The province's chief medical officer of health is urging New Brunswickers to keep their Super Bowl parties as small and low-key as possible this weekend.
The confirmation earlier this week that the coronavirus variant has arrived in New Brunswick has made large gatherings riskier than ever, Dr. Jennifer Russell said.
"We learned a hard lesson during the holidays" about how quickly that can lead to outbreaks, Russell said at a COVID-19 briefing on Thursday.
She made a direct plea to New Brunswickers in orange zones to limit their gatherings related to the Super Bowl on Sunday to their household or their steady 10 or fewer.
Asked if she thought allowing a "steady 10" while urging people to avoid gatherings was mixed messaging, Russell clarified.
"Ideally, I would like there to be no Super Bowl parties," she said. "I would like there to be no gatherings."
Russell said she is mindful of the need to balance the risk of COVID-19 and the mental health of New Brunswickers, but said if people are going to have a gathering, "then I want it to be as small as possible."
"No one wants their Super Bowl party to turn into a super-spreader event."
Orange in sight for Zones 1 and 4
There's a growing orange glimmer of hope for eased restrictions in the Moncton and Edmundston regions, Zone 1 and 4.
At Thursday's COVID-19 update, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard and Dr. Jennifer Russell both noted that case numbers are "trending in the right direction" in both zones.
More progress is needed, but "our goal is to move the entire province to orange as soon as we can," Shephard said.
The Moncton region has been in the red phase of recovery since Jan. 19, while the Edmundston region has been in the most restrictive lockdown phase since Jan. 23. The remaining five zones are in the orange phase.
Russell said a decision to return them to orange could come by early next week.
"In the days ahead, we will be watching for signs that the outbreaks in these areas can be contained with fewer restrictions on public movement," she said.
"And I hope to be in front on you on Monday with that good news."
It's probably not the flu ...
Wondering whether those symptoms you're experiencing are the flu or COVID-19?
Dr. Jennifer Russell can pretty much assure you it's not the flu.
At Thursday's COVID-19 update, Russell reiterated her reminder to New Brunswickers to get tested for even the mildest of symptoms and cautioned against confusing them with influenza symptoms.
"It is very important to keep in mind there has only been one case of influenza detected in New Brunswick so far this year," she said.
There have also been zero hospitalizations, she said — a far cry from the normal 300 to 600 flu season hospitalizations.
"So if you have symptoms that you would normally associate with the flu or a cold, please get tested," Russell said.
"It is more likely that you have COVID-19."
One mask or two?
The arrival of virus variants has prompted some jurisdictions to recommend double-masking for added protection.
So should New Brunswickers be upping their mask game too?
According to the province's chief medical officer of health, "anything we can do to increase the measures we already have in place ... is really a positive thing."
Currently, Dr. Jennifer Russell said, the Public Health Agency of Canada is recommending a three-layer mask — specifically, two layers of tightly woven fabric such as cotton and a removable, washable filter layer such as a non-woven polypropylene fabric.
Russell also acknowledged residents' dramatic turnaround on masks over the course of the pandemic.
"We went from a 50 per cent compliance rate to about a 99 per cent compliance rate, so I want to thank New Brunswickers for that," she said.
16 cases over four zones
Russell also announced 16 new cases on Thursday, which break down in this way:
Moncton region, Zone 1, five cases:
two people 20 to 29
an individual 30 to 39
an individual 60 to 69
an individual 90 or over
Fredericton region, Zone 3, one case:
an individual 50 to 59
Edmundston region, Zone 4, nine cases:
two people 19 or under
an individual 20 to 29
an individual 30 to 39
two people 50 to 59
an individual 60 to 69
two people 70 to 79
Bathurst region, Zone 6, one case:
an individual 50 to 59
There are 256 active cases in New Brunswick, which has recorded 1,318 cases since the pandemic started. Since Wednesday, 24 people have recovered for a total of 1,043 recoveries. There have been 18 deaths.
Five patients are in hospital, and two are in intensive care. A total of 205,919 tests have been conducted, including 1,124 since Wednesday's report.
Zone 4 hits an unwanted milestone
As of Thursday, the Edmundston region, Zone 4, has surpassed the Moncton region, Zone 1, for having the most cases of any zone since the beginning of the pandemic.
The total case count for the Edmundston region is now 327, with the Moncton region just behind at 325 cases.
The Miramichi region, Zone 7, has had the fewest cases since the start of the pandemic, with just eight cases.
Confirmed case at daycare in Edmundston region
A positive case of COVID-19 has been confirmed at the Garderie Mélubulles in Edmundston, Public Health said Thursday.
Parents have been notified and the child-care centre will close for the next two days to allow contact tracing to be completed, the department said in a release.
Cruise ship season cancelled for 2021
Cruise ship season has been put on ice for another year.
The federal government announced Thursday that it has banned cruise ships carrying 100 or more people from operating in Canadian waters until Feb. 28, 2022.
"With these prohibitions in place, public health authorities will be able to continue focusing on the most pressing issues, including the vaccine rollout and new COVID-19 variants," federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a news release.
"The Government of Canada continues to advise Canadian citizens and permanent residents to avoid all travel on cruise ships outside Canada until further notice."
Variant changing case count numbers
Those keeping a close eye on active case numbers in the Saint John region, Zone 2, may have noticed case counts go up on Wednesday, despite no new cases having been announced in the region during that time.
The discrepancy occurred when the regional medical officer of health changed two recent cases "back to active" because of the variant that was first detected in the U.K., explained Health Department spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane.
"This will allow for further followup from Public Health," Macfarlane wrote in an emailed response to the question.
Public exposure notification for Zone 3
Public Health has issued the following exposure notification for the Fredericton region, Zone 3:
Carrington & Company, the gift shop at the Delta hotel at 225 Woodstock Rd., Fredericton, on Jan. 29 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Feb. 1 from 11:30 a.m. to 5 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.