While COVID-19 numbers in New Brunswick are heading in the right direction, the situation remains a problem, said the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, during a press conference Thursday afternoon, Oct. 28.
She said circuit-breaker restrictions imposed on all or parts of four New Brunswick health zones appear to be doing their job, but numbers in Zone 2, the Saint John region, are raising concern.
To tackle the recent COVID-19 spread in Saint John and surrounding communities, Premier Blaine Higgs announced the establishment of circuit-breaker restrictions in that area of the province, effective Friday, Oct. 29, at 6 p.m. He also announced at least a one-week extension of existing circuit breakers in parts of Zone 1, the Moncton region, the northern part of the Upper River Valley in Zone 3, and all of Zones 4 and 5.
Russell reported two additional COVID-related deaths in the province on Thursday, bringing the province's total during the pandemic to 114. The Public Health daily update for Oct. 28 stated two people in their 80s, one in Zone 1 and another in Zone 3, died.
The past two daily COVID updates showcased a halt to several days of decline in new infections and active cases. Russell reported 69 new infections on Thursday, and the number of active cases climbed to 549.
Since the circuit-breaker measures went into effect, Russell said, the number of new infections declined by 50 per cent, and active cases fell by one-third.
"And this is good news," she said. "However, our health-care system remains under strain."
Russell shared a graph demonstrating the rise in hospitalizations since August, which also highlighted the significantly higher projected level of hospitalizations without circuit-breaker measures in place.
As he introduced the expansion of the circuit breakers, Higgs touted numbers showcasing the measure's effectiveness, noting the fall of active cases from more than 1,000 to 549 and hospitalizations from a high of 68 to the current 31. He also noted the 16 people currently in ICU are just over half the record of 31 just a couple of weeks ago.
Even with the improving numbers, Higgs said, New Brunswick's health-care system remains under pressure, noting 120 workers off the job because of COVID-related issues.
Higgs and Russell continued to stress the importance of vaccinations, announcing plans to roll out booster vaccine shots for some groups of New Brunswickers and the pending plan to make the vaccine available to children under 12.
"I cannot stress enough that getting vaccinated and following the measures in place where you are living are crucial to your health and our success as a province," Higgs said.
Russell explained the booster is already available to nursing home residents and long-term care staff and the immunocompromised. Starting Nov. 1, she said, people 65 and older and school personnel can make appointments for a booster shot if six months have passed since their second dose.
Russell said anyone who received one or two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine could get an mRNA vaccine booster if 28 days have passed since their last shot.
She acknowledged the vaccine potency declines over time, making the booster a necessity, although most vaccinated New Brunswickers remain protected. She said because of the different strains of the virus, even those who already had COVID-19 should be vaccinated. Russell said some people had the virus more than once.
While Public Health data shows more vaccinated people contracting the virus, Russell said the data also indicates the vaccination significantly reduces the impact of the virus on their body.
To further increase the number of New Brunswick residents protected by the vaccine, Russell said Public Health would be ready to deliver the vaccine to the 54,000 New Brunswick children between the ages of five to 11 as soon as Health Canada approves it for that age group.
When questioned about how Public Health would deal with resistance from parents unwilling to vaccinate their children, Russell said they have a rollout plan in place.
She said studies indicate 50 per cent of parents are ready for their children's vaccination, so their rollout plan will provide factual information and the ability to handle questions from the other 50 per cent of parents with concerns.
Higgs also addressed measures in place at New Brunswick schools to reduce the virus's spread, noting that rapid test kits are provided to children potentially exposed to COVID-19. He said it is up to the parent to ensure the student is tested according to requirements.
To reduce the potential stigma, Higgs said, students no longer need to bring negative POC test results to school, but parents are expected to ensure the testing takes place. The student only returns to school after two negative rapid-test results. In the case of a positive test, he said, parents must immediately book a PCR test to confirm the results.
Higgs said the updated mandatory order would make a finable offence to falsify or misrepresent a test result.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun