N.B. COVID-19 roundup: 2 deaths and 163 new cases, including 16 Omicron

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Health Minister Dorothy Shephard urges everyone eligible to make an appointment for a vaccine or booster dose 'as soon as they can.'  (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard urges everyone eligible to make an appointment for a vaccine or booster dose 'as soon as they can.' (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)

New Brunswick announced two more COVID-related deaths Friday and 163 new cases of the virus, including 16 more confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

Two people in their 70s, one in the Moncton region and the other in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, have died as a result of COVID-19, raising the pandemic death toll to 146.

The new cases are spread across all seven health regions and bring the total number of active cases in New Brunswick to a pandemic record-high of 1,255.

There are now 30 confirmed Omicron cases in the province.

"Identified samples will continue to be tested to determine their COVID-19 variant," Public Health said in a news release.

Forty-five people are in hospital in New Brunswick with COVID-19, an increase of four, including 14 people in intensive care, down one. Seven of them are on ventilators.

"We are seeing case numbers rise quickly in other provinces because of the Omicron variant and need to do everything we can to ensure the same thing does not happen here," Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said in a statement.

Interim COVID-19 measures to slow the spread of Omicron and other variants take effect at 11:59 p.m. These include:

  • People must limit their household contacts to a maximum of a steady 20.

  • Distancing must be maintained at all times in businesses, retail establishments, gyms, salons and spas, and between tables in restaurants.

  • Entertainment centres, such as movie theatres, professional sporting venues and casinos, will be operating at 50 per cent capacity with distancing of two metres.

"Everyone needs to do their part to protect themselves, their loved ones and our health-care system by following Public Health measures that are aimed at reducing contacts to slow the spread," said Shephard.

She encourages parents to make an appointment to get their children vaccinated, and those eligible for a booster dose to book an appointment "as soon as they can."

A total of 82.5 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers are fully vaccinated against COVID, unchanged, 89.1 per cent have received their first dose, up from 89, and 11.9 per cent of those eligible have received a booster dose, up from 11.1.

Among children aged five to 11 years old, 34.2 per cent have received their first dose, up from 33.1. About 17,500 appointments have been booked through regional health authority clinics, said Public Health. That does not include pharmacy appointments.

As of Friday, 43,360 appointments for booster shots have been booked. That's an increase of 11,060 over the last two days, Public Health said.

A full list of walk-in clinics is available online. No clinics are currently scheduled for four days over the holidays, between Dec. 24 and Dec. 27.

People can also schedule an appointment at a regional health authority clinic through the online booking system or at a participating pharmacy.

CBC News
CBC News

The regional breakdown of the new cases of COVID-19 confirmed Friday:

  • Moncton region, Zone 1 — 36 cases

  • Saint John region, Zone 2 — 64 cases

  • Fredericton region, Zone 3 — 34 cases

  • Edmundston region, Zone 4 — 11 cases

  • Campbellton region, Zone 5 — two cases

  • Bathurst region, Zone 6 — five cases

  • Miramichi region, Zone 7 — 11 cases

New Brunswick announced its first confirmed cases of Omicron on Monday. They are linked to the recent outbreak at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., said Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health.

New Brunswick has recorded 10,313 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with 8,910 recoveries so far.

A total of 588,866 tests have been conducted to date, including 1,637 on Thursday.

Patient at Fredericton hospital contracts COVID

A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared on the general surgery unit, 4SW, of the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton, after two people tested positive, the Horizon Health Network confirmed to CBC News Friday afternoon.

Public Health, in its daily news release, listed the hospital among three others where hospitalized patients have contracted COVID in ongoing outbreaks — the Moncton Hospital, Saint John Regional Hospital and Miramichi Regional Hospital. It made no mention of the Fredericton hospital being a new outbreak.

A health-care worker on the general surgery unit at the Chalmers tested positive on Thursday, said Horizon. Contact tracing was conducted and an inpatient on the same unit was identified.

"All patients have been isolated to their rooms, enhanced cleaning has been implemented, contact tracing is ongoing and patients are being monitored closely for COVID-19 symptoms," Horizon said.

Joe McDonald/CBC
Joe McDonald/CBC

Patients and health-care workers on the unit are being tested. No patients will be admitted to or transferred from the unit during this time.

The designated support person program will be suspended on this unit and Horizon's existing visitor restrictions remain in place on other units.

Surgeries, labour and birth services, ambulatory care and professional services will continue. The public will be notified of any temporary service closures or interruptions.

Horizon asks citizens to visit the emergency department only if they have a medical emergency.

Of the 45 people hospitalized across the province with COVID-19, six of them were initially admitted for other reasons and contracted COVID-19 because of outbreaks at the four hospitals, Public Health said Friday. "Most of these people are exhibiting mild to moderate symptoms," it said. No definition of "mild to moderate" has been provided.

As of Wednesday, a total of 44 cases — 33 patients and 11 staff — have been confirmed in outbreaks on five units at the Moncton Hospital that began on Nov. 22. There are two active patient cases, including the new case on the family practice and geriatric unit, Unit 5100, Horizon confirmed to CBC News.

The other affected units include the family medicine and palliative care unit, Unit 3600, the rehabilitation unit, Unit 4400, the stroke and family medicine unit, Unit 4600, and the COVID-19 unit, Unit 6600.

No new cases have been identified at the Saint John Regional Hospital, where the orthopedic surgery unit (3CS) and internal medicine (4CN) unit each had one positive patient.

At the Miramichi Regional Hospital, outbreaks were declared on two more units after one patient and two health-care workers on 4 East alternative level of care and one patient on 2 West medical stepdown unit tested positive. An outbreak was previously declared on the intensive care unit and family practice unit (2 West) after one patient tested positive.

There is also an outbreak at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, where two patients and a health-care worker tested positive, the Vitalité Health Network announced Wednesday.

Across the province, "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.

Changes to grocery store rules

The province is amending the mandatory order so that grocery stores won't have the option of asking for proof of vaccination for patrons 12 and older instead of ensuring physical distancing, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced Friday.

"It was never the intention for anyone to believe they could not access groceries," she said in a news release.

Major grocery stores in the province had already said they wouldn't be asking for proof of vaccine.

Shephard said the original intention was to give stores a choice, and that those choosing the proof-of-vaccination option would offer delivery or curbside pickup.

Other retail operations that don't sell groceries, along with salons and spas, can continue to ask for proof of vaccination or ensure distancing.

Beer, cannabis, books and rapid-test kits?

New Brunswick is considering handing out COVID-19 rapid tests at N.B. Liquor and Cannabis N.B. stores, libraries, and other locations.

"Public Health and the planning team are actually looking at those options now," Health Minister Dorothy Shephard confirmed to CBC News on Friday.

Some other provinces have already announced they're making the test kits available at a variety of locations where people are expected to be over the holidays.

Ontario will have pop-up sites at some liquor stores, malls and libraries.

Shephard did not indicate when a decision will be made.

Alexandre Silberman/CBC News
Alexandre Silberman/CBC News

About 600,000 rapid-test kits have been distributed to schools, workplaces and pick-up locations across the province over the past week as part of a push to quickly identify new infections and slow the spread of the virus, now that the highly transmissible Omicron variant has arrived.

Rapid tests are being provided to all students so they can test regularly over the holidays.

Anyone who receives a positive rapid-test result, or who is experiencing one symptom of COVID-19, must isolate immediately and book a test at an assessment centre.

More information on the rapid-test kits program and pick-up locations is available online.

Restaurants, tourism industry face another lean holiday

The province's restaurant and tourism industry is preparing for another lean holiday period because of COVID-19 concerns and restrictions.

Cancellations are rolling in again this year as people rethink their holiday plans, said Carol Alderdice, president of the Tourism Industry Association of New Brunswick.

"I know cancellations are coming in all of the different restaurants, and I feel so bad for them," she said.

Jon Collicott/CBC
Jon Collicott/CBC

"Outside of, you know, of doing the social distancing [between tables] and the close 20 [contacts], the only other thing that they can do really is take out. It's really sad for restaurants. There's no doubt about it."

Under new COVID-19 measures announced earlier this week, restaurants are limited to 20 people per table and a distance of two metres must be maintained between tables, effective Friday at 11:59 p.m.

Restaurants have also been suffering from a labour shortage, said Alderdice, leading to "exhaustion" within the industry.

The tourism association is working with a coalition of small businesses in New Brunswick and advocating financial support for the small businesses.

Submitted by Carol Alderdice
Submitted by Carol Alderdice

"And of course, absolutely the federal relief must continue because there will be so many companies shutting down if that doesn't happen," Alderdice said.

She said the industry needs the federal government to pass Bill C-2 as soon as possible. The bill contains a tourism and hospitality recovery program with wage and rent subsidies of up to 75 per cent for hotels, tour operators, travel agencies, and restaurants.

Atlantic COVID roundup

Nova Scotia announced 394 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and has 632 active cases. Seven people are in hospital, including two in intensive care.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported 46 new cases on Friday. The province has 76 active cases.

Prince Edward Island reported 31 new cases on Friday, a single-day record for the province. There are 75 active cases, P.E.I.'s highest active case count since the pandemic was declared.

Public exposure notices

Public Health has listed a number of new possible COVID-19 exposures Friday, including a trampoline park and pottery studio in the Saint John region, Zone 2, a fast food restaurant in the Bathurst region, Zone 6, and a funeral home in the Miramichi region, Zone 7.

For the full list of new and previous public exposure notices, visit the provincial government's website.

People who have not been fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to a possible exposure and who have symptoms should get a COVID lab test. They can book an appointment online or call Tele-Care 811 and must isolate while waiting for their test result.

People who are not fully vaccinated and do not have symptoms are now being instructed to pick up an At-Home COVID-19 Rapid Point of Care Test (Rapid POCT) screening kit. They do not need to isolate if they have not been directed by Public Health to do so.

All positive point-of-care test results must be confirmed with a laboratory polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test.

It can take up to 14 days to test positive after being exposed to COVID-19, so even if results come back negative, people should continue to self-monitor for any symptoms and get tested immediately if any develop.

They should also avoid visiting settings with vulnerable populations, such as nursing homes, correctional facilities and shelters during that 14-day period.

For people who have been fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to a possible exposure, Public Health recommends they monitor for symptoms for 14 days after the possible exposure and get a COVID lab test if symptoms develop.

They do not need to isolate while they wait for their test results.

If they do not have symptoms, they can pick up a rapid test kit and do not need to isolate.

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.

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