New Brunswick has re-introduced restrictions on unnecessary travel into the province in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to keep the highly contagious U.K. and South African strains out.
Revised isolation and testing requirements will also come into effect at midnight Friday, the chief medical officer of health announced.
The changes come as 18 new cases were confirmed, bringing the total active cases in the province to 143 — a record-high since the pandemic began in March.
An outbreak has also been declared at a fourth long-term care home, with one positive case confirmed Thursday at Foyer Ste-Élizabeth, a 50-bed nursing home in Baker-Brook, in the Edmundston region, Zone 4, said Dr. Jennifer Russell.
"While the virus isn't very mobile, people are," said Russell.
The constant movement of people between cities, provinces and countries has enabled COVID-19 to spread to every corner of the globe, she said.
"If we could all stop moving, like the global game of freeze tag, the virus would [stop] moving too. Of course, that won't happen because our society and our economy depend on the movement of people and goods.
"But we can reduce the opportunity for the virus to spread by moving less and avoiding unnecessary travel within our province."
As a result, Canadian residents who own property in New Brunswick or who have family members in the province are no longer allowed to enter the province, said Russell.
"We have returned to the pre-June rule," she said during the COVID-19 briefing in Fredericton, along with Education Minister Dominic Cardy.
The inconvenience is small when compared to the illness this will prevent and the lives this will save. - Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health
Travel into the province is now permitted only for work, medical appointments, child custody, compassionate reasons approved by Public Health, and for residents of Pointe-à-la-Croix and Listuguj First Nation, Que., to obtain essential supplies.
"The inconvenience is small when compared to the illness this will prevent and the lives this will save," said Russell.
New Brunswick residents returning to the province after unnecessary domestic travel or post-secondary education, international travellers (including temporary foreign workers, other workers and international students), Canadians coming to a post-secondary or other school setting, and people moving to the province must self-isolate for 14 days, she said.
Residents returning from working outside the province are subject to the same isolation requirement but can be exempt if they test negative on a Day 7 test and an additional test between days 10 and 12. This also applies to residents returning from receiving medical care in another province.
Non-residents coming to work in New Brunswick have the option of being tested on Day 7, but they must complete a 14-day "work isolation."
This includes wearing a mask at all times, indoors and outdoors, maintaining a strict one-household bubble when not at work, and travelling only to and from work, she said.
The new cases are in:
Zone 2, the Saint John region: 8
Zone 3, the Fredericton region: 7
Zone 4, the Edmundston region: 2
Zone 5, the Campbellton region: 1
No patients are in hospital, which is "something to be thankful for," said Russell. But she noted "dozens" of health-care workers remain off work and in isolation, so the health-care system remains "very vulnerable."
Members of PROMPT, the provincial rapid outbreak management team, are on-site at the Foyer Ste-Élizabeth nursing home and contact tracing is underway, said Russell. Residents and staff are being tested Friday.
Two new cases have been confirmed at Shannex's Tucker Hall nursing home in Saint John, bringing the total to 20, including 13 residents and seven staff, she said.
Meanwhile, 72 residents and staff at Fundy Royal Manor II, a 28-bed special care home in Hillsborough where an outbreak is underway, have been tested, along with 109 residents and staff at Canterbury Hall, a 60-bed special care home operated by Shannex Inc. in Riverview. Each home had one case confirmed on Thursday.
New Brunswick has had 735 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.To date, 582 people have recovered and there have been nine COVID-related deaths. The death of a 10th person with COVID-19 was not related to the disease.
A total of 158,563 tests have been conducted, including 1,298 since the report Thursday.
Red unlikely, premier says
On Friday morning, Premier Blaine Higgs said the province should be able to stay out of the most restrictive red level, as long as New Brunswickers follow the rules.
There has been little conversation with Public Health officials about going to the red phase, which would see gyms closed, sports cancelled and gatherings restricted to fewer than five people, outdoors, Higgs said.
"Orange will do the trick," he said during an all-party COVID cabinet committee interview with Information Morning Fredericton.
New Brunswick would only move into the red phase if clusters of COVID-19 show up in random areas and Public Health loses the ability to contact trace, or if the COVID-19 caseload continues to climb, Higgs said. This week began with 55 active cases on Monday.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical health officer, has said in the past that a doubling of cases within six days is a possible trigger for moving back to red.
Although HIggs said he expects to see more cases of the virus in coming days following the holidays and New Year's Eve celebrations, he's optimistic New Brunswickers will adhere to the orange phase rules, which took effect provincewide Tuesday at midnight.
"We had to get the message to people [that] this is real," he said.
"This thing could get away from us and that is exactly what's happening in other provinces.
Nova Scotia tightens border
Nova Scotia has imposed a mandatory two-week quarantine for anyone arriving from New Brunswick, starting at 8 a.m. Saturday.
"I feel for New Brunswick and wish them nothing but good luck," said Premier Stephen McNeil.
There are exceptions for those who are crossing the border because of work, a medical appointment, child custody arrangements or legal reasons.
New Brunswick already has a similar quarantine requirement for anyone arriving from Nova Scotia.
In addition, anyone who has been in New Brunswick within the last two weeks is directed to self-isolate immediately, book a COVID-19 test, and remain quarantined until they get a clear test result, said Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang.
Fines could be issued for lying to contact tracers
People who lie to Public Health contact tracers could now be fined. The state of emergency order was revised Friday.
It states anyone who is ordered to self-isolate, or tests positive, or is identified as a close contact of a positive case, must submit themselves for questioning and must answer "completely and accurately" regarding their symptoms, their travels in the previous 14 days, and the identity of every person they've been within two metres of during that period.
Premier Blaine Higgs is urging everyone to be open and honest about their activity to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
"We need to know," he said.
Investigators aren't looking to fine people, they are trying to prevent further outbreaks, Higgs stressed.
Lying to contact tracers, however, will be treated as a higher level offence, he said.
"There's a shame in acting like you don't have COVID," he said.
During an interview Friday, Green Party Leader David Coon wanted to make it clear that if residents receive a call from New Brunswick Public Health, they are in "a safe space." Contact tracers just want to make sure their information is correct, he said.
Both Coon and People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin have previously been tested for COVID-19.
"Contact tracing is critical, just as testing is," Austin said. "If we nail those things down, we'll get out of this sooner than later."
Most Bessborough classes to resume Monday
Students from Bessborough School in Moncton's west end learned remotely on Friday. It was an "operational response" day following a report of a positive case of COVID-19 at the kindergarten to Grade 8 school on Wednesday.
The majority of students are expected to return to the school on Monday, with the exception of a few classes that will continue to learn remotely for the next two weeks, said Education Minister Dominic Cardy.
"We'll provide further updates on that as the days go along," he said.
The Anglophone East School District had tweeted about the positive case at Bessborough School on Wednesday night, saying the school would be closed Thursday to allow Public Health officials to conduct contact tracing.
Cardy 'won't hesitate' to close schools
Education Minister Dominic Cardy says he's "as concerned" about COVID-19 as he was in March, partly because of the threat of the new, highly contagious variants from the U.K. and South Africa.
"In addition to having those new variants, we also have nearly a year of grinding through this horrible pandemic, nearly a year of people obeying in nearly all instances, but also often getting confused and demoralized by the rules that have ever changed because the situation has been ever changing," he said.
"And people who are just tired."
Cardy urged people to continue to follow the Public Health measures, which have proven effective. They have helped avoid extensive transmission in schools and have minimized the impact of the pandemic on learning, he said during a live COVID-19 briefing in Fredericton on Friday.
"Everyone must co-operate to keep our schools healthy and safe for our students."
Cardy said he won't hesitate to close schools if it's recommended by Public Health, if the appropriate triggers are met, and if officials believe there's a risk to the safety of students and staff.
In the meantime, he took the opportunity to provide a reminder of some of the rules for schools while the province is at the orange level of recovery.
Staff and students of all ages must wear a mask in school and while on school buses. Masks may be removed when students are eating, drinking or engaged in sports or physical education classes. In addition, students in kindergarten to Grade 8 may remove their masks if they are working silently at their desk.
Extracurricular activities, including interscholastic and extramural sports, are limited to skills and drills practices within one team.
Physical education classes should focus on activities that allow for physical distancing, such as yoga, dancing and moderate walking.
No singing or use of wind instruments is allowed.
Premier concerned about unpredictability of vaccine rollout
Although Premier Blaine Higgs said he is pleased about New Brunswick is getting vaccines, he is concerned about the unpredictability, timing and amount the province is receiving.
"Because of that, we aren't able to plan," said Higgs.
He said the province could vaccinate "up to" 45,000 people a week "at minimum," and he's pushing the federal government to deliver more vaccines to the province.
Higgs said he was on a call Thursday night with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other premiers from across Canada. He said every province is also prepared to receive more vaccines.
"Everybody wants the same thing."
Interim Liberal Leader Roger Melanson said now isn't the time to start criticizing the federal government about who gets the vaccine first.
"The last thing we want to start … is a conflict between provincial and federal governments regarding vaccines."
He said the most important thing is a vaccine is on its way and everyone should get it.
"It's safe, it works," he said. "Science proves it."
In New Brunswick, residents of long-term care facilities over the age of 85 are the top priority for the latest batch of 2,400 doses.
The province has said its goal is to vaccinate all long-term care residents and staff before the end of March.
Green Party Leader David Coon said New Brunswickers don't have a clear understanding as to how the vaccine will be administered.
Although people will receive a letter from the province letting them know they are eligible, Coon said communication needs to improve so everyone is aware of the plan.
Public Health has identified a positive case in a traveller who may have been infectious while on the following flights:
Jan. 1 – Air Canada Flight 8910 from Toronto to Moncton, departed at 8:30 a.m.
Dec. 24 – Air Canada Flight 8506 – from Montreal to Fredericton, departed at 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 24 – Air Canada Flight 414 – from Toronto to Montreal, departed at 2:10 p.m.
Dec. 24 – Air Canada Flight 8620 – from Saskatoon to Toronto, departed at 8:35 a.m.
Dec. 20 – Air Canada Flight 8910 – from Toronto to Moncton, arrived at 11:23 a.m.
Public Health also identified potential public exposure at the following locations:
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, Dec. 31 from 11 p.m. to Jan. 1 at 1:30 a.m.
Walmart, 4 Jagoe St., Atholville, on Dec. 30 between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., and on Dec. 31 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Moncton Squash Club, 71 Essex St., on Dec. 29, 30 and 31 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.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.