The province's health system is bracing for a rapid climb in case counts and preparing for a worst-case "crisis" scenario.
Public Health reported another death, 486 new cases of COVID-19 – with new cases in every one of the seven zones – and five new hospitalizations on Wednesday, and projected that the Omicron variant would drive a surge in daily cases.
Regional health authorities and Ambulance New Brunswick are looking at further service reductions to ensure that essential services and emergency surgeries will remain available to all residents as the province deals with "the impact of the Omicron variant," Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said in a news release late Wednesday afternoon.
Shephard said CEOs of these organizations "will work collaboratively to support the health-care system during a crisis that could include staff shortages, service reductions and high rates of COVID-19."
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell urged New Brunswickers to limit their contact with others as much as possible and to use rapid tests if they have a known exposure, even if they are asymptomatic.
Those who test positive using a rapid test must immediately isolate, book a PCR test, and notify close contacts that they have tested positive on a rapid test.
Red Cross assisting with Zone 2 testing backlog
A backlog of nearly 2,500 test requests in the Saint John region, Zone 2, has prompted the province to divert more resources and extend hours at its assessment centre.
"The Canadian Red Cross is on site to assist," Public Health said in a news release late Wednesday.
"All priority groups, which include Public Health referrals, health-care workers and those who work or live in vulnerable settings ... are being scheduled within 48 hours," the release said.
Zones 1 and 3, the Moncton and Fredericton regions, are also seeing backlogs, with a backup of about 150 requests in the Moncton region and about 450 requests in the Fredericton region.
"All priority groups in these zones are being scheduled within 24 hours," Public Health said. "The next priorities are being booked for a test within 48 hours."
One new death, 43 people hospitalized
A person in their 90s has died in the Edmundston region, Zone 4, as a result of COVID-19, Public Health said Wednesday. This brings the province's COVID-19 death toll to 157.
There are 43 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in New Brunswick as of Wednesday, 17 of them in intensive care.
"This is five more hospitalizations than reported Tuesday," Public Health said in a news release.
Of those in hospital, 28 are over the age of 60 and 10 people are on a ventilator. No one under 19 is currently hospitalized.
The rate of people hospitalized and in ICU, as well as new cases, continues to most greatly impact people who are unvaccinated, Public Health said.
The new cases reported Wednesday break down in this way:
Moncton region, Zone 1
Saint John region, Zone 2
Fredericton region, Zone 3
Edmundston region, Zone 4
Campellton region, Zone 5
Bathurst region, Zone 6
Miramichi region, Zone 7
There are 2,381 active cases in the province as of Wednesday. Since Tuesday, 121 people have recovered.
95 staff members off work at Saint John hospital
Nearly 100 health-care workers at the Saint John Regional Hospital are in isolation after exposures in three departments.
Margaret Melanson, vice-president quality and patient-centred care with the Horizon Health Network, said no outbreaks have been declared at the hospital.
She said 95 health-care workers are off work "due to COVID-19 related reasons."
Melanson said there have been confirmed exposures at the emergency department, internal medicine (4CN) and general surgery (3CN).
"Patients are being placed on isolation as a precautionary measure to reduce the risk of transmission," she said in an emailed statement.
"While staffing resources are thin at SJRH, there has been no disruption to services."
More than 2,000 New Brunswickers are infected with COVID-19, with Public Health reporting hundreds of new cases per day.
A pandemic high was reported on Christmas Day — 309 new cases. It's not clear how much this spread is driven by Omicron and how much by other variants, though Public Health has confirmed 147 cases of the Omicron variant so far.
Restaurants surprised by how quickly business evaporated
In year two of the pandemic, restaurants were recovering, restrictions eased and people were feeling more confident about eating out. But a sharp rise in cases and the new variant have put a quick stop to that.
Luc Erjavec, Atlantic vice-president of Restaurants Canada, said any hopes that restaurant owners had of having a lucrative holiday season have evaporated.
"It's been a bit of a roller-coaster," Erjavec told Information Morning. The industry had worked really hard with Public Health officials. And things are seeming like they're getting back to normal."
Tuesday marked the beginning of new restrictions in New Brunswick. Households must now cap their close contacts to 10 people, and restaurants are now capped at 50 per cent capacity. They also have to either implement two metres of physical distancing or install barriers between tables.
"All of a sudden when the restrictions came out reservations dropped off the books in droves," Erjavec said. "Potentially, millions of dollars of lost sales."
He said the first two weeks of December were great, and the last two weeks were "utter despair."
Erjavec said restaurant owners did not want to lay off any workers a week before Christmas, and "thankfully" federal subsidies were reinstated.
"We need it," he said. "It's going to be a long tough winter. I can say we are a resilient industry. We were innovative. We've been through this a few times now in the last couple of years, and we're prepared to roll up our sleeves and start all over again."
He said the biggest challenge is to build consumer confidence once public health measures start working and case numbers decline.
New public exposure notices
Public Health is also reporting some new public exposures
Zone 1, Moncton region
Dec. 26 between midnight and 9 a.m. — Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont Hospital, Moncton, emergency department
Dec. 25 between midnight and 9 a.m. — Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont Hospital, Moncton, emergency department
Dec. 23 — Air Canada Flight 7920 – from Montreal to Fredericton, departed at 10:30 p.m.
Dec. 23 — Air Canada Flight 7918 – from Montreal to Fredericton, departed at 1:35 p.m.
Dec. 23 — Air Canada Flight 8510 – from Montreal to Bathurst, departed at 8:41 p.m.
Dec. 23 — Porter Airlines Flight 247 – from Toronto to Ottawa, departed at 12:55 p.m.; Porter Airlines Flight 259 – from Ottawa to Moncton, departed at 6:35 p.m.
Dec. 22 — Air Canada Flight 8498 – from Toronto to Saint John, departed at 8:57 p.m.
Dec. 21 — Porter Airlines Flight 205 – from Ottawa to Fredericton, departed at 8:20 a.m.
Dec. 21 — Air Canada Flight 7916 – from Montreal to Fredericton, departed at 8 a.m.
Dec. 21 — Air Canada Flight 7918 – from Montreal to Fredericton, departed 1:25 p.m.
Dec. 20 — Air Canada Flight 7994 – from Montreal to Moncton departed at 1:23 p.m.
Dec. 20 — Porter Airlines Flight 205 – from Ottawa to Fredericton, departed 8:20 a.m.
Dec. 20 — Air Canada Flight 7998 – from Montreal to Moncton, departed at 10:11 p.m.
Dec. 20 — Porter Airlines Flight 205 – from Toronto to Fredericton departed at 6:56 a.m.
What to do if you have a symptom
Anyone concerned about having COVID-19 can take a self-assessment test online.
Public Health says symptoms 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.
If exhibiting any of those symptoms, stay home, call 811 or your doctor and follow instructions.