N.B. health officials urge mask use in indoor public areas after rise in COVID cases

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FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's deputy chief medical officer of health is urging the public to voluntarily wear masks in indoor spaces to help slow down COVID-19, as the virus continues its spread in some communities.

"It is true that masks are not currently required by law, but remember we are dealing with a communicable disease that can and will spread quickly among the unprotected," Dr. Cristin Muecke said during a Thursday news conference.

She said there has been a rise in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks and there are Alpha and Delta variants of the virus in the province.

"Since moving into the green level of our COVID-19 recovery plan on July 30, New Brunswick has seen a surge in COVID-19 infections. More people moving around provides more opportunity for the virus to find new hosts. So this is no surprise," she said.

However, Muecke said she is concerned with the number of cases where officials have not been able to determine their direct source. She said 13 cases in the Moncton region and one in the Fredericton area have been classified as community transmission.

Muecke reported eight new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, including six in the Moncton region and two in the Fredericton area.

New Brunswick has 157 active reported cases of COVID-19 and four people in hospital with the disease.

About 74.2 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 12 and older are fully vaccinated and 84 per cent have received at least one dose of vaccine.

Muecke said the pace of vaccinations had slowed but is starting to pick up again as people complete their summer vacations and prepare for school.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said during the news conference she was encouraged by the increase in vaccinations, and echoed Muecke's advice about mask use.

"The public has grown to understand through our COVID reality that they have the opportunity and power to protect themselves against COVID-19," said Shephard. "Vaccinations are the greatest tool in the tool box, but we know wearing masks in indoor public spaces is a smart thing to do."

Last week, New Brunswick released its back-to-school plan, which included mask use for students and staff.

Students in kindergarten to Grade 8 will wear masks in indoor common areas and all students will wear masks on school buses. Classrooms are not considered common areas.

High school students will return to school full time and will need to be masked during assemblies and in common areas of school buildings until 90 per cent of students in their health zones are vaccinated.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2021.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

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