N.B. COVID-19 roundup: 3 deaths, 746 new cases

·14 min read
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard says people should assume the COVID-19 Omicron variant is everywhere.  (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard says people should assume the COVID-19 Omicron variant is everywhere. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)

COVID-19 has claimed the lives of three more New Brunswickers and infected 746 more people, Public Health reported Tuesday.

But the actual number of COVID-19 cases in the province is likely even higher, says Health Minister Dorothy Shephard.

"Really, we have to begin to consider that Omicron is everywhere because it transmits so quickly," she said. "We know that our cases double every two to three days."

"I believe that, you know, realistically, there are going to be people who are asymptomatic. I believe that our case counts are probably higher than we're able to report."

Starting at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, the province will "reserve" diagnostic PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab tests for those considered at the highest risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19, while everyone else will have to rely on less accurate at-home rapid tests and self-report positive results.

Until now, all COVID cases in New Brunswick have been identified with a PCR test, or by a rapid test followed by a confirmatory PCR test.

In addition, the province announced last Friday that contact tracing among the general public is "no longer feasible," given the rapid spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Instead, people who test positive are being asked to notify their close contacts.

On Monday, the province hit a new single-day record-high of 922 new cases of COVID-19. The province could see 1,000 new cases a day by mid- to late this week, Shephard has said.

A person 70 to 79 years old in the Moncton region, Zone 1, and two people in their eighties in the Saint John region, Zone 2, have died as a result of COVID-19, Public Health said in a news release. This raises the province's pandemic death toll to 165.

The breakdown of the new COVID cases includes:

  • Moncton region, Zone 1 — 166

  • Saint John region, Zone 2 — 351

  • Fredericton region, Zone 3 — 90

  • Edmundston region, Zone 4 — 44

  • Campbellton region, Zone 5 — six

  • Bathurst region, Zone 6 — 37

  • Miramichi region, Zone 7 — 52

Government of New Brunswick
Government of New Brunswick

PCR tests will be limited to:

  • People in areas at highest risk, including health-care workers and those who live or work in long-term care facilities, homeless shelters and correctional facilities.

  • People who are symptomatic and aged 50 or over.

  • People who are symptomatic and immunocompromised or pregnant.

  • People who need a PCR test for travel.

  • People who are identified as a priority by Public Health.

For everyone else, a positive rapid test will be treated as a positive result for COVID-19, and people will be asked to register their result through a new online form.

"The new system will be in place, online and available, as of [Wednesday]," Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane told CBC News.

These changes are expected to increase the demand for rapid-test kits.

"We certainly need more," said Shephard.

The free test kits have been in short supply in the province in recent weeks as COVID case number have risen.

Some people have expressed frustration about lining up for hours at distribution sites, only to be told the sites had run out of kits.

On Tuesday, the Horizon Health Network announced its weekly mobile pickup locations in Sackville, St. Stephen, Minto and Baie-Sainte-Anne would not be taking place.

"We had some delays in deliveries last week. There is one today. So there are four locations that won't be receiving rapid test supply," Shephard said. "But that is all being replenished and we will get back to a norm in the next few days."

The province is "looking at different mechanisms" to expand and improve the distribution system and will make some announcements within the next week, she said, acknowledging the "inconvenience and the difficulty" with the current system.

"What I can say is that we're going to be also going back to a drive-thru system so that people don't have to get out of their cars. It will be easier."

Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said people will also need to register to pick up the rapid-test kits.

"We want to avoid those long lines in the winter, so people will be given a time to pick them up."

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

On Tuesday, people picking up rapid-test kits in Fredericton were being told that as of Wednesday, they will need to book an appointment and arrive at the site with a voucher to claim the kits.

The Department of Health spokesperson confirmed to CBC News appointments will be required provincewide, starting Wednesday.

"New Brunswickers demonstrating symptoms who would like a rapid POCT [point-of-care-test] must … follow an online process for registration and pickup," Macfarlane said in an emailed statement.

He could not immediately be reached to clarify whether people must now have COVID symptoms to obtain a rapid-test kit.

More rapid-test kits are on the way, added Shephard.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos "sent me a note that said, 'I wanted to inform you my senior officials will be in contact with yours soon to give you specific information on rapid test deliveries for January. The expected numbers are significant, several times the deliveries received in December.'"

More than 3.8 million rapid tests have been distributed to New Brunswickers since Dec. 1 through schools, workplaces, airports and pickup sites, she said.

Shorter isolation periods

New isolation guidelines take effect Tuesday at 11:59 p.m.

Vaccinated people who test positive with a rapid test, as well as their close household contacts, who are vaccinated and asymptomatic, will need to isolate for five days, starting the day they test positive.

People who don't have two vaccine doses or are immunocompromised and test positive, as well as their household contacts, who don't have two vaccine doses and are asymptomatic, will need to isolate for "at least" 10 days, said Russell.

"You may stop isolating when you have completed your isolation period and you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without using medication to reduce your fever, and your symptoms are improving."

Close contacts outside of a household will be asked to mask continuously, avoid vulnerable settings and people, and limit their contacts as much as possible for at least 10 days.

This isn't 100 per cent foolproof. So there is some risk associated with this, but this is the approach that we're taking, again, to manage it in a mitigation fashion. - Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health

After isolation, people must wear a mask continuously and avoid vulnerable settings and gatherings for the next five days.

If a close contact develops symptoms, they will be directed to take a rapid test, unless they meet the criteria for a PCR test.

"This isn't 100 per cent foolproof. So there is some risk associated with this, but this is the approach that we're taking, again, to manage it in a mitigation fashion," said Russell.

Asked whether there should be more PCR testing to provide a more accurate picture of case counts, Shephard said people need to change the way they think about COVID-19 and Omicron.

"We need to assume, just like the common cold, it is everywhere, and it's not common to us to have this kind of mindset with COVID-19, but the fact is, is that, you know, we're looking at transitioning to a different mindset and a different perspective with regards to how we live with COVID.

"And so I'm not saying that we don't need to be concerned because we do. We need to protect our over-50 population. We need to keep in mind, always, our vulnerable communities and those who are at risk. And I think that that's the kind of the pivot that we're going to need to make in the near future."

The chief medical officer of health acknowledged the posted number of cases will be "an underreporting."

"We absolutely will miss some" by relying on rapid tests, said Russell.

"It's about utilizing our resources as effectively and as efficiently as we possibly can."

Although the province's daily case counts will no longer paint a full picture, it's still "really important" to continue to report them, Russell said.

"With the numbers rapidly increasing, we're going to see that translate into hospitalizations, as I said, about the one per cent. So that's what we're preparing for."

Booster dose eligibility expansion within weeks

New Brunswick will start to expand booster dose eligibility to younger age groups "within the next week or two," according to Health Minister Dorothy Shephard.

"We know that the 50-plus population is where we have the biggest risk with regards to … potential severe outcomes with COVID," she said.

"And so the goal is, is that we get the majority of our 50-plus either vaccinated or booked, and then we're going to be opening up."

The province is trying to ramp up to administer about 42,000 vaccinations a week, Shephard noted. "So as we are able to increase those numbers, we will get to younger age groups faster."

As it stands, booster shots are limited to people in "high-priority groups" who received their second dose at least five months ago. These groups include:

  • People 50 and older

  • First Nations members

  • Residents of nursing homes and adult residential facilities, including their immediate household family members who are 18 or older

  • Health-care personnel, including those working in long-term care facilities, regional health authorities and Extra-Mural/Ambulance New Brunswick

  • School personnel and staff at early childhood education centres and daycares

The best way for these people to prevent serious illness is to get their booster shot, Russell said in a statement.

571 health-care workers isolating

There are now 571 health-care workers isolating at home due to because of COVID-19, up from 500 on Monday. Of these, 460 are from the Horizon Health Network, 70 are from the Vitalité Health Network, and 41 are from Extra-Mural/Ambulance New Brunswick.

'We knew that the potential to lose 50 per cent of our health-care workforce was going to be our biggest challenge, and I believe that we're starting to witness that now," said Shephard.

Broadening the scope of practice of paramedics and getting primary care providers to help deal with non-urgent situations are some of the plans "in the works," she said.

"We won't bring in COVID-positive health-care workers unless we are in dire straits."

The workers would have to be asymptomatic and would be used in areas where the most vulnerable patients, such as those on cancer units, would be protected, Shephard stressed.

56 people hospitalized, 16 in ICU

In addition to the 746 new cases of COVID-19 recorded Tuesday, Public Health reported 73 recoveries "based upon information available from PCR tests."

There are now 6,112 active cases across the province.

The majority of cases in the province are the Omicron variant, said Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane.

It varies by region, according to Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health. In some zones, about 86 per cent of the cases are Omicron and the rest are Delta, while other zones have reached 100 per cent, she said without providing more details.

Fifty-six people are in hospital with COVID-19, an increase of five, including 16 in intensive care, down one. Eleven of them are on ventilators.

"At this point in time, we do not have any confirmed Omicron cases in hospital," said Macfarlane. "However, we are expecting some sequencing results soon and are anticipating that some of our hospitalizations will be Omicron."

Of those in hospital, 37 are over the age of 60. No one under 19 is hospitalized.

A total of 83 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, up from 82.9 per cent, 90.3 per cent have received their first dose, unchanged, and 21.3 per cent have received a booster dose, up from 21.2 per cent.

New Brunswick has had 17,566 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 11,287 recoveries so far.

A total of 626,853 PCR tests have been conducted to date, including 2,299 on Monday.

Border vaccine mandate for truckers could cause supply chain problems

The head of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association says U.S. border changes for unvaccinated truckers could bring supply chain headaches.

Starting on Jan. 15, truck drivers crossing the Canada-U.S. border will have to show proof of vaccination.

And unvaccinated drivers will be unable to cross.

Association executive director Jean-Marc Picard says the restriction could have a substantial impact for workers and the supply chain.

"The industry is faced today with an immense driver shortage, and these restrictions will probably add a layer to that issue," he said.

"We estimate that we could lose between 10 and 20 per cent of drivers going cross-border."

CBC
CBC

Truckers have been among the few people allowed to cross the land border into the United States throughout the pandemic but they will now need to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Picard estimates the number of unvaccinated truckers is similar to the number of unvaccinated people overall. According to the province, 90.3 per cent of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

"Most companies have like 10 per cent of their fleet parked because they can't find drivers," he said. "So, you know, add another 10 per cent of driver loss in there — significant impact to the supply chain.

"We're going to start to see empty shelves and cost of goods is going to go through the roof."

New court restrictions

New Brunswick's top court has renewed restrictions on access and appearances, citing the highly contagious COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Chief Justice Marc Richard issued the updated directives for the Court of Appeal on Tuesday.

"As the highly contagious Omicron variant continues to spread, the Court of Appeal will hear appeals by video or telephone conference and will continue to hear motions by telephone conference in January 2022 and until further notice," he stated in the notice to the public, lawyers and media.

The restrictions apply to both civil and criminal appeals and take effect immediately.

CBC
CBC

Under the province's mandatory order, revised Dec. 31, courthouses are closed to the general public, "except to judges, persons whose work requires their presence in a courthouse, litigants, accused persons, witnesses and other persons attending under a summons, one or two persons attending in support of each accused person and each victim witness, and accredited media.

"Other persons may enter a courthouse by appointment to pay a fine or to meet with a clerk/administrator or Crown prosecutor, and any other person may be admitted to drop off documents in secure boxes for filing with a court."

The Court of Appeal recognizes the "critical importance of the 'open court' principle in all but exceptional circumstances," the notice states.

The court can uphold this principle by providing members of the accredited media with access to hearings. Media participation in court proceedings taking place by video or telephone may be subject to limits on the number of callers that can be connected through a single teleconference number, it notes.

Counter services at the office of the registrar of the Court of Appeal are available by appointment only. Anyone who needs to file a document should email it or fax it, then send the original, along with any fee, by mail or courier "as soon as possible."

Atlantic COVID roundup

Nova Scotia reported 1,020 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and 40 people in hospital due to the virus, including five in intensive care. The active case count is an estimated 6,439, according to the dashboard.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported 493 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, raising the active caseload to a new high of 3,254 as the province entered a modified version of Alert Level 4, tightening public health restrictions to slow the spread of the fast-moving Omicron variant. One person is in hospital because of the virus.

Prince Edward Island announced 198 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total number of active cases to 1,159.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting