Mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations could be on the way for employees in New Brunswick's public sector.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Premier Blaine Higgs said his government plans to require public employees, including those working in health care and long-term care, to get vaccinated against the virus or submit to a "testing program."
He also hinted that teachers would fall under the vaccination mandate, noting that Education Minister Dominic Cardy would reveal details about the reopening of schools on Friday.
"Obviously, there are more portions of that [public] sector that ... are urgent in the sense of schools opening up," Higgs said.
For now, he said, the vaccine requirement from government is a "public health advisory."
However, he noted, regulation to enforce it will be pursued if employees don't respond by getting vaccinated.
"This is under recommendation from Public Health," Higgs said, adding that "if we have to go further with regulation, time will tell."
Coon calls on Higgs to curb rising cases in Moncton
Green Party Leader David Coon is calling on the Higgs government to take action to curb the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the Moncton region, Zone 1.
He says the increase in cases has some people worried another wave of infections across the province is imminent.
Public Health reported 16 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, eight of them in the Moncton region, and cases in five other zones have now been linked to that zone.
New Brunswick now has 115 active cases and one person hospitalized with the respiratory disease. Zone 1 has 84 of the cases, including outbreaks at a 50-bed nursing home and a daycare, and a lengthy list of potential public exposures.
Nine hundred people are self-isolating due to either testing positive or being an identified contact of a case, Public Health said in a news release.
Coon calls the situation "very concerning," given the "exponential growth" in cases in Zone 1 and spread to other regions.
"It's time that the government take decisions and act," he said.
"The premier should be, if he's not already asked Public Health for recommendations and advice about how to contain the outbreak in Moncton. And I would imagine and I believe that should include things like reintroducing masking requirements in public places indoors and other measures to reduce the number of contacts, particularly those in the younger age groups the 20s and 30s have."
Coon contends Premier Blaine Higgs was too quick to abandon the initial target to have 75 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 12 or older fully vaccinated before moving to the green phase of COVID recovery and lifting Public Health restrictions.
A total of 71.9 per cent of the eligible population is double-dosed, up from 71.5 on Tuesday, while 83.6 per cent have received at least one dose, up from 83.4.
In the Moncton cluster, 94 per cent of the cases are among those who are not fully vaccinated, said Dr. Cristin Muecke, deputy chief medical officer. "We need these people to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their families and those who cannot get vaccinated, such as children under 12," she said.
We still have a chance to avoid a significant number of hospitalizations if action is taken now. - David Coon, Green Party leader
People under 40 still lag behind all other age groups in getting first and second doses of COVID vaccines, at less than 60 per cent, Muecke said Tuesday.
The vast majority of COVID-19 infections are also from unvaccinated individuals in this age group, she said.
"When you look at it in terms of the total population, counting our children [under 12 who are too young to be vaccinated], we only have 63 per cent of the population fully vaccinated and that's not adequate to abandon all measures," said Coon.
"All we need to do is look at other provinces, in the United States, in the U.K., in terms of what's happened as they've relaxed their measures. Even with significant vaccination rates, you get high growth in cases and then you get hospitalizations," he said.
"We still have a chance to avoid a significant number of hospitalizations if action is taken now."
Higgs could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
Muecke said 150 cases in the Moncton region have been the alpha variant first identified in the U.K. "We are seeing a COVID-19 alpha variant cluster emerging," she said in a statement.
"With the recent increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, it is clear that being fully vaccinated is the best protection against the virus, regardless of variant type."
Anyone age 12 or older is eligible to get a vaccine and can get their second shot 28 days after their first.
Several community vaccination clinics continue to accept walk-ins. A list 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.
Breakdown of new cases
The 16 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed Wednesday include:
Moncton region, Zone 1, eight cases:
A person 19 or under
Five people 20-29
Two people 70-79.
Three of the cases are contacts of previously confirmed cases, three are travel-related and two are under investigation.
Saint John region, Zone 2, two cases:
A person 20-29
A person 50-59
One case is under investigation and the other one is travel-related.
Fredericton region, Zone 3, three cases:
A person 19 or under
Two people 70-79
Two of the cases are under investigation and the other case is a contact of a previously confirmed case.
Bathurst region, Zone 6, two cases:
A person 19 or under
A person 30-39
Both of these cases are contacts of previously confirmed cases.
Miramichi region, Zone 7, one case:
A person 20-29
This case is a contact of a previously confirmed case.
New Brunswick has had 2,559 confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the pandemic. There have been 2,397 recoveries so far and 46 COVID-related deaths.
A total of 395,627 COVID tests have been conducted to date.
Cluster vs. outbreak
Public Health has continued to refer to increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the Moncton region, Zone 1, as a "cluster."
Department of Health officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment about what needs to change for the cluster to be declared an outbreak and how Public Health's approach to the situation would change.
But spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane did distinguish the terms in general.
A cluster, he said, is "often a geographical group of cases with greater incidence than expected."
Cases that are part of a cluster may not have a known association or link between them, he said.
Through contact tracing and investigation, the [regional medical officer of health] conducts a risk assessment and decides whether there is a defined association or link between the cases to declare an outbreak."
As of Tuesday, the Moncton region has 85 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 77 per cent of the province's active caseload.
Nine days ago, when the region had 48 active cases, Public Health had connected 41 of them to a previously identified source, the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell had said.
Most of the cases have been the alpha variant first reported in the U.K., not the increasingly common delta variant, first reported in India.
Of the 92 cases confirmed since July 26 in the Moncton region, 68 have been the alpha variant, and only four have been the delta variant.
UNB surveys about vaccination status
The University of New Brunswick is asking students, faculty and staff to anonymously reveal their COVID-19 vaccination status.
President and vice-chancellor Paul Mazerolle emailed students Wednesday advising them they will receive a university-wide COVID-19 vaccination survey over the next two days.
"The results of this anonymous survey will be used, in consultation with New Brunswick Public Health, to support a risk assessment which will inform changes to our vaccination policy," he said.
"We strongly encourage you to complete the survey as soon as possible."
Last week, UNB's acting vice-president academic, Cathy Wilson, told CBC News, the university had decided against mandatory vaccinations and planned to focus on education to try to boost vaccination rates instead.
UNB is offering vaccination clinics on campus and letting students decide for themselves, she had said.
St. Thomas University and Mount Allison University have also decided against mandatory vaccines, officials have said.
"We have learnt many things during the pandemic and perhaps the most important is the need to be flexible and agile in our approach to an ever-changing situation," Mazerolle said in the email.
The survey will be the first in a series throughout the semester "to assist in monitoring and responding to our pandemic related risks," he said.
"We understand that this is a trying time and that the lack of certainty causes stress for many of us. We will engage, consult and communicate any changes to our vaccination or other COVID-19 policies to the community as soon as those decisions are made."
In the meantime, measures to limit the spread of the virus remain in place, including wearing masks in indoor spaces, handwashing, directional signage, and people staying home when they're feeling ill.
COVID testing at Fredericton airport
COVID-19 testing is now available at the Fredericton International Airport.
Distribution Ad Valorem is providing the service as part of a 12-week pilot project, said airport president and CEO Johanne Gallant.
"Travellers have been asking for a convenient way to access the COVID-19 tests that are required for many destinations," she said in a statement.
Three tests — antigen, molecular and PCR — are available on site, with costs ranging from $149 to $299, plus HST.
Test results are available within 15 minutes to 72 hours, depending on the test, and travellers will receive a certificate confirming the test result, date and time of the test, and their passport number.
Travellers are advised to check the requirements of their destination carefully prior to booking their test, as each country may have different conditions for entry.
The tests are conducted near the arrivals hall by Soins PROXYMA Care Clinic on Mondays through Saturdays, between 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. Additional times may be offered depending on the demand for the service, officials said.
To book a COVID-19 test at the Fredericton International Airport, visit www.distributionadvalorem.com or call (506) 385-1316.
Atlantic COVID roundup
Nova Scotia confirmed nine new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and has 25 active cases, including one hospitalized person in intensive care.
Newfoundland and Labrador has "a small cluster" of six new cases, and 12 active cases in all.
Prince Edward Island, which does not give a daily update, had no new cases and seven active cases by mid-afternoon, according to the province's COVID-19 website.
New possible exposures
Public Health added two new potential COVID-19 exposure warnings Wednesday to the already lengthy list. They include:
Moncton region, Zone 1:
Aug. 11 – Groupe- Support Emotionnel, 96 Norwood Ave., Suite 300A, Moncton
Fredericton region, Zone 3:
Aug. 11 between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. – McDonald's in Walmart, 1381 Regent St., Fredericton
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 flight:
Aug. 11 – Air Canada Flight 8773 – from Montreal to Saint John, which departed at 9:14 a.m.
Aug. 7 – Air Canada Flight 8904 – from Montreal to Moncton, departed at 8:03 p.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. 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. 8 between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. - Apostolic Lighthouse Church, 332 Bayley Rd., Riverview
• Aug. 7 between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. – Navigators Pub, 190 Robinson Court
• Aug. 7 between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., Aug. 8 between 6 p.m. and 4 a.m. – Wise Guys Pub, 176 Robinson St.
• Aug. 7 between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. – Old Triangle Irish Alehouse, 751 Main St., Moncton
• Aug. 5 between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. – Costco, 140 Granite Dr., Moncton
• Aug. 1 between 1 p.m and 3 p.m. - Montana's, 225 Mapleton Rd., Moncton
• Aug. 1 between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. - Apostolic Lighthouse Church, 332 Bayley Rd., Riverview
The province also shared possible sites of COVID-19 exposure in the Saint John, Fredericton, and Miramichi regions
Saint John region, Zone 2:
• Aug. 9 – Three Bears Campground,12049 Rte. 114, Penobsquis
• Aug. 4 and 5 – Three Bears Campground,12049 Rte. 114, Penobsquis
• Aug. 4 between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. – Atlantic Superstore, 44 Lower Cove Rd., Sussex
• Aug. 2 between 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. – JJ's Restaurant, 40941 Rte. 1, Sussex
Fredericton region, Zone 3:
• 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. 10 between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. – Coast Tire, 283 Connell St., Woodstock
• Aug. 9 between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., Tim Horton's, 667 Main St., Woodstock
• Aug. 8 between 10:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. - Grafton Baptist Church, 48 Saunders St., Grafton
• Aug. 6 between 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. – Sobeys, 370 Connell Rd, Woodstock
• Aug. 7 between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. – Dolan's Pub, 349 King St.
Miramichi region, Zone 7:
• Aug. 6 between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. – Ultramar Truck Stop, 11365 Rte 11, Napan
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.