New Brunswick's deputy chief medical officer of health recommends people wear masks in indoor public spaces, given the "surge" in COVID-19 cases since the province moved to the green phase, including 14 confirmed cases of community transmission announced Thursday.
Dr. Cristin Muecke said Public Health is concerned by the recent increase in the number of cases, particularly those where the source of the infection can't be established.
Thirteen of these cases are in the Moncton region, Zone 1, and the other is in the Fredericton region, Zone 3.
Muecke also reported eight new cases of COVID-19 — six in the Moncton region and two in the Fredericton region — putting the province's active case count at 157. A fourth person is now in hospital, but no one is in intensive care.
"Given our current case numbers and the evidence of community spread, I urge all New Brunswickers to continue to wear a mask when they are in indoor public spaces," she said during a COVID briefing.
"It is true that masks are not currently required by law as they were earlier in the pandemic, but remember we are dealing with a communicable disease that can and will spread quickly among the unprotected."
Pressed later on the importance of Public Health's position on indoor mask use, Muecke said, "That is a strong Public Health recommendation at this time."
Public Health was "comfortable" moving to the green level and lifting all restrictions on July 30 because the trend in vaccine uptake at that time was positive, she said.
"We all needed to get on with our lives and begin living with COVID-19. Now, of course, we are adjusting. Vaccine uptake is changing and cases are changing."
Asked whether the province will reinstate a mask mandate or other measures, Muecke said it's an "evolving situation."
"We are always looking to create that fine balance between what we need to do to control the pandemic and various potential and unintended consequences of the restrictions that are put in place," she said.
"All options are on the table and continue to be discussed. And so as various measures need to be put in place, we'll be not only discussing them but communicating them to the public."
Vaccination remains the best protection, she said, noting people who are unvaccinated are more likely to become seriously ill and suffer long-term effects if they become infected with COVID-19.
People who are unvaccinated or have only received one dose will also have more restrictions placed upon them if they're exposed to the virus than a fully vaccinated person would.
A total of 74.2 per cent of New Brunswickers age 12 or older are now fully vaccinated, up from 74.1 per cent on Wednesday, while 84 per cent of the eligible population have had a first shot, up from 83.9.
The COVID situation would be "significantly worse" without the protection afforded by vaccinations and the "tireless dedication" of contact tracers who are limiting the spread, said Muecke.
"Yes, we have seen an increase in cases over the last month. But we're not seeing the concurrent increase in serious illness and hospitalizations that would jeopardize our health-care system at this time."
About six months ago, on Feb. 10, before vaccines were readily available, New Brunswick had 175 active cases of COVID — "close to today's number of 157" — but six people in hospital, including two in intensive care, she said.
No one in the province has been admitted to intensive care because of COVID 19 since mid-June, she noted.
People who are unable to get vaccinated or choose not to get vaccinated should limit their contacts as much as possible, Muecke said.
"I strongly recommend that New Brunswickers pay close attention to the Public Health practices learned during the pandemic — wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, maintain two metres between yourselves and others wherever possible, stay home if you don't feel well, watch for symptoms of COVID 19 and get tested if symptoms emerge."
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said New Brunswickers should feel encouraged that nearly 75 per cent of the eligible population is now double-dosed.
"But with the presence of variants in our province, we must aim above and beyond that goal."
Of the province's 157 active cases where lab sequencing has been successfully completed, 74 are the alpha variant first identified in the U.K. and three are the more contagious and severe delta variant, first identified in India, which is driving the fourth wave and the spike in cases across the country.
The province has seen a recent increase in vaccination bookings, with the average number of weekly appointments rising to roughly 8,000 from about 6,000 at health network clinics and participating pharmacies, said Shephard.
It's an encouraging sign, she said.
"As we head into the fall, I'm hopeful that even more people will choose to get vaccinated. We know that this is absolutely the best tool we have to protect ourselves and our loved ones."
Shephard asked parents to "do their part" to help ensure the school year goes smoothly. That means all adults in the household being vaccinated, as well as any children 12 or older, including those who will turn 12 before the end of the year, she said.
The percentage of youth aged 12 to 19 who are now fully vaccinated is 59.4 per cent, said Shephard, up from 54 per cent two weeks ago, and 73.8 per cent have received at least one dose, up from 70.6.
"We are on the right track, but we hope to see those numbers continue to rise in the weeks ahead."
Walk-in clinics are underway Thursday:
Sackville, Tantramar Veterans Memorial Civic Centre, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saint-Quentin, Auberge Évasion de Rêves, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Bathurst, K.C. Irving Regional Centre, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Shippagan, Public Health Office, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Saint John, Exhibition Park, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
A pop-up clinic will be held Friday, at Parlee Beach in Shediac between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
On Saturday, pop-up clinics are taking place in the following communities:
Moncton, Moncton Coliseum, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Grand Falls, E&P Sénéchal Centre, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Fredericton, Brookside Clinic, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Saint John, Exhibition Park, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Blackville, Blackville Village Hall, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
A list of upcoming pop-up and walk-in clinics is available online.
They are asked to bring their Medicare card, a signed consent form and, for those receiving a second dose, a copy of the record of immunization they received after getting their first dose.
Anyone age 12 or older is eligible to get a vaccine and can get their second shot 28 days after their first.
Mandatory vaccines for public employees Sept. 7
The mandatory vaccine policy announced last week for provincial government employees will take effect in "Part 1" workplaces on Sept. 7, according to an internal email sent Thursday by the head of the public service.
Part 1 includes all line departments and employs about 11,000 people.
"The overwhelming majority of new infections are among the unvaccinated, and children under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccines," wrote Cheryl Hansen. "Please take responsibility to protect yourself and others, especially our children.
"The policy, developed in consultation with Public Health, contributes to our fight against the virus and unites us in our common mission to ensure the wellbeing of all New Brunswickers."
The employees have until Sept. 13 to provide proof they've received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the memo.
Departments will not keep copies of vaccination records. They will each simply maintain a list of employees who have shown proof of vaccination and managers will receive updated lists regularly, it says.
Employees who don't provide proof they're fully vaccinated by Sept. 13 will be required to wear a mask in the workplace at all times, except when they're alone in their personal workspace.
They will also have to be tested for COVID-19 regularly until they provide proof of full vaccination.
Those who provide a certificate of a medical exemption to the vaccine will not be required to wear a mask but will still need to be tested.
Employees who do not provide proof of full vaccination or do not comply with the masking or testing requirements "will be subject to the disciplinary process, up to and including dismissal," the memo warns.
Newly hired employees will have 45 calendar days to provide proof of full vaccination or they will be terminated.
In the meantime, they must follow the same masking and testing requirements.
Any vendors, suppliers, or contractors who work regularly alongside government employees during normal business hours, as well as any volunteers, will also be advised of the vaccination or masking/testing requirements.
The testing requirements include "point of care" testing three times a week. The employer will provide kits to employees so they can do the tests at home. A smartphone/tablet application will soon be made available to allow employees to share their results, the memo says.
Employees will also have to register and complete a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test once a month, starting the week of Oct. 3.
If employees got a positive point of care test or have two or more symptoms, they must schedule a PCR test immediately and not attend work until they get a negative result.
In the event of an outbreak in a workplace, these testing requirements may be temporarily modified to include fully vaccinated employees, for example, based on Public Health guidance, the memo says.
"Each new development throughout this pandemic journey can raise a range of emotions," wrote Hansen. "Please continue to be kind and respectful to each other."
Breakdown of new cases
The eight new cases confirmed on Thursday break down this way:
Moncton region, Zone 1, six cases:
A person 19 or under
Three people 20 to 29
A person 30 to 39
A person 60 to 69
Three of these cases are contacts of a previously confirmed case and three are under investigation.
Fredericton region, Zone 3, two cases:
A person 30 to 39
A person 40 to 49
Both cases are travel-related.
New Brunswick has had 2,705 confirmed cases of COVID since the pandemic began, with 2,501 recoveries so far and 46 COVID-related deaths.
A total of 404,751 tests have been conducted, including 2,091 on Wednesday.
Zone 1 'cluster,' not 'outbreak'
The Moncton region, Zone 1, has 89 of the province's 157 active cases, as of Thursday. Public Health has continued to refer to this as a "cluster," not an "outbreak." And that likely won't change, according to a Department of Health spokesperson.
"At this stage of the pandemic outbreaks will typically be declared in specific settings ie workplaces, nursing homes rather than by geographic area," Gail Harding said in an emailed statement.
Public Health is monitoring and mapping connections between cases both regionally and provincially on a daily basis, she said.
"All hands are on deck to respond to this situation."
Asked how Public Health's response would be different if the situation were declared an outbreak, Harding said formal declaration typically has two purposes — to raise awareness and mobilize resources. "Both of these are actively occurring already."
Atlantic COVID roundup
Nova Scotia confirmed one new case of COVID-19 on Thursday and has 50 active cases.
Newfoundland and Labrador no longer reports on Tuesdays and Thursdays but had 13 active cases at last count.
Prince Edward Island has no new cases and had six active cases at last report.
New possible exposure
Public Health has identified a new place in New Brunswick where people may have been exposed to the coronavirus:
Moncton region, Zone 1:
Aug.24 between 5:47 p.m. and 3:52 a.m. – Moncton City Hospital Emergency Room, 135 Macbeath Ave., Moncton
Public Health recommends that people who have been at a possible public exposure site and are not fully vaccinated get a COVID test, said Department of Health spokesperson Gail Harding. They can book an appointment online or call Tele-Care 811.
For people who are fully vaccinated, Public Health recommends they monitor for symptoms and get a COVID test if symptoms develop.
Previous exposure notices
Public Health has identified a positive case of COVID-19 in a person who may have been infectious while on the following flights:
Aug. 19 – Air Canada Flight 7548 – from Toronto to Fredericton
Aug. 19 – Air Canada Flight 8902 – from Montreal to Moncton, departed at 1:38 p.m.
Aug. 17 – Air Canada Flight 8902 – from Montreal to Moncton
Aug. 17 – Air Canada Flight 8506 – from Montreal to Fredericton, departed 7:45 p.m.
Aug. 13 – Air Canada Flight 8946 – from Toronto to Moncton, departed at 10:04 p.m.
Aug. 11 – Air Canada Flight 8773 – from Montreal to Saint John, which departed at 9:14 a.m.
Public Health has also identified places in New Brunswick where people may have been exposed to the coronavirus during the past two weeks.
Aug. 20 between 10:30 p.m. and 1 a.m. – Casino NB, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton
Aug. 20 between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. – Pump House Restaurant, 51 Orange Lane, Moncton
Aug. 14 between 8:45 a.m. and 9:45 a.m., Aug. 15 between 7:45 a.m. and 8:45 a.m., Aug. 17 between noon and 1 p.m., Aug.18 between noon and 1 p.m. and Aug. 19 between noon and 1 p.m. – Route 51 Green Line and Route 62 Hildegard Codiac Transpo, 140 Millennium Blvd., Moncton
Aug. 18 between 7 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. – Igloo Bar, 300 Elmwood Dr., Moncton
Aug.18 between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., Aug, 16 between 8:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., Aug. 13 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Aug. 11 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Aug. 10 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. - Crowne Plaza Moncton, 1005 Main St., Moncton
Aug. 17 between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. – Tide and Boar Brewing, 1355 Main St., Moncton
Aug. 16 between 5 and 7 p.m. – Boathouse Restaurant, 8588 Main St., Alma
Aug. 16 between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. – Burger King, 465 Paul St., Dieppe
Aug. 16 between 12 p.m and 7 p.m – Magic Mountain Water Park, 2875 Mountain Rd., Moncton
Aug. 15 between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. – Jean's Restaurant, 1999 Mountain Rd., Moncton
Aug. 14 between 2 and 3 p.m. – Champlain Mall Food Court, 477 Paul St., Dieppe
Aug. 13 between 9 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. – Wise Guyz Pub, 176 Robinson St., Moncton
Aug. 13 between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. – Ioob Lounge Ltd., 127 Robinson St., Moncton
Aug. 11 – Groupe- Support Emotionnel, 96 Norwood Ave., Suite 300A, Moncton
Aug. 14 between 2 p.m. and 3:30 a.m. – Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre emergency room, 330 Université Ave., Moncton
Aug. 9, 10, 11, 13, and 14 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. – Action Car and Truck Accessories, 200 Horsman Rd., Moncton
Aug. 9, 10, and 13 between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. – Deware's Service Centre, 402 Elmwood Dr., Moncton
Aug. 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. – Oulton College, 55 Lutz St.
Aug. 12 between 5:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. – St. Louis Bar & Grill, 1405 Mountain Rd.
Aug. 12 between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. – H&M, 477 Paul St., Dieppe
Aug. 12 between 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. – Our Place, 97 Cameron St., Moncton
Aug. 9, 10, 11, and 12 between 6:45 a.m. and 2 p.m. – Hillsborough Irving, 2799 Main St., Hillsborough
Aug. 11 between 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. – Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre diagnostic imaging waiting room, 330 University Ave.
Aug.11 between 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. – New Life Pentecostal Church, 65 Dawson Rd., Weldon
Aug. 11 between 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. – Costco, 140 Granite Dr., Moncton
Aug. 9, 10, and 11 between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. – Corn Crib, 337 Mountain Dr., Moncton
Aug. 11 between 12 a.m. and 2 a.m. – Ioob Lounge Ltd., 127 Robinson St., Moncton
Aug. 10 between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. – Chris Rock Tavern, 48 Albert St.
Aug. 9 between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. – Champlain Place, 477 Paul St., Dieppe
Aug. 9 between noon and 1 p.m. – Pür & Simple Champlain Place, 477 Paul St., Dieppe
Aug. 7 between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. – Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Parish, 11 St. Andrews Rd., Pointe-du-Chêne
The province also shared possible sites of COVID-19 exposure in the Saint John, Fredericton, and Miramichi regions
Saint John region, Zone 2:
Aug. 17 and 18 – Fairway Inn and JJ's Diner, 216 Roachville Rd., Sussex
Aug. 17 between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.– On the Vine Produce, 1350 Hickey Rd., Saint John
Aug. 17 between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.– Greco, 1350 Hickey Rd., Saint John
Aug. 16 between 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. – Gateway Mall, 138 Main St., Sussex
Aug. 15 between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.– Costco Wholesale Saint John, 300 Retail Dr., Saint John
Aug. 14 between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. - MasterMind Toys, 70 Consumers Dr., Saint John
Aug. 13 between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. - Pet Valu, 30 Plaza Ave., Saint John
Fredericton region, Zone 3:
Aug. 20 between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. – Ayr Motor Centre, 105 Connell Park Rd., Woodstock
Aug. 19 between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. – Ayr Motor Centre, 105 Connell Park Rd., Woodstock
Aug. 19 between 12 a.m. and 12 p.m. – Fredericton International Airport, arrivals area, 2570 Route 102 Highway, Lincoln
Aug. 18 between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. – Carleton County Court House, 19 Court St., Upper Woodstock
Aug. 11, 12, 13, 16, and 17 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. – Springhill Infrastructure Asphalt, 940 Springhill Rd., Fredericton
Aug. 15 between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. – Grand Falls Cataracts, Baseball Diamond between Chapel Rd and Victoria Rd, Grand Falls
Aug. 12 between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. – Sobeys, 1180 Prospect St., Fredericton
Aug. 12 between 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. – Costco Gas Bar and Costco Store, 25 Wayne Squibb Blvd., Fredericton
Aug. 11 between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., Aug. 12 between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. – Atlantic Superstore, 350 Connell St., Woodstock
Aug. 11 between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. – McDonald's in Walmart, 1381 Regent St., Fredericton
Aug. 10 between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. – Coast Tire, 283 Connell St., Woodstock
Bathurst region, Zone 6:
Aug. 21 between midnight and 3 a.m. – Party à la Youpi with DJ Saulnier, Army Camp, Leech
Aug. 18 between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. – Nigadoo Falls Trail, Nigadoo
Aug. 16 between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. – La Trappe, Vieux Couvent, Caraquet
Aug. 15 between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. – La Brôkerie, 39 du Carr Ave., Caraquet
Miramichi region, Zone 7:
Aug. 22 between 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. – Gallan's Miramichi River Tubing, 48 Kersey Lane, Doyles Brook
Aug. 19 between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. – Sailor and Jane Eatery, 1 Jane St., Miramichi
Aug. 19 between 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. – Jean Coutu Pharmacy, 4 Johnson Ave., Miramichi
Aug. 19 between 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. – Gallan's Miramichi River Tubing, 48 Kersey Lane, Doyles Brook
Aug. 12 between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. – Walmart, 200 Douglastown Blvd., Miramichi
The full list of possible exposures is updated regularly and is available on the government's website.
What to do if you have a symptom
People concerned they might have COVID-19 can take a self-assessment test online.
Public Health says symptoms of the illness have included a fever above 38 C, a new or worsening cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, a new onset of fatigue, and 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 811 or their doctor and follow instructions.