The province reported 19 new cases of COVID-19 in five zones Thursday, prompting calls from Premier Blaine Higgs and Dr. Jennifer Russell for people to step up vaccination appointments and strictly observe Public Health guidelines around travel and self-isolation.
Nine of the new cases are at a care home in Grand Falls, in Zone 4, where an outbreak was declared Wednesday. An outbreak was also declared at Murray Street Lodge in Grand Bay-Westfield in the Saint John region Wednesday.
On Thursday, Higgs noted that "only 59 per cent of long-term care workers have chosen to be vaccinated," compared with more than 90 per cent of residents and about 90 per cent of workers at regional health authorities.
"It is essential that in the coming weeks, more long-term care workers get vaccinated," Higgs said at a live-streamed update. He also singled out truck drivers as a group that must step up vaccination efforts.
Russell stressed the importance of following travel and self-isolation guidelines, particularly as new variants loom.
"We are very, very, very concerned about the arrival of variant from India," which has already been identified in Quebec and other provinces, Russell said.
"Family members should not pick you up from the airport," Russell said. "They should not handle your dishes from delivered meals. The risk is just too high."
Union president doubts Higgs's numbers
The president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions says she's skeptical of the numbers Premier Blaine Higgs provided at Thursday's update regarding the percentage of long-term care home workers who have been vaccinated.
In detailing the growing outbreak at Pavillon Beau-Lieu care home in Grand Falls, Higgs said "only 59 per cent of long-term care workers have chosen to be vaccinated," compared with about 90 per cent of workers at regional health authorities.
"It's a concern," Higgs said.
"Fortunately, the residents are over 90 per cent vaccinated, so the residents are protected but we need to ensure the long-term care employees remain protected. We're encouraging them to protect themselves, because they are providing a service to a vulnerable population, and also they risk infecting others in the community."
In an interview after the update, council president Sharon Teare questioned that figure.
"How did they reach that number, how is that data collected to get to that number they arrived at? Because I have not heard the hesitancy that would match that number."
Teare said the "inconsistent" planning of the rollout and clinics for care workers, as well as limited information provided about the vaccines, hurt the compliance rates initially.
Of the 51 nursing homes that fall under the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions, "not one of the nursing homes have had an outbreak. Not one," she said. "It's a unionized facility, so when we're talking about workers in ... non-unionized facilities, what is lacking there? A big key is education."
Stricter enforcement of isolation rules could be coming
New, stricter enforcement measures, such as mandatory hotel stays for travellers arriving in New Brunswick, could soon be implemented to ensure isolation guidelines are being followed.
"This is under very active consideration," Premier Blaine Higgs said at Thursday's live COVID-19 update. "We're meeting now daily ... it may become a reality."
Higgs said that as the province counts down the 10 weeks till everyone has been vaccinated, there is evidence that the existing rules aren't being followed.
"We have seen cases" where travellers go home from the airport with family "and isolate with the family and then the family becomes infected," he said, noting a person can test negative upon arrival in New Brunswick and then become positive days later.
"We're at the tipping point right now," Higgs said.
"Rather than saying 'Oh, I'm fine I don't need to worry about this, I didn't have a problem.' Just assume you have a problem, and act accordingly … Let's just hang in there for the next 10 weeks, so we can get back to a summer in New Brunswick."
Maine not sharing vaccines for now
Premier Blaine Higgs said Thursday he has asked the governor of Maine to see if New Brunswick truckers can be vaccinated when they're in that state. This would be similar to the partnership between Manitobia and North Dakota announced Tuesday.
Jackie Farwell, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said Maine is keeping its vaccines for its residents for now because the state's allocation is based on its population.
"Demand for the vaccine continues to outpace supply in the state," Farwell said, although she did not close the door on future sharing.
"We expect to engage with our Canadian colleagues in the future to discuss cross-border collaboration with respect to vaccinations once supply for the vaccine increases."
19 new cases, in five zones
Dr. Jennifer Russell announced 19 new cases Thursday, including nine at the Pavillon Beau-Lieu special care home in Grand Falls, where an outbreak of one case was declared Wednesday.
Moncton region, Zone 1, two cases:
an individual 30 to 39
an individual 60 to 69
Both cases are travel-related, including one temporary foreign worker.
Saint John region, Zone 2, three cases:
two people 20 to 29
an individual 30 to 39
All three cases are travel-related.
Fredericton region, Zone 3, two cases:
an individual 30 to 39
an individual 80 to 89
One case is travel-related and the other is under investigation.
Edmundston region, Zone 4, 11 cases:
an individual 19 or under
an individual 40 to 49
an individual 70 to 79
six people 80 to 89
two people 90 or over
All 11 cases are contacts of previously confirmed cases. Nine of the 11 cases are connected to the outbreak in Pavillon Beau-Lieu, a special care home in Grand Falls. It is not believed that these cases are related to the outbreak in the Edmundston area.
Bathurst region, Zone 6, one case:
an individual 50-59. This case is travel-related.
The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick is 1,823. Since Wednesday, 11 people have recovered for a total of 1,642 recoveries. There have been 34 deaths, and the number of active cases is 146.
Fifteen patients are hospitalized, including five in an intensive care unit. A total of 280,010 tests have been conducted, including 1,299 since Wednesday's report.
Elsewhere in Atlantic Canada
Lockdown to be reassessed on Monday
Public Health has recommended to cabinet that the Edmundston area remain in lockdown for now, with a reassessment on Monday.
"We recognize that Zone 4 has been making progress and cases are slowly decreasing, but we need to wait a few more days to ensure this trend continues," Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said Thursday.
"There are still untraced cases in the Edmundston region that pose a risk, so for now the areas that are in lockdown and at the orange level will remain there."
Municipal elections to go ahead May 10, in most zones
Municipal elections will be held across New Brunswick on May 10, Dr. Jennifer Russell said at Thursday's COVID-19 update.
However, "like so much else in the past year, this election campaign will look and feel different from what we have experienced in the past," she said.
Campaigning guidelines have been provided for candidates, including using social media or leaflet dropoffs to get their message out.
In yellow and orange-phase zones, candidates can campaign door-to-door "but if you do, please ... wear a mask, maintain two metres of physical distance at all times, and do not go into voters' homes," Russell said.
The election will not go ahead in Edmundston-Haut Madawaska region, which is still in lockdown, the province later clarified.
Public Health to hold live Q&A session on Friday
New Brunswickers will have a chance to ask the province's chief medical officer of health their questions about COVID-19, vaccines and the situation in the Edmundston region, Zone 4, on Friday.
A Q&A session will be live-streamed at 1:30 p.m. on the Government of New Brunswick's Youtube channel, and residents are being asked to submit their questions now to be asked at the session.
Dr. Jennifer Russell and Dr. John Tobin, head of the family medicine department in Zone 4 for the Vitalité Health Network, will both be participating in the Q&A session, according to posts on the gnb.ca Twitter account and Government of New Brunswick Facebook page.
Residents can submit their questions on either of these platforms.
Dozens of questions have already been posted, on topics ranging from self-isolation rules after vaccination to the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Potential exposure notifications
Holy Spirit Parish (Saint Matthews worship site), 45 Dollard Dr., Saint John, on Sunday, April 18 between 11 a.m. and noon. The church has closed for two weeks as a preventive measure, and St. Rose of Lima Church (part of Holy Spirit Parish) will also be closed for the next two weeks, until May 8-9.
Service New Brunswick, 15 King Square North, on April 15 between 3 p.m. and 3:45 p.m.
Rocky's Sports Bar, 7 Market Square, on April 15 between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Edmundston and region:
E.& P. Sénéchal Center, Vitalité Health Network vaccination clinic, 60 Ouellette St., Grand Falls, on Monday, April 19 between1:15 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Familiprix, 131 de l'Église St., on April 8, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Jean Coutu, 77 Victoria St., Edmundston on April 16, between 1: 30 p.m. and 2 p.m.; on April 14, between noon and 12:45 p.m.; and on April 12, between 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Public Health also identified a traveller who may have been infected while on the following flights on April 14 and 15:
Air Canada Flight 8970 – from Ottawa to Montreal, departed at 6:28 a.m. on April 14.
Air Canada Flight 8898 – from Montreal to Moncton, departed at 8:14 a.m. on April 14.
Air Canada Flight 318 – from Calgary to Montreal, departed at 11:53 a.m. on April 15.
Air Canada Flight 8906 – from Montreal to Moncton, departed at 7:08 p.m. on April 15.
People who were at these areas are eligible to be tested for COVID-19, even if they are not experiencing symptoms.
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:
Fever above 38 C.
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.