the University of Moncton's campus tested positive for COVID-19. That individual also posed a low risk to the campus community.

No sign of yellow phase returning

New Brunswick Public Health says close to 2,000 people are now self isolating over exposure risks to COVID-19.

More than 80 of them are Horizon Health employees.

Close to half of the province remains under the more restricted, orange level phase of recovery which includes maintaining a single household bubble.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell says it's still too early to say when those areas can move back to the yellow phase.

"Ican't say at this point what's going to happen," she said. "Normally, measures are put in place for 14 days."

After that, Russell said Public Health will determine what is happening in terms of transmission, cases and how the health-care system is coping.

The Saint John Health zone was pushed back to the orange phase on Nov. 20, and Moncton on Nov. 19.

The Fredericton health region was rolled back to orange on Friday.

Fredericton coffee shop on the verge of closing

The owners of a Fredericton coffee shop are wondering whether their doors will still be open by the end of the month.

Krista Touesnard said she's been worried about the Tipsy Muse since the virus hit in March, and businesses were forced to shut down.

"We've just been living in that sense of anxiety and the unknown of the future."

Two weeks ago, she and her husband Rob took a hard look at the books, staff and the number of people coming through their doors.

We're not going to give up. We're going to keep fighting. - Krista Touesnard, owner of Tipsy Muse

They're not sure what will happen to the coffee shop now that the Fredericton region has moved back to the orange phase of recovery from the less restrictive yellow phase.

"It's been a pretty emotional couple of weeks for sure," she said.

The coffee shop is known for catering to the local art community, including photographers, poets and potters.

"We want to keep that place available for them to keep coming."

Touesnard also made it clear the café is not alone among local businesses. People in the business community have reached out to help, such as offering up extra coffee cups.

Facebook
Facebook

Last week, Fredericton Chamber of Commerce CEO Krista Ross encouraged Fredericton residents to shop local this holiday season.

"We're just letting them help us now," Touesnard said.

The Liberal government is preparing to spend up to $100 billion to kick-start the post-pandemic economy in the face of a record-high deficit projection of more than $381 billion for this fiscal year.

Touesnard said she's hoping her business will be able to benefit.

"We're not going to give up," she said. "We're going to keep fighting."

N.S. students want to return to school in New Brunswick

More students from out of province are finding themselves shut out of New Brunswick schools.

Students from Listuguj haven't been able to attend Sugarloaf High in Campbellton since mid-October.

And now that the Atlantic bubble has disintegrated, students from Nova Scotia aren't allowed to go to class at Tantramar High in Sackville.

Nova Scotia MLA Elizabeth Smith McCrossin is asking the New Brunswick government to reconsider.

Jean Laroche/CBC
Jean Laroche/CBC

"I believe that our students from here in Cumberland County and Amherst do not pose any threat," she said. "In most cases, these students live 10 minutes from the high school."

Smith McCrossin said there haven't been any cases of the respiratory virus in Cumberland County.

"Our communities are completely interconnected," she said.

Meanwhile, elementary, middle school, and post-secondary students from Nova Scotia are still allowed into New Brunswick.CBC News has contacted the New Brunswick's Department of Education to ask why high school students are being kept

out.

Potential public exposure warnings for Saint John, Moncton, Fredericton

New Brunswick Public Health has identified four new possible public public exposures to COVID-19 in Saint John. They include:

  • Cask and Kettle on Nov. 17, at 112 Prince William St., between 8 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., Saint John.

  • Churchill's Pub on Nov. 20, at 8 Grannan St., between 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., Saint John.

  • Picaroons on Nov. 21, at 30 Canterbury St., between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., Saint John.

  • Thandi's Restaurant on Nov. 21 between 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. (33 Canterbury St., Saint John.

Public Health has also warned of the following possible exposures to the virus in the Saint John, Moncton and Fredericton areas, including gyms, stores, bars, restaurants and on flights.

Anyone who visited these places during the identified times should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days.

Anyone who develops any COVID-19 symptoms should self-isolate and take the self-assessment online to schedule a test.

Saint John area

  • Vito's Restaurant on Nov. 16, 111 Hampton Rd., Rothesay, between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.

  • Cora Breakfast and Lunch on Nov. 16 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., 39 King St., Saint John

  • Goodlife Fitness McAllister Place on Nov. 16 between noon and 1 p.m. and on Nov. 18 between 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. (519 Westmorland Rd., , Saint John.

  • NBCC Grandview campus on Nov. 16, 17, and 18 between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. (950 Grandview Ave., Saint John.

  • Merle Norman Cosmetic Studio on Nov. 19 between 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. (47 Clark Rd., Rothesay)

  • Big Tide Brewing Company at 47 Princess St. on Nov. 16, between 12:30 to 2 p.m., Saint John.

  • Java Moose at 84 Prince William St. Nov. 16, between 2 to 2:30 p.m., Saint John.

Flights into Saint John:

Public Health identified a positive case in a traveller who may have been infectious onNov. 17 and Nov. 18while on the following flights:

  • Air Canada Flight 8421 on Nov. 17 and 18 from Kelowna to Vancouver, arrived at 8 p.m.

  • Air Canada Flight 314 on Nov. 17 and 18 from Vancouver to Montreal, arrived at 07:11 a.m.

  • Air Canada Flight 8792 on Nov. 17 and 18, from Montreal to Saint John arrived at 9:22 p.m.

Moncton

  • RD Maclean Co. Ltd. on Nov. 16, 17 and 18 at 200 St. George St., between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

  • GoodLife Fitness on Nov. 21 at 555 Dieppe Blvd, Dieppe, between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.

  • Keg Steakhouse and Bar at 576 Main St. on Nov. 17, between 7:45 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Flights into Moncton:

  • Air Canada Flight 178 on Nov. 19 from Edmonton to Toronto, arrived at 5:58 a.m.

  • Air Canada Flight 404 on Nov. 19 from Toronto to Montreal, arrived at 10:16 a.m.

  • Air Canada Flight 8902 on Nov. 19 from Montreal to Moncton, arrived at 4:17 p.m.

Fredericton area

  • The Snooty Fox on Nov. 18 and 19, 66 Regent St., between 8:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.

  • GoodLife Fitness Fredericton on Nov. 18 at 1174 Prospect St. between 10:20 a.m. and 11:20 a.m. Nov. 19 between 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m.

  • The YMCA of Fredericton on Nov. 17 at 570 York St. throughout the evening.

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.

  • Sore throat.

  • Runny nose.

  • Headache.

  • New onset of fatigue, muscle pain, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell.

  • Difficulty breathing.

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.

  • Follow instructions.