New Brunswick's plan to start reopening has been set back by another day, a data cruncher predicted Thursday, as Public Health reported three new cases of COVID-19 in the province.
A total of 504,675 New Brunswickers, or 72.8 per cent of the eligible population aged 12 and over, have now been vaccinated with a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The province has set 75 per cent as the threshold for Phase 1 of its path to green and the start of loosening of restrictions, such as removing the steady-15 requirement and reopening to parts of Atlantic Canada and Quebec.
Its original target was Monday, June 7.
Oliver Dueck, a software developer based in Fredericton who has been tracking the province's vaccine data for the past few months, had projected the province would reach its goal by this Saturday.
But with only 4,146 first doses registered Wednesday, the province's seven-day average of doses administered dropped to 6,907.
With 15,365 people still to be vaccinated to meet the goal, the projected date slips to Sunday, Dueck said.
Asked Thursday if she expects to reach 75 per cent by this weekend, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard told reporters, "It's probably not a good idea to put a date on it, because we know that the goal is 75 per cent. We are sticking with that."
The province is "very confident and comfortable" with that goal, said Shephard. But if it had to do it over again, it might not have set a target date.
"Maybe putting a date to it — it wasn't something we wanted to not meet. It was attainable in regards to we have the supply, we have the vaccinators, we had the clinics and so I believe we felt that it was very, very possible to reach it by June 7.
"Now it's a matter of, we're almost at 75 per cent, that's the goal we need to meet to make this next milestone, and we're going to do it as enthusiastically as we can and encourage everyone to continue to get vaccinated."
A recent 1.6 per cent jump in the vaccination rate was a blip unlikely to be seen again in the coming days, said Shephard.
About 4,000 members of the military living at 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown were added to the total. They were previously vaccinated, "but we didn't have those numbers from the federal government until just now," she said. "And so we've added them into the loop."
The province has also been registering snowbirds and other residents who were vaccinated outside the province and have now returned.
Combined, the two groups accounted for 0.8 per cent of the increase, Shephard said.
More than halfway to Phase 2 goal
New Brunswick is still trying to reach its Phase 1 goal of the path to green, but it's already more than halfway to its Phase 2 goal, scheduled for July 1, provincial figures show.
As of the end of Wednesday, 17,251 New Brunswickers aged 65 and older have received a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, said Department of Health spokesperson Shawn Berry.
That's about 10 per cent of New Brunswickers in that age demographic, he said.
Phase 2 calls for 20 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 65 or over to be vaccinated with their first dose.
But it will only come into effect if Phase 1 has been achieved, with 75 per cent of the eligible population aged 12 and over vaccinated with at least one dose.
Hospitalizations must remain manageable and all zones must remain at the yellow COVID alert level.
Among the changes under Phase 2, travellers from across Canada with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will be allowed into the province with no isolation required. The same will apply to travellers from Maine, pending changes to the federal regulations.
Those who have not been vaccinated will also be permitted to enter the province, but will be required to isolate and undergo COVID testing between days five to seven. They will be released from isolation with a negative test.
International travellers with two doses will not be required to isolate, pending changes to federal regulations, while those with one dose or no vaccination will be subject to 14-day isolation, with a test on day 10.
Businesses can request proof of vaccination
New Brunswick businesses will be allowed to ask patrons for proof of COVID-19 vaccination, the Department of Health confirmed Thursday.
"Public Health is not working to develop policies related to proof of vaccination requirements as a measure of access or participation at this time," said spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane.
"However, certain sectors (e.g. hospitals, long term care, businesses, airlines, entertainment industry) can establish certain requirements or policies as they relate to vaccination status. For example, some facilities may require individuals to wear masks if they are not vaccinated, or may altogether require proof of vaccination for entry to their businesses or venues," he said in an emailed statement.
"From a provincial perspective, our focus is not on policies surrounding proof of vaccination, but rather attaining the appropriate levels of vaccination within our population to ensure community protection and ability to reopen."
Premier Blaine Higgs told reporters Wednesday he expects to discuss vaccine passports with his fellow premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during their next call June 17.
"I'm sure it will be a topic because there will be a lot of discussion about opening up borders," he said.
As New Brunswick starts opening up and bringing in people from other provinces and the United States, "we would want to have an idea that they've been vaccinated, at least at the beginning," Higgs said.
"But official passport, as such, I doubt that that will happen."
He thinks the province might just require proof of vaccination, he said.
Low turnout for school clinic
Education Minister Dominic Cardy said "a pretty small number of kids" took advantage of a vaccination clinic held at Simonds High School in Saint John on Thursday.
Students aged 12 and older from Saint John High School, St. Malachy's Memorial High School and Harbour View High School were offered the opportunity to be bused in.
It was "an experiment," said Cardy.
Part of the problem might have been the short notice of only one day to get their consent forms in, he acknowledged.
But the province is shifting its focus to getting students bused to existing vaccine clinics, operated by the Horizon or Vitalité Health Networks.
"I think that's going to be the best way for us to be able to minimize disruption to the existing system while still offering opportunities to every student and staff member who may not have had their shot yet to go and get one," he said.
"The goal is just to offer as many opportunities to as many people as possible, as often as possible to go and get that shot so that we can get rid of the restrictions and open up the province."
A detailed list of the walk-in clinics, including the locations, dates and times is available online.
Long-term care staff vaccination rates rising
Vaccination rates among staff at the province's 563 long-term care facilities continues to increase, according to Public Health.
As of Wednesday, 77.1 per cent of long-term care staff have been reported as receiving at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Thirty-six facilities still have less than 50 per cent of employees vaccinated, provincial figures show.
Last month, the province announced it would introduce mandatory testing for unvaccinated long-term care workers in some homes, citing "unacceptable" low vaccination rates.
As of May 31, unvaccinated workers would be required to take a rapid COVID-19 test every other day if they work in a facility where less than half the staff have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch had said.
Information on vaccination rates in long-term care facilities is available online.
101 active cases
New Brunswick has 101 active cases of COVID-19, Public Health said Thursday.
Three people are hospitalized in New Brunswick, including one in an intensive care unit. Another person is hospitalized out of province in an intensive care unit.
Here is a breakdown of the three new cases reported Thursday:
One case in the Moncton region, Zone 1, is an individual 50-59.
One case in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, is an individual 20-29.
One case in the Bathurst region, Zone 6, is an individual 70-79.
All three of these cases are contacts of previously confirmed cases.
Since the pandemic started, New Brunswick has had 2,283 confirmed cases, 2,137 recoveries and 44 COVID-related deaths.
A total of 347,501 tests have been completed, including 1,021 on Wednesday.
Atlantic COVID roundup
Nova Scotia reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday for a total of 147 active cases.
Newfoundland and Labrador confirmed five new cases and has 51 active cases.
Prince Edward Island has had no new cases since June 3, and has four active cases.
Latest public exposures
Public Health has identified potential public exposures to the coronavirus in the Fredericton region, Zone 3:
Big Axe Brewery and food truck, 537 Otis Dr., Nackawic, June 4, between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Boston Pizza, 1230 Propsect St., Fredericton, June 2, between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Burger King, 570 Two Nations Crossing, Fredericton, June 2 between noon and 2 p.m.
Public Health is offering COVID-19 testing to anyone who has been in a public exposure area, even if they are not experiencing any symptoms. Residents may request a test online or call Tele-Care 811.
People experiencing one or more symptoms are also encouraged to get tested.
Previous public exposures
Public Health has identified numerous potential public exposures to the coronavirus in many communities across the province, so many that it has stopped listing them individually in its daily news release.
A detailed list of the potential exposures, including the locations and dates, is available on the government's COVID-19 website. It is updated regularly.
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.