New Brunswick is reporting 12 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, most of them in the Edmundston region, or Zone 4
There are 10 new cases in Zone 4 and two new cases in the Moncton region, or Zone 1, Public Health said in a news release.
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard called the numbers "concerning" and said she's spoken with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell and assistant deputy health minister Dr. Heidi Liston about them.
"We have significant numbers to report today, but we have made them aware that beginning tomorrow and Friday, we will be implementing mass testing with our rapid tests to try to get a sense of of where this is going," she told reporters at the legislature.
"We are under the presumption that it is the variant."
Since Feb. 28, Shephard said, 55 per cent of new cases in the province have been either presumptive or confirmed cases of variants.
"It speaks to the transmissibility of this variant, and so that's why it's very helpful for our lab to be able to give us those presumptive variant diagnoses" she said.
The presumption of a variant affects the protocol people have to follow, she said.
"We not only ask close contacts to isolate, but we ask the contacts of contacts to isolate, trying to nip it in the bud."
Despite its case numbers, the Edmundston region won't be moved out of the yellow phase of recovery and back to a more restrictive phase, Shephard said.
That could change, however, depending on the results of mass testing clinics scheduled for Thursday and Friday, she said.
"If those mass testing shows that we have more cases than we're aware of, then the Public Health will do a colour assessment and bring that to the COVID cabinet."
More groups now eligible for vaccination
As of Wednesday, people 75 and older, rotational workers, regular cross-border commuters and truck drivers are eligible to book an appointment at a pharmacy for a COVID-19 vaccine, said Public Health.
Walk-in appointments are not available, and when booking an appointment, people should indicate if they are self-isolating as pharmacies may have specific processes for them, Public Health said.
For people 75 and older, a caregiver or a family member acting on their behalf can make an appointment.
Rotational workers, regular cross-border commuters and truck drivers will need to bring proof of eligibility to their appointment.
"Regular cross-border commuters can use their multi-use travel registration through the New Brunswick Travel Registration Program," Public Health said.
"Truck drivers can use a Class 1 licence to demonstrate eligibility and rotational workers can use their travel registration confirmation."
Shephard, in the news release, asked that people not call a pharmacy unless they are in one of the newly eligible groups or are calling on behalf of someone who is.
"We will announce when booking opens for other priority groups," she said.
63 active cases in province
With the COVID-19 cases announced Wednesday, the province now has 63 active cases, far more than any other province in the Atlantic region.
The 10 cases in the Edmundston region break down this way:
An individual 19 or under. The case is travel-related.
Three people 30 to 39. Two cases are travel-related and the other is under investigation.
An individual 40 to 49. The case is travel related.
Three people 50 to 59. One case is a contact of a previously reported case and the other two cases are under investigation.
An individual 60 to 69. The case is a contact of a previously reported case.
An individual 70 to 79. The case is a contact of a previously reported case.
In the Moncton region, person 30 to 39 years old and someone 40 to 49 were diagnosed with COVID, and both cases are under investigation, Public Health said.
The active cases in the province are: 12 in the Moncton region (Zone 1), one in the Saint John region (Zone 2), four in the Fredericton region (Zone 3), 33 in the Edmundston region (Zone 4), one in the Bathurst region (Zone 6) and 12 in the Miramichi region (Zone 7).
New Brunswick has had 1,517 confirmed cases since the pandemic began in March. Thirty people have died from COVID-19 and 1,423 people have recovered. One person is in hospital.
A total of 247,431 tests have been completed to date, including 956 on Tuesday.
Mass testing in Edmundston region
With confirmed cases of the variant in the Edmundston region, a mass testing clinic will be held on Thursday and Friday to help determine if there has been any further spread in the area, Public Health said.
The testing is available for anyone who does not have any symptoms of COVID-19 and is not self-isolating but wishes to be tested.
Testing will be done from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days at the Saint-Basile arena at 275 Principale St.
"No appointment is necessary," Public Health said. "Screening tests will be conducted on a first-come, first-served basis. Asymptomatic people do not need to self-isolate while awaiting results unless advised to do so by Public Health."
People who have a previously-booked appointment for a test at the Edmundston Regional Hospital's assessment centre should still go to their appointment, Public Health said.
School staff vaccination clinics
Twelve high schools in the Fredericton region were closed Wednesday to allow their staff to attend vaccination clinics.
They're part of a week-long round of clinics being held for about 4,500 high school staff in the province as the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development plans to return high school students to full-time in-person classes as of April 12.
The following schools in Saint John will be closed Thursday, March 25 to allow their staff to receive the vaccine:
Harbour View High School in Saint John
Saint John High School
Simonds High School in Saint John
St. Malachy's Memorial High School in Saint John
Centre scolaire Samuel-de-Champlain in Saint John
Additional clinics will be held for high school staff in the Tracadie and Moncton regions on Friday, March 26, and staff in the Shediac, Bathurst and Campbellton regions on Monday, March 29.
Detailed information about the clinics will be sent directly to school staff.
"In the coming weeks, additional vaccination clinics will be available for staff in elementary and middle schools, including bus drivers, and for early childhood service providers and child-care staff as part of the large employer section of the vaccine rollout plan," Public Health said.
Confirmed case at Edmundston school
A positive case of COVID-19 was confirmed at Carrefour de la Jeunesse in Edmundston and the school community has been notified, Public Health said.
Students, staff and their families are being asked to self-isolate until further notice as contact tracing is carried out.
The school, as well as Halte scolaire Carrefour de la Jeunesse, a child-care facility attached to it, will be closed until April 6 and students will learn from home.
Public Health said anyone who has been in close contact with a case will be notified by Public Health for contact tracing.
COVID-19 cases from earlier this week led to the closures of other schools in Edmundston and Moncton.
Public Health reported two new exposure notices in Edmundston Wednesday.
Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant, 180 Hébert Blvd., on March 19 between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.
Centre Jean-Daigle, 85 du 15 Août St., on March 21, during a hockey game of the Edmundston Blizzard which started at 3 p.m.
The notices come after Public Health reported eight exposure notices Tuesday, all in the Edmundston (Zone 4) region.
The times and locations are as follows:
March 22 between 7:45 a.m. and 2:25 p.m. – Burger King (10 Mahsus Ct., Edmundston)
March 21 between 9:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. – Burger King (10 Mahsus Ct., Edmundston)
March 20 between 6:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. – Burger King (10 Mahsus Ct., Edmundston)
March 21 between 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. – Superstore (577 Victoria St., Edmundston)
March 20 between 4:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. – Superstore (577 Victoria St., Edmundston)
March 19 between 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. – Superstore (577 Victoria St., Edmundston)
March 21 between 9:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. – Pizza Delight (185 Hébert Blvd., Edmundston)
March 20 between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. – Pizza Delight (185 Hébert Blvd., Edmundston)
Public Health also issued exposure notices for Edmundston on Monday, and they include:
March 17 between 5 and 6:30 p.m. - Restaurant Poissonnerie Ouellet (350 Victoria St).
March 20 between noon and 12:45 p.m. - McDonald's Restaurant (190 Hébert Blvd.)
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.