The Moncton health region, Zone 1, will be bumped back to a stricter orange phase of COVID-19 recovery again at midnight Thursday night under a revised plan that includes a return to single household bubbles but allows more businesses to stay open, Premier Blaine Higgs announced Thursday.
Higgs made the announcement during a more than one-hour-long news conference in which both he and Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, repeatedly cited increasing case numbers, the threat to the Atlantic bubble and the need for New Brunswickers to immediately limit their close contacts as the holiday season looms.
"We have heard positive news about progress with the vaccine. But we do not expect a vaccine to be widely available until next year," Higgs said.
"In the meantime, we need to be buying time. We need to keep our outbreaks under control and secure our bubble."
The situation in the Moncton region has "been steadily worsening," Russell said.
We must stay ahead of the pandemic or it will overwhelm us. - Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health
The case count has doubled in the past week, to 8.4 cases per 100,000 people — twice the provincial rate — and now includes an outbreak at another adult residential facility.
One case of COVID-19 was confirmed at Oasis Residence in Dieppe on Wednesday.
Russell also announced stricter isolation rules for some workers returning from outside the Atlantic bubble.
They will now be required to self-isolate for 14 days unless they volunteer to be tested for COVID-19 and test negative.
Modified self-isolation is no longer possible.
"We must stay ahead of the pandemic or it will overwhelm us, as it has overwhelmed others," Russell told reporters.
4 new cases reported Thursday
There are four new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province.
Three are in the Moncton region, including two people in their 20s and one person under 19. The other case is a person in their 30s in the Saint John region, Zone 2.
There are now 43 active cases in the province.
The Moncton health region has more than half the active cases, at 24. The Saint John region has seven active cases, the Fredericton region, Zone 3, has nine, the Bathurst region, Zone 6, has two, and the Miramichi region, Zone 7, has two.
No one is in the hospital.
As of Wednesday, 31 cases were still under investigation.
New Brunswick has had a total of 392 confirmed cases since the pandemic began in March. Six people have died and 343 have recovered so far.
As of Thursday, 113,014 COVID-19 tests have been conducted.
Shrink your contact list to the 'safe six,' Russell says
Dr. Jennifer Russell says New Brunswickers must revise their holiday plans in the face of an "evolving understanding" of how the virus is spreading in the province and elsewhere.
"Sadly this is not the year to visit family members outside the region or invite them to come here," she said Thursday "It sounds harsh, but the alternative is more COVID cases like we are seeing across the country and around the world ... and potentially another provincewide lockdown."
Holiday get-togethers with friends are also not advised, Russell said. She urged New Brunswickers to limit their close contact list to a "safe six," made up of people in their immediate household "and as few as possible beyond that."
"Aim to have this list be no longer than six people — your safe six."
Russell also advised residents to start keeping a daily log of who they've come into close contact with.
"This number will surprise you," she said, and will be crucial for contact tracing in the event that they come into contact with someone who is later found to have COVID-19.
Changes to rules for orange level
The province's amended recovery levels will allow more businesses to keep operating under the orange level, while also encouraging people to reduce the number of their close contacts, said Premier Blaine Higgs.
He urged people to remain vigilant and follow the rules.
"We are the envy of our country. We're the envy of other countries. Let's not lose it with being irresponsible at this point," Higgs said.
Under the orange level, instead of two-household bubbles, residents will now be restricted to a single household bubble, which can be extended to caregivers or to an immediate family member requiring support.
Face masks are mandatory in public spaces, both indoors and outdoors.
Only essential travel in and out of orange level zones is recommended, but people can continue to travel within the province for work, school, essential errands and medical appointments.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people are permitted. In-person faith services are allowed with up to 50 participants, but masks must be worn and singing is not permitted.
Primary care providers and regulated health professionals may operate but are urged to use virtual appointments whenever possible. Non-urgent procedures and elective surgeries will continue.
Unregulated health professionals, barbers, hair stylists or spas, gyms and fitness facilities may operate with enhanced public health measures.
Entertainment venues such as casinos, bingo halls, cinemas and large live performance facilities may operate with continuous mask use and occupancy set at 50 or fewer. Recreational and sport organizations may operate but are limited to practices and drills within a single team.
All other businesses, including food, beverage and retail, may continue to operate, but single household bubbles must be maintained.
Daycares, K-12 schools and post-secondary educational institutions will remain open.
Case at daycare not made public
In the question period following the press conference, Dr. Jennifer Russell was asked about and confirmed a report of a case in a daycare at École Sainte-Thérèse in Dieppe.
Pressed on why she had not mentioned the daycare case, Russell said "every person directly affected has received a letter from Public Health, so there is no risk for members of the public."
Outbreak declared at Oasis Residence in Dieppe
Contact tracing is underway at Oasis Residence in Dieppe, and measures are being taken to limit further spread among residents and staff, said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health.
Residents and staff were expected to be tested Thursday, according to a news release.
Oasis is a 60-bed facility, according to its 2019 inspection report, posted on the Department of Social Development's website, and offers assisted-living care as well as independent living.
Stricter isolation rules for workers
Workers returning from outside the Atlantic bubble can become exempt from self-isolation if they have no symptoms and test negative during voluntary tests, said the chief medical officer of health.
The number of tests required will be based on their length of stay in New Brunswick, said Dr. Jennifer Russell.
Those staying between five and nine days will be tested around day five to seven, while those staying more than 10 days will be tested a second time around days 10 to 12.
Anyone who doesn't complete all the tests required cannot continue to be exempt, and must complete any remaining self-isolation days to a total of 14 days, said Russell.
This does not apply to truckers or daily commuters. It also does not apply to people travelling into the province under the authority of an operational plan approved by WorkSafeNB, as this already involves a work-isolation requirement.
Possible exposure at Saint John bars, restaurant
Public Health posted potential public exposure notices for a bar and a pizza restaurant in Saint John on Thursday and a second bar posted its own notice on Facebook.
Public Health advised anyone who visited the Five and Dime Bar, at 34 Grannan St., between 12:30 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 14 to self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days.
It also advised anyone who visited Freddie's Pizza, at 27 Charlotte St., between 2:30 a.m. and 3 a.m. on Nov. 14 to self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days.
Also on Thursday, Rocky's Sports Bar in Saint John posted that it was informed by Public Health on Thursday morning about a possible exposure to COVID-19 during the evenings of Nov. 13 and Nov. 14.
The bar has decided to shut down "to assess the situation" and will remain closed until further notice, the post advised.
"We have commenced our policy to disinfect and have requested all staff to be tested," it said.
The bar is working with Public Health and following its protocol, according to the post. "More information to follow."
At least 1 case in hockey league
A member of the coaching staff of a children's AAA hockey team in Greater Moncton tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
The affected team is from the Under-13 league, confirmed Hockey New Brunswick director Nick Jansen, but he said he could not provide further details, citing privacy.
All activities of this U13 team are suspended for the next two weeks while every coach and player self-isolates, he said.
Village of Doaktown warns of possible exposure at arena
A notice posted on the Village of Doaktown's Facebook page says "We have been notified of a possible COVID-19 exposure at Prospect Place Arena."
It said it has ceased operations for precautionary reasons until Tuesday, Nov 24, and notes "although there have been rumours of a confirmed case in our area, we have not been notified of this confirmation by Department of Health."
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.