Public Health reported 13 new cases Friday, all of them in the Edmundston region, Zone 4.
Edmundston and the upper Madawaska region entered a four-day "circuit breaker" rollback to the red phase Thursday at 6 p.m. following the announcement that 24 of the 30 new cases reported that day were in Zone 4, and that the B117 variant represented 62 per cent of its cases.
The rest of the region, including Grand Falls, Kedgwick, Saint-Quentin and Saint-Léonard, will remain in the yellow phase for now, along with the rest of the province.
On Thursday, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said the four-day circuit breaker decision would be revisted on the weekend.
"This area will remain in red for a minimum of four days to allow for mass testing and further contact tracing to get a sense of whether transmission is widespread," Shephard said.
"If necessary, we will extend the time of the move to red or expand area under this alert level to the entire health zone."
Vaccine focus could shift to Zone 4, Higgs says
Premier Blaine Higgs told reporters Friday that the issue of whether to focus vaccine efforts in the Edmundston region could be up for discussion in the coming days.
"It's a topic for a conversation after this weekend, when we have the testing all done" and have weighed "how many cases do we have, how does it compare to other regions," Higgs said.
"And if we feel we can manage expedited vaccine administration in a region that has a continual problem, then it will be on the table."
Higgs noted that while there are protocols around who gets vaccinated when, those protocols can be adjusted if needed.
"We moved that a bit when we vaccinated teachers in order to get the high schools back," he said. "There would be some shifting of priorities of age groups because this area is very vulnerable. But yes, it could happen."
Higgs said any decision to shift vaccine priorities would have to be based on risk, and said he'd "certainly want to hear the facts and statistics" first.
"This becomes less critical as more vaccines become available," he said. "So we're just racing against the clock here."
New case numbers, no test results available
The 13 new cases announced in the Edmundston region on Friday break down in this way:
Two people 19 or under. Both individuals are contacts of a previous case
An individual 20 to 29. This case is under investigation.
Four people 40 to 49. Two cases are contacts of a previous case; one is travel-related and the other is under investigation.
An individual 50 to 59. This case is a contact of a previous case.
Three people 60 to 69. Two cases are under investigation and one is a contact of a previous case.
Two people 70 to 79. Both cases are under investigation.
The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick is 1,559, including 99 active cases. Since Thursday, three people have recovered for a total of 1,429 recoveries.
Thirty people have died, and four people are now in hospital. A total of 249,618 tests have been conducted, including 1,067 since Thursday's report.
About 1,500 participated in the mass COVID-19 rapid-test screening in Edmundston on Thursday, but Public Health declined to release the results.
"Any positive result from Thursday's screen would see that individual self-isolate and be referred to the local assessment for a diagnostic test to be confirmed by the Dr. Georges H-Dumont laboratory," spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said in an email.
"Public Health requires diagnostic confirmation and will release only those numbers when received from the laboratory."
Self-isolation reprieve for rotational workers
As of midnight Friday night, rotational workers will no longer be required to self-isolate if they have received their first dose of vaccine and 14 days have passed since their shots.
They will be required to undergo Day 5 and Day 10 COVID-19 testing upon their return to New Brunswick, according to Public Health.
Rotational worker who do not get vaccinated will still be required to self-isolate for 14 days, as will anyone else living in the same household, with mandatory Day 10 testing for the worker.
As of March 24, rotational workers, truck drivers, regular cross-border commuters and people 75 or older are eligible to book a COVID-19 vaccination appointment at a pharmacy.
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble
The announcement last week that the Atlantic bubble will reopen on April 19 was met with cautious joy. There was, after all, the caveat that if cases surged, that date could change.
The opening of the bubble — which allows people in the four Atlantic provinces to travel within the region with no self-isolation requirement — is "conditional upon COVID-19 case numbers remaining low in the region, containment of outbreaks, and ongoing advice from Atlantic chief medical officers of health," the Council of Atlantic Premiers said in announcing the news.
One day later, Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin made the surprise announcement that Nova Scotia's borders would reopen to New Brunswickers immediately, meaning New Brunswickers would not have to isolate upon entering the province.
That decision caused some confusion, particularly as New Brunswick did not change its self-isolation policy for Nova Scotians entering New Brunswick.
Asked at Thursday's COVID-19 briefing if there had been any discussion about aligning border policies, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard acknowledged Nova Scotia's surprise move, but said New Brunswick's bubble plans haven't changed.
"I know there was a joint statement and then I know that Nova Scotia changed their policies 24 hours later," Shephard said. "With regards to New Brunswick opening their borders, we've slated for April 19."
On Friday, the confusion continued.
At Nova Scotia's COVID-19 briefing, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang was asked why the province was opting to "monitor the New Brunswick situation" rather than "close the border before this gets worse."
"Everything's always about balance," Strang replied, noting that "even reinstituting that border reinstitutes an imposition for families in Nova Scotia."
He noted that the outbreak is currently confined to northern New Brunswick, and "that area is locked down with no travel in and out."
"We're watching it very carefully," he said. "If we start to see spread of this variant beyond that Edmundston area ... the premier, and I will have conversations about what we need to do in terms of strengthening our response."
Vaccination clinics for staff at high schools
The final vaccination clinics for staff from high schools provincewide will be held in the Shediac, Bathurst and Campbellton regions on Monday, March 29, for staff from the following schools:
École Mgr-Marcel-François-Richard in Saint-Louis de Kent
École Clément-Cormier in Bouctouche
Polyvalente Louis-J.-Robichaud in Shediac
Dalhousie Regional High School
Sugarloaf Senior High School in Campbellton
École Aux Quatre Vents in Dalhousie
Polyvalente Roland-Pépin in Campbellton
Bonar Law Memorial High School in Rexton
École Secondaire Népisiguit in Bathurst
Bathurst High School
In coming weeks, vaccination clinics will be available for staff in elementary and middle schools and for school bus drivers.
Clinics will also be available for early childhood service providers and child-care staff as part of the large employer section of the vaccine rollout plan, Public Health.
New potential exposure notifications in Zone 4
Public Health has identified these Edmundston locations as places of potential public exposure to the coronavirus:
Dave Mini Market, 466 Broadway Blvd., Grand Falls, on March 23 between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.
Northern Construction, 554 West River Rd, Grand Falls, on March 23
Notre Dames des Sept Douleurs Church, 30 37th Ave., Edmundston, on March 23, 7:00 p.m.
La Petite Boucherie Inc., 632 Saint Francois St., Edmundston, March 20
La Petite Boucherie Inc., 632 Saint Francois St., Edmundston, March 21
La Petite Boucherie Inc., 632 Saint Francois St., Edmundston, March 22
La Petite Boucherie Inc., 632 Saint Francois St., Edmundston, March 23
Saint-Basile Church, 321 rue Principale, St-Basile, March 21, 11:00 a.m.
Saint-Basile Church, 321 rue Principale, St-Basile, March 22, 7:00 p.m.
Northern Construction, 554 West River Rd, Grand Falls, March 22
Centre E & P Sénéchal Centre gymnasium, 60 Ouellette, Grand Falls, March 22 between 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m.
Centre Plein air Mont-Farlagne, 360 Mont Farlange, Saint-Jacques, March 21 between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
Centre Plein air Mont-Farlagne, 360 Mont Farlange, Saint-Jacques, March 20 between 9:00 a.m. and 2:40 p.m.
Dollarama, 15 Mowin St., Edmundston, March 21
Dollarama, 15 Mowin St., Edmundston, March 22
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.