The Edmundston region, Zone 4, will go into a full lockdown Saturday at midnight amid climbing case numbers and a series of outbreaks.
The evolution of the pandemic is "extremely worrying" in this area of northwestern New Brunswick, Dr. Jennifer Russell said at a live-streamed COVID-19 update Friday.
Cases have been reported in schools, workplaces and residences for the elderly, and the region has the highest number of active cases in the province.
Russell shared the spiralling case numbers that prompted Public Health to urge a lockdown.
On Jan 6, she said, there were seven active cases in Zone 4. That number doubled in just two days.
By Jan. 11, the number of active cases doubled again. Four days later, it doubled a third time and by Jan. 19, it had doubled a fourth time.
From those seven cases reported two weeks ago, there are now 129 active cases in Zone 4.
"At the current rate, that number will exceed 200 active cases early next week and potentially 400 active cases before the month is over," Russell said.
"We really can't let this go on."
How the Zone 4 lockdown will work
The lockdown, which takes effect Saturday night at midnight, will be in effect for 14 days and will be reassessed every seven days.
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard, speaking at the Friday update on COVID-19, said the decision to postpone the start of the lockdown to Saturday was to allow residents get the supplies they need before businesses close and to give businesses and the Department of Public Safety time to prepare for the new rules.
She provided these details of the lockdown in the Edmundston region:
All kindergarten-to-Grade 12 schools will close. Online learning only.
Service New Brunswick offices will close.
Only essential services can stay open.
A wage top-up of $3 an hour will be available to early childhood educators who work during lockdown.
Regulated health care professionals can stay open but provide virtual services where possible.
Grocery stores, NB Liquor stores and Cannabis NB stores will remain open.
Indoor gathering, including religious gatherings, must be virtual only.
Funerals will be limited to a single-household bubble.
Public spaces, including rinks and ski hills, will close.
Outdoor activities with household bubble will be allowed.
ATV and snowmobile trails will close.
Restaurants, salons, farmers markets will close. Drive-thru and takeout only.
Veterinary clinics can stay open with curbside animal dropoff.
Libraries will remain open to allow internet access.
People will be encouraged to work at home if possible.
Lottery tickets will be available online only.
Evictions will be banned until 10 days after lockdown ends.
Tech support will be available to students and staff experiencing connectivity issues related to online learning at 1-833-453-1140.
A complete list of businesses that are allowed to operate will be posted on the provincial government's gnb.ca website.
Speaking as a doctor, and as a mom
Dr. Jennifer Russell took a moment Friday to reassure parents who are worried about sending their children to school in red zones.
As reported by CBC News on Thursday, more than 14,000 students stayed home from school Wednesday, the day Zones 1, 2 and 3 rolled back to red-phase restrictions.
Russell said she knows it can be upsetting to be faced with decisions when you don't have access to all the discussions and information that supported them.
But as a parent, she said, she wants other parents to know that she weighs the same concerns they do.
"When I speak to you up here, I wear my physician hat," Russell said. "But I'm also a parent. I have two kids, two teenagers who attend school here in Fredericton — one of them has asthma — and I wouldn't knowingly do anything to put their health at risk. So unless I get a call from Public Health informing me that they are a close contact of a case, they will be going to school in the red and orange levels."
Russell said the decision to keep schools open was made because they're "the safest place for our children to be."
"And that's not just an opinion. It's rooted in science."
In the 32 New Brunswick schools that have had COVID-19 cases, "we haven't seen a case where the virus was transmitted directly from one student to another."
Tightened travel restrictions for all zones
Travel into New Brunswick will further be restricted for all health zones as of midnight Saturday night.
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard detailed the changes Friday, noting that anyone entering the province will have to self-isolate for 14 days.
Exceptions will include those who travel back and forth daily for work, truck drivers, and those who must travel for medical care, child care and child custody.
"However," she said, "these travellers will still have to be tested weekly.
Residents of Pointe-à-la-Croix and Listuguj First Nation, in Quebec, may still cross the border for medical appointments and to fulfil child custody arrangements. They may also cross once a week to purchase essential items, Shephard said, but they will be subject to mandatory weekly testing.
More testing centres set to come online
Dr. Jennifer Russell is again urging residents to "get tested, even if you just have one symptom."
Testing in some zones is "not where it should be," Russell said at Friday's COVID-19 update.
The Miramichi region, Zone 7, has repeatedly been flagged as having a low test rate, and on Friday, Russell said it has the lowest number of tests per 100,000 population in all of New Brunswick.
"The Miramichi region is at four tests per 100,000 population," Russell said. By comparison, the Edmundston region is at 308 tests per 100,000, and the rest of province is hovering at around 40 or 50 tests per 100,000, she said.
"Zone 7 is needing to have more tests for sure."
Several additional testing centres will be opening soon in Sussex, Sackville and Perth-Andover, and a new testing centre opened in the Zone 4 community of Clair this week, Russell said.
Police to conduct roadside checks for compliance
Residents have been advised to avoid all non-essential travel into and out of the Edmundston region, Zone 4, which enters a full lockdown Saturday night at midnight.
Asked how this would be enforced, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said that if there is "obvious non-compliance," Public Safety will be issuing fines and "there will be consequences to some who decide to travel for non-essential reasons."
Road checks were set up in Edmundston on Friday to check for compliance with single-household bubbles.
The checks were being held to raise awareness of the province's emergency order, the Edmundston Police Force told Radio-Canada.
The force noted that checks would continue throughout the weekend, and that people found to be in non-compliance could face fines of $292.50.
30 new cases, including one in Miramichi region
There are 30 new cases of COVID-19 in the province, Russell said, including one case in the Miramichi region, the first confirmed case in that region since Boxing Day.
The cases break down in this way:
Moncton region, Zone 1, eight cases:
an individual 20-29;
an individual 30-39;
two people 40-49;
two people 60-69; and
two people 70-79.
Saint John region, Zone 2, one case:
an individual 40-49.
Fredericton region, Zone 3, one case:
an individual 50-59.
Edmundston region, Zone 4, 19 cases:
an individual 19 and under;
two people 20-29;
an individual 30-39;
an individual 40-49;
three people 50-59;
two people 60-69;
three people 70-79;
six people 80-89.
Miramichi region, Zone 7:
an individual 60-69.
All cases are self-isolating and under investigation.
The number of confirmed cases is 1,087 and 742 have recovered. There have been 13 deaths, and the number of active cases is 331. Five patients are hospitalized, three of them in intensive care.
As of Friday, 181,797 tests have been conducted, including 2,215 since Thursday's report.
Variant cases found in Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil confirmed Friday that two previous cases of COVID-19 were found to be variants of the virus.
McNeil told a news briefing the province also detected two variants of the virus in cases previously reported in December.
He said the two cases were related to travel outside Atlantic Canada and self-isolated as required. After further testing, one was found to have had the U.K. variant of COVID-19, while the other had the South African variant.
In New Brunswick, Dr. Jennifer Russell said no variant cases have been identified yet, but she noted she is "very concerned" about the variant getting into the province.
"We have sent 19 specimens to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg since Dec. 23 to get sequenced for the variant and have had eight negative results," she said Friday. "We have six more to come this week."
The province has sent more specimens for variant sequencing in the past two weeks, "just because we've had more cases overall," Russell said.
Nadeau plant outbreak just one of many clusters
The outbreak at the Nadeau poultry plant in the Edmundston area, where 28 employees have tested positive, is only one of multiple clusters of the virus in the region, Dr. Jennifer Russell said Friday.
Some of the cases outside the plant were caused by the Nadeau outbreak, but others had a different source, Russell said.
The province is still investigating how the outbreak at the poultry plant started.
MLA wants crackdown on travelling between zones
Miramichi MLA Michelle Conroy is calling on the province to crack down on residents who continue to travel from one health zone to another at a time when non-essential travel is discouraged or against the rules.
Conroy said the Miramichi region, which is in the orange phase of recovery, has seen a lot of people from health zones that are in the red phase. She suggested these travellers were visiting Miramichi because it's safer.
"People are still travelling region to region," Conroy, of the People's Alliance, said on Information Morning Fredericton.
Under Public Health guidelines, necessary travel is only recommended between orange zones or between red zones but not between red and orange zones.
Conroy said she has heard of people from the Moncton region visiting stores in the Miramichi area, and she's asked her constituents to report such sightings. It wasn't clear how a Miramichi resident can know someone is from Moncton.
But she said residents in other zones need to follow the rules and should face consequences if they don't.
"That's completely not acceptable."
At the same time she's concerned about visitors from red zones, Conroy is pushing the province to ease restrictions and allow Zone 7 to move back to yellow phase so residents can expand their bubbles.
Until Friday, there had been no active cases of COVID-19 in the Miramichi region since Dec. 26. One case was reported on Friday.
Conroy said the heavy restrictions are taking a toll on people, particularly on their mental health.
"We should be able to see our family and be able to relax the rules around our loved ones a little bit."
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said Conroy had some legitimate points, but stressed that everyone is at risk of COVID-19 in New Brunswick, regardless of their health zone.
"Caution is there for everyone to know they are vulnerable as their neighbours."
Public Safety has increased enforcement inspections across the province.
"We're trying very hard to let people know, zone-to-zone transmission is real."
Members of all-party cabinet committee don't always see eye to eye
New Brunswick's all-party COVID cabinet committee is still intact, but opposition members say their support has its limits.
Earlier this week, People's Alliance leader Kris Austin spoke out in frustration after the government suddenly changed the rules of the red phase of recovery and kept schools open if they didn't have any cases.
Interim Liberal Leader Roger Melanson said Friday that he'll support decisions based on advice given by New Brunswick Public Health.
But Melanson said he's not on the committee to support Premier Blaine Higgs or the Progressive Conservative government.
"We need to do everything we can as political leaders, for people to be in a position to be in the safest possible circumstance," Melanson said during an Information Morning interview with some members of the all-party cabinet.
Green Party Leader David Coon said the committee, which was established early in the pandemic, is a great way to include a range of perspectives in decision-making, but he shared Austin's concerns about recent conflicting messages.
Coon said the province could have done a better job preparing residents for the new version of the red phase.
"Lots of people are worried they're doing the wrong thing and don't want to make a mistake," Coon said. "That's what happens when rules change quickly without warning."
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard admits communication hasn't been perfect, but she blamed this on an evolving understanding of COVID-19 and how to manage it. Everyday, officials are learning something new, she said.
"This is about supporting the people of New Brunswick."
Public exposure warnings
Public Health has identified a positive case in a traveller who may have been infectious on the following flight:
Jan. 3 – Air Canada Flight 8910 from Toronto to Moncton, arrived at 11:23 a.m.
Public Health has also issued the following potential COVID-19 exposure warnings:
Sparta Progression Gym, 113 44th Ave. D., on Jan. 13 and Jan. 15 between 7 and 9 a.m.
Goodlife Fitness Centre, 175 Ivan Rand Dr. E., on Jan. 13 from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Moncton North After Hours Medical Clinic, 1633 Mountain Rd., on Jan. 14 from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m.
Jean Coutu Kim Levesque-Cote Pharmacy, 276 Broadway Blvd., Grand Falls, on Jan. 7 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Parts for Trucks,21 Powers Rd., Grand Falls, on Jan. 11, 12 and 14 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
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:
A fever above 38 C.
A 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.