Many New Brunswickers will have fewer people around the Thanksgiving dinner table this weekend as the province limits contacts and travel over the holiday weekend.
For some New Brunswick residents in the Upper River Valley, Moncton and Edmundston areas, those tight limitations will be in place for at least two weeks.
During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 5, Premier Blaine Higgs and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell announced strict new measures to control the spread of the COVID virus.
In addition to limiting travel and visitation for all New Brunswickers over the Thanksgiving weekend, they announced tight circuit-breaker measures aimed at areas of highest risk.
The circuit-breaker areas include Zone 3's Upper River Valley, north of Deerville; all of Zone 4, the Edmundston region; and Zone 1, including Moncton and as far north as Ste. Anne de Kent.
Public Health later clarified the portion of Zone 3 to be included in circuit breaker region as "north of and including Florenceville-Bristol."
The restrictions will begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 8, and continue for a minimum of 14 days.
Under the circuit-breaker measures, residents of these areas must limit contacts to their single household, along with any family member outside the family who requires support.
Higgs explained the restrictions would not permit indoor or outdoor gatherings except at public places that require proof of vaccinations.
The premier said the rules prohibit travel to or from circuit-breaker areas unless the trip is essential for work, health services, child custody, child-care or post-secondary education.
While all schools will remain open, he said, sports and extracurricular activities would be paused for those 12 and under. Higgs added no spectators would be allowed for any school activities within the circuit-breaker areas.
Although limited to single-family gatherings at homes or elsewhere, Higgs said businesses and event venues could continue to operate as long as they demand proof of vaccination and a government-issued ID from anyone entering.
Higgs explained the contradictory nature of the rules, which don't allow friends and family gatherings at people's homes but enable them to gather in restaurants and other public places.
"People can get there safely," he said, "because those are controlled environments where they check their vaccination status."
Russell also defended the decision to allow non-essential businesses to remain open by explaining that while the fully vaccinated can catch and spread the virus, the risk is "very low" compared to those not vaccinated.
She said unvaccinated people are 16 times more likely to catch the virus than fully vaccinated.
The province will extend the same restrictions affecting residents in the circuit-breaker communities to the entire province over Thanksgiving weekend, starting at 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 8, and ending Thanksgiving Day, Monday, Oct. 11 at 11:59 p.m.
Higgs and Russell stressed the new rules are vital to stop the spread of the virus, noting Public Health reported another COVID-19 related death and 90 new infections over the past 24 hours.
She said the province now has 50 people in hospital, including 23 in ICU. The death involved a person in their 80s in Zone 4, bringing the New Brunswick COVID death toll to 69.
Higgs noted Tuesday's death announcement marks eight straight days with at least one death.
Russell said New Brunswick's COVID numbers would continue to grow and put its entire health-care delivery at risk unless it could halt the spread of the virus.
"Vaccines continue to be one of our most effective tools in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19," Russell said.
Higgs pointed to current hospitalizations as an indication of the importance of vaccination, noting 41 of the 50 currently in hospital are vaccinated. In contrast, only seven are fully vaccinated, with two receiving only a single shot.
The premier again urged everyone to roll up their sleeves for two jabs while announcing that the government is pushing civil servants' vaccination issue.
Higgs said all government employees in the civil service, the education and health-care systems and Crown corporations, along with staff and volunteers at long-care and licenced child-care facilities, must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 19. After that date, any employee without a valid medical exemption not fully vaccinated would be sent home without pay.
Higgs added licenced care facilities failing to comply with the mandatory vaccination mandate risk losing their licence.
Higgs added Public Safety officers would focus surveillance over the next few weeks in the circuit-breaker region to ensure compliance.
"And there will be fines levied to enforce what we put in place," he said.
Higgs said the surveillance would focus on the hot spots, especially the events that spread the virus. He noted significant virus-spreading events are not well-organized gatherings that take precautions but random events.
Higgs cited house gatherings as a significant source of the virus spread.
The premier recognizes those refusing to get vaccinated often are the same people who ignore government safety mandates, noting some people flagrantly violated the rules since the pandemic began.
"They're having a negative impact on the entire society, and if you don't care about yourself, then please care about others," he said.
Higgs said schools would remain open, even in the hot spots, suggesting children are safer under the strict controls employed by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Learning guidelines.
However, he added that schools would start deploying rapid test kits to be handed out to families of any student identified as possibly exposed to the virus.
With increased risks to residents of long-care and senior homes at greater risk, Higgs and Russell said Public Health would begin administering boosters shots of the mRNA vaccines this week.
"Long-term care residents and seniors living in communal settings generally had a good immune response to COVID-19 vaccines," said Russell. "But there are some signs that protection against the Delta variant could be waning in these individuals, and a booster dose may improve their immune response."
Tuesday's COVID update showed Zone 1 reporting the most significant number of new infections, with 45 of the province's 90 new cases. Public Health said 42 of those infections are under investigation for a source.
The following is the number of new confirmed cases by Zone:
Zone 1: 45
Zone 2: 4
Zone 3: 25
Zone 4: 7
Zone 5: 1
Zone 6: 5
Zone 7: 3
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun