The teachers' union is asking the province to reconsider delaying full-time in-person high school classes Monday because staff are concerned for their safety and not all supply teachers will be vaccinated.
Co-president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Federation Rick Cuming said some teachers are "terrified" of returning to full-time classes because of the recent variant outbreaks.
"If the COVID variant is going to be present in most communities we're not sure that right now is the correct time to have everybody coming back face-to-face," he said. "We know that's the best place for students to be educated but we're not sure it's the safest place at this point.
The province recently said only "long-term" supply teachers were included in the first stage of the vaccination. This leaves out supply teachers not booked for more than 90 days in one place, said Cuming.
"We feel that they should have been vaccinated," he said.
The return to in-person classes does not include Zone 4, which is in the red phase of recovery.
Cuming said he has not heard any indication that the plan for high school in-person class return will be reversed over the weekend.
But New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health defended the return to daily in-person classes next week, despite concerns about highly transmissible variants of COVID-19, which are now affecting younger adults in a more serious way.
"We have worked since the beginning of the pandemic, since the beginning of the school year, very closely with education in terms of their operational planning and we will continue to support them as needed," Russell said in an interview Friday with Information Morning Fredericton.
Daily in-person classes resume on Monday after an academic year that so far has required most high schools to offer students alternating days of in-person learning.
Russell said that every time there is a new risk of COVID-19, Public Health works to mitigate it.
Since the closure of in-person classes last year, Public Health took many factors into account, Russell said, noting the negative impacts of staying at home outweigh the positive.
"We're balancing all of the risks with what has been affecting students very negatively from a mental health perspective, from an education perspective and from a developmental perspective," she said.
Russell said a school will close when cases of COVID-19 pop up.
Cuming said he's not heard any indication
Cuming said some schools will delay their opening by one or two days to make sure the teachers who were vaccinated will have their full two weeks of post-vaccination time. He said all full-time high school teachers are vaccinated, but that doesn't stop them from being vectors of spread.
"Teachers don't feel their concerns have been addressed," he said. "Teachers are really concerned about safety."
Cuming said the union is also recommending that the province return all schools in red zones to total virtual learning.
"The safest method to deliver curriculum in a red zone is remotely," he said.
One new death, 8 new cases, confirmed case at daycare
Another person has died of COVID-19 in the province, the second New Brunswicker to die this week of the disease.
In a news release, Public Health said a person between 60 and 69 has died as a result of COVID-19 in the Edmundston region, Zone 4.
The death brings the total number of COVID-related deaths in the province to 32.
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, Luc Bélanger died of COVID-19 in the Edmundston region.
At age 38, Belanger was the youngest person to die of COVID-19 in New Brunswick, with the previously recorded youngest death being a person in their 40s.
8 new cases in three zones
Eight new cases of COVID-19 were reported on Friday, six of them in the Edmundston region, Zone 4.
The cases break down in this way:
Moncton region, Zone 1, one case:
An individual 50 to 59. This case is under investigation.
Fredericton region, Zone 3, one case:
An individual 40 to 49. This case is travel-related.
Edmundston region, Zone 4, six cases:
An individual 19 or under
An individual 20 to 29
An individual 30 to 39
An individual 40 to 49
An individual 60 to 69
An individual 80 to 89
Of the six Zone 4 cases, three are under investigation and three are contacts of a previously confirmed case.
The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick is 1,694. Since Thursday, 13 people have recovered for a total of 1,521 recoveries.
There have been 32 deaths, and the number of active cases is 140. Nineteen patients are in hospital, including 13 in an intensive care unit. In total, 265,235 cases have been conducted, including 1,151 since Thursday's report.
Confirmed case at Edmundston daycare
A positive case of COVID-19 has been confirmed at Garderie des P'tits Amis in Edmundston, Public Health said in a news release Friday.
The child-care centre was closed Friday and contact tracing is underway, the release said, and anyone who has been in close contact with this case will be notified by Public Health."If you do not hear directly from Public Health, you have not been identified as a close contact."
Vitalité posts daily status updates for Edmundston hospital
Vitalité Health Network has begun posting status reports of the situation at the Edmundston Regional Hospital. On its vitalite.ca website under "news" on the main page, Vitalité notes the report will be "updated on a regular basis as the situation evolves."
The report notes information on the number of hospitalized patients, number of patients in intensive care, patient transfers and more. Friday's status update contained the following information:
Number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients: 12
Number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care: 7, all on respirators
Number of patients on the COVID-19 Unit: 5
Number of intensive care beds: 9
Number of COVID-19 patients transferred to another hospital: 2 patients transferred to Fredericton, 1 on April 6, and 1 on April 7.
Variant remains biggest challenge
New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health says the variant that originated in the U.K. is the biggest challenge yet in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Jennifer Russell said the variant is more transmissible and affects younger people with more severe symptoms, requiring more hospitalizations and ICU admissions.
"This variant spreads to the contacts of contacts, sometimes before the first cases identified," Russell said.
As of Thursday, New Brunswick had 119 cases of the variant that originated in the U.K. Of those, 46 people have recovered and 73 cases are still active.
That rise in cases means more people are being asked to self-isolate, with requirements that both contacts and contacts of contacts isolate if a variant case is involved.
Russell says it's a race against time to get everyone in New Brunswick a first dose of vaccine.
The goal for first doses is now June 15, moved up about two weeks from the earlier deadline of July 1.
But between now and then, a lot of people are at risk of contracting the variant if there's an outbreak in their area. In the meantime, the vaccine is more likely to prevent hospitalizations, ICU admissions and death.
"There will be people who will get COVID-19," Russell said. "They will hopefully be asymptomatic or very mildly symptomatic.
List of exposures
Public Health has identified a potential public exposure to the virus at the following locations:
April 5 at 11 a.m., Shoppers Drug Mart, 160 Hébert Blvd.
Royal Bank, 48 Saint-François St.
March 31 between 12 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. – Scotiabank, 75 Canada Rd.
March 30 between 12 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. – Scotiabank, 75 Canada Rd.
March 29 between 8:45 a.m. and 4 p.m. – Scotiabank, 75 Canada Rd.
March 22 between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. – Sparta Progressive Gym, 113, 44th Avenue D
April 1, 2021, between 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. – Saint John YMCA, 191 Churchill Blvd.
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.