N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Record 572 new cases, rapid tests in short supply

·10 min read
At one point on Thursday morning, traffic stretched the entire two-kilometre  length of William Bell Drive, down Hall Road, and along Main Street to the High School. Many inched along the side of the road for two hours before reaching the distribution site.   (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)
At one point on Thursday morning, traffic stretched the entire two-kilometre length of William Bell Drive, down Hall Road, and along Main Street to the High School. Many inched along the side of the road for two hours before reaching the distribution site. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)

New Brunswick has once again broken the record for new COVID-19 infections.

The province announced 572 new cases on Thursday, and two more deaths. Active cases now total 2,840.

There are now 16 people in intensive care and another 24 are in hospital. Of the 40 people hospitalized, 27 are over the age of 60 and 11 people are on a ventilator.

No one under 19 is in hospital, according to a government news release.

The rate of people hospitalized and in ICU "continues to most greatly impact people who are unvaccinated," the release says.

"Information about the rates of cases and hospitalizations based on vaccination status, the age and origin of new cases, and additional information, is available on the COVID-19 dashboard."

The new cases reported Thursday break down in this way:

Moncton region, Zone 1

  • 140 cases

Saint John region, Zone 2

  • 219 cases

Fredericton region, Zone 3

  • 89 cases

Edmundston region, Zone 4

  • 46 cases

Campellton region, Zone 5

  • 8 cases

Bathurst region, Zone 6

  • 33 cases

Miramichi region, Zone 7

  • 37

Two people in their 70s died — one from Zone 2, the Saint John region, and one from Zone 3, the Fredericton region. Since Wednesday, 111 people have recovered.

Public Health said 2.9 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have received two vaccine shots, 90.1 per cent have received one dose, and 19.6 per cent have received a booster dose.

News conference on Dec. 31

The province will hold a news conference at 11 a.m. Friday to provide "an update on the approach to testing, isolation and contact tracing in light of the dominant Omicron variant."

But there will be no updates given on Jan. 1 or 2. Information from those days will be provided on Jan. 3.

Backlog for PCR tests continues

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard says the Horizon Health Network has increased staffing at assessment centres, but she isn't sure long it will take to reduce the backlog of testing requests.

A news release from the province said the biggest backlog is in the Saint John region, with 2,200 requests for tests. Shephard said the goal is to test priority cases within 24 hours. That group includes health-care workers and early childhood educators.

The second priority group, which includes symptomatic people and those with positive rapid tests, are being booked for a test within five days.

"So they're trying very hard to do priorities within 48 to 72 hours, and they're going to be adding additional staff to try to clear the black backlog as soon as possible," Shephard in an interview.

According to the news release, Zone 3 has a backlog of about 750 requests and Zone 1 has a backlog of about 540.

"All priority groups in these zones are being scheduled for a PCR test within 24 hours," the release said. "In Zone 3, the second priority group are being booked for a test within 68 hours (about 3 days) and in Zone 1, within 48 hours."

Shephard suspects that the backlog will reveal even more cases of COVID-19.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

"There's probably more cases out there than we might ever know about because Omicron transmits so quickly and vaccinated individuals may not be that symptomatic that they would worry about getting a PCR test … I don't know that we'll always know exactly what our case count is."

Shephard said the province may soon change the way testing is done. Public Health officials are working with the regional health authorities and other groups to finalize the details of the new strategy.

"So things are as they are now, but we may be coming forward in a very few days to talk about a different way of testing strategies, because the numbers are going to grow so quickly that it may not be possible to do PCR testing in the timely fashion we need to."

She didn't want to give away any of the details but said the testing strategy "may have to focus more on vulnerable sectors."

Shephard said the province is also talking about following other jurisdictions that rely more heavily on rapid tests, rather than requiring followup PCR tests.

The Canadian Red Cross is also working to help eliminate the backlog.

Jon Spicer, manager of emergency management at the Canadian Red Cross in New Brunswick, said a team made up of four people has been deployed to the Saint John area. He said over a shift of eight to 12 hours, the team can do up to 150 tests a day.

"I know the team is working as hard and fast at they can," he said.

The team was previously deployed to the Fredericton assessment centre.

He said the Red Cross can deploy three more teams "wherever the need is deemed the greatest."

One of the team members is a nurse licensed in New Brunswick.

Spicer said the second mobile testing team is set to arrive on Jan. 10. The members are coming from all over the country, some from Ontario and Alberta, while others are already based in Atlantic Canada.

"These folks all come off of our readiness roster and they support deployments wherever the need is greatest in the country," he said. "The makeup of the team is depending on the availability of our personnel across the country."

The tests they administer are lab-based, official confirmation of a COVID-19 infection. They are different from rapid tests, which people can take at home and are also in short supply in some areas.

Rapid tests in short supply

For the second day in a row, a limited supply of rapid test kits was causing headaches for people in the Saint John area.

Vehicles started lining up in Hampton at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday — 2½ hours before kits were scheduled to be given out. By noon, they were all gone.

It was especially disappointing for Stacy Bonney of Kingston.

Bonney waited in line for more than an hour and was the first person turned away on Thursday morning — behind her, a line of vehicles stretched for about three kilometres.

Bonney said it never crossed her mind that she wouldn't be able to get any test kits after waiting so long in line.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

The Horizon Health Network had 756 individual boxes, with five kits inside, and 96 family boxes, with 25 inside, available for distribution in Hampton. By the time they ran out at noon, there were still a couple of hundred vehicles in line, stretching along William Bell Drive and down Hall Road.

Last Thursday, a solid line of traffic clogged Main Street for much of the morning before supplies ran out at the town square, near the former train station. Officials decided to move the distribution site to the former Comex bus station, between Main Street and William Bell Drive near Lakeside Road.

At one point, traffic stretched the entire two-kilometre length of William Bell, down Hall Road, and along Main Street to the high school. Many inched along the side of the road for two hours before reaching the distribution site.

David Godbout said he didn't mind the wait at all.

"I knew it — expected it," said the Hampton resident, who waited in line with his two granddaughters for nearly two hours.

He said the wait was worth it in order to test regularly and keep those around him safe from COVID-19.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

After delivery problems on Wednesday in Saint John and Grand Bay-Westfield, lineups were also long in Saint John on Thursday.

Hundreds of people were lined up for hours ahead of the 1 p.m. opening of the distribution centre at the Diamond Jubilee Cruise Terminal.

A spokesperson for Horizon was asked about the number of kits available at that location but did not respond in time for publication.

On Wednesday, Horizon said not enough test kits were being delivered to its pickup locations.

Last week, Public Health said it has 189,000 kits or 1.5 million tests. Another 500,000 tests were expected within days, and 750,000 tests are expected to arrive the first week of January.

Google maps
Google maps

Despite running out of rapid tests at several distribution centres throughout the province this week, Shephard said "the supply is going to be just fine in the province."

She said there were 3.8 million rapid test kits distributed in New Brunswick in December.

She said the situation in Saint John this week was "unfortunate. She said the region received 2,600 test kits per day and will continue to do so. The problem this week was caused by deliveries being late on Wednesday.

Shephard said the "distribution has levelled out" and that she's not concerned about supply. She does, however, worry that this week's shortages may lead to hoarding.

"And on that note, I'd like to say that if people have extra these days, if they've gone and stood in line more than once and they have extra kits and they know that a family member or a neighbour needs them, don't be scared of giving it away and knowing that you're going to be able to get more."

Shephard said it's also important for people not to test needlessly. If you haven't been anywhere and aren't going anywhere, there's no need to test.

The idea is to test if you've been exposed to positive cases, or before going to visit someone who might be vulnerable, and certainly if you have symptoms of COVID-19.

Information on where and when rapid test kits will be available throughout the holidays is available online.

Flight exposures

  • Dec. 23 — Air Canada Flight 7920 – from Montreal to Fredericton, departed at 10:30 p.m.

  • Dec. 23 — Air Canada Flight 7918 – from Montreal to Fredericton, departed at 1:35 p.m.

  • Dec. 23 — Air Canada Flight 8510 – from Montreal to Bathurst, departed at 8:41 p.m.

  • Dec. 23 — Porter Airlines Flight 247 – from Toronto to Ottawa, departed at 12:55 p.m.; Porter Airlines Flight 259 – from Ottawa to Moncton, departed at 6:35 p.m.

  • Dec. 22 — Air Canada Flight 8498 – from Toronto to Saint John, departed at 8:57 p.m.

  • Dec. 21 — Porter Airlines Flight 205 – from Ottawa to Fredericton, departed at 8:20 a.m.

  • Dec. 21 — Air Canada Flight 7916 – from Montreal to Fredericton, departed at 8 a.m.

  • Dec. 21 — Air Canada Flight 7918 – from Montreal to Fredericton, departed 1:25 p.m.

  • Dec. 20 — Air Canada Flight 7994 – from Montreal to Moncton departed at 1:23 p.m.

  • Dec. 20 — Porter Airlines Flight 205 – from Ottawa to Fredericton, departed 8:20 a.m.

  • Dec. 20 — Air Canada Flight 7998 – from Montreal to Moncton, departed at 10:11 p.m.

  • Dec. 20 — Porter Airlines Flight 205 – from Toronto to Fredericton departed at 6:56 a.m.

What to do if you have a symptom

Anyone concerned about having COVID-19 can take a self-assessment test online.

Public Health says symptoms 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.

If exhibiting any of those symptoms, stay home, call 811 or your doctor and follow instructions.

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