New Brunswick needs to take a closer look at travel as the risks of travel-related COVID-19 cases continues to rise, says the chief medical officer of health.
"It is a bit of a frightening situation all around us," with record-breaking COVID-19 numbers on a daily basis globally, said Dr. Jennifer Russell.
"We are concerned about the risk of continued importation of COVID-19 from travel and the fact that once it gets here, it's very hard to get under control and keep under control," she said.
But she is not recommending the government narrow which essential workers are exempt from the usual 14-day isolation requirement or that entry to the province be further limited.
Instead, Public Health plans to "scrutinize" travel in and out of the province and how to make it "as safe as possible."
"We've been looking at collecting all the information we can in a registry," Russell said. "We've been looking at the patterns of travel — who comes in on a daily basis, who comes in on a rotational basis, etcetera, and again, looking at ways to make it safer and safer."
Travel has been the main driver of COVID-19 outbreaks in New Brunswick since the pandemic began in March, but the risks of travel-related cases is increasing, she said, because the number of cases in other jurisdictions is increasing.
"So our job really is to, obviously, limit the ability for COVID to get in here. And then once it does arrive, to limit the transmission and keep outbreaks small and short."
Last week, Nova Scotia tightened its post-travel isolation requirements after a cluster of new COVID-19 cases was identified in a Halifax neighbourhood.
Travellers coming into Nova Scotia from outside the Atlantic provinces must now isolate away from family and friends. Otherwise, everyone in the household must also isolate.
Previously, travellers could isolate with family or friends as long as physical distancing was ensured and a separate bathroom was used. Other individuals in the home did not need to self-isolate but had to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.
The change does not affect rotational workers, specialized workers, people who have exceptions to attend a funeral or be with an immediate family member, and people who are exempt from self-isolation under the public health order, such as military, police, first responders, truckers and flight crews.
Working on testing strategies
Russell said New Brunswick is working with WorkSafeNB to develop some testing strategies "for certain workers."
The province already has testing protocols for workers who travel daily. They're supposed to be tested twice a week.
"We need these workers because we can't really keep the economy going and we can't keep some of our ... health-care service delivery available without these workers," she said.
On Wednesday, B.C. Premier John Horgan called on the federal government to restrict non-essential travel between provinces during the pandemic.
Asked whether that would make her job easier, Russell said New Brunswick has already seen an 80 per cent drop in incoming travellers by discouraging non-essential travel at the beginning of the pandemic.
"Compared to a year ago, we actually only have 20 per cent of travellers that we would normally see. And again, many of them are for essential reasons," she said.
"Would limiting travel from other parts of the country change our numbers in that way? Possibly."
9 new cases, including 5 in Moncton
Public Health reported nine new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the province's active case count to 40.
Five of the new cases are in the Moncton health region, Zone 1, which now has more than half of the province's active cases, at 21.
The province's chief medical officer of health said she's "very concerned" about the rising numbers there.
Dr. Jennifer Russell said it's too soon to say what's behind them, but she did say some people are not staying home when they're ill and not getting tested.
She also noted a number of the cases are in young people. In Halifax, which has declared community transmission, many of the cases were in people aged 20 to 35, she said.
The new cases in the Moncton region include: three people in their 20s, one person 30 to 39 years old, and one person 40 to 49.
The two cases in the Saint John region, Zone 2, include one person 20 to 29 and one person 30 to 39.
The other two cases consist of one individual 30 to 39 in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, and one 50 to 59 in the Bathurst region, Zone 6.
All nine cases are self-isolating and under investigation. There are currently 31 cases under investigation in the province.
The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick is 388 and 342 have recovered. As of Wednesday, 111,716 tests have been conducted, including 296 on Tuesday.
"We have seen additional cases here in New Brunswick, across Canada and globally, therefore, we must all act like we have the virus" and take precautions to protect ourselves and others, said Russell.
She advised residents to limit their number of close contacts, maintain physical distancing, wear a mask, stay home if they are sick and to get tested even if they have mild symptoms.
Exposure notification for two Air Canada flights
Public Health has identified a positive case in a traveller who may have been infectious on Nov. 15 on the following flights:
Air Canada Flight 8954 – from Winnipeg to Toronto arrived at 8:16 p.m.
Air Canada Flight 8918 – from Toronto to Moncton arrived at 11:43 p.m.
Public Health said anyone who travelled on these flights should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days after the flight and, if any COVID-19 symptoms develop, self-isolate and take the self-assessment online or to call 811 to get tested.
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.