N.B. has no plans for mandatory COVID-19 measures, says top doctor

·3 min read
Masks have not been required in New Brunswick since the mandatory order was lifted on March 14. (CBC - image credit)
Masks have not been required in New Brunswick since the mandatory order was lifted on March 14. (CBC - image credit)

COVID-19 numbers are increasing in New Brunswick and are expected to continue to rise, but a return to mandatory masking or other protective restrictions is not being considered, according to the province's chief medical officer of health.

"At this point … we're not having that conversation," said Dr. Jennifer Russell.

"The message right now is about vaccination, because that's the thing that's going to decrease people's risk of having severe outcomes and requiring hospitalization."

On Tuesday, the province announced it's now offering a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to anyone 18 and older, as long as five months have passed since their last dose. Until now, second boosters have been available only to New Brunswickers 50 or older, long-term care residents, and First Nation, Inuit and Métis individuals 18 or older.

The decision to expand eligibility comes as COVID claimed four more New Brunswickers in the past week, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has nearly doubled to 95, seven of whom require intensive care, and almost 2,500 new infections have been reported, figures released Tuesday show.

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

"We are seeing increasing activity of COVID cases in this province. We do see the risk of, you know, hospitalizations going up," said Russell.

She declined to describe the increase as the start of a sixth wave of the pandemic in the province.

"There are lots of different words floating around out there, whether it's a wave or a surge or increased activity. My message is the same — get boosted," she said.

"Get whichever booster you're eligible for right now, continue with all the other protective measures that we've always been suggesting throughout the pandemic: physical distancing, hand-washing, wearing your mask."

'Watch and wait'

Asked whether the province will reinvoke mandatory masking in indoor public spaces or other restrictions, Russell said officials are going to "watch and wait."

"We do expect the numbers to continue to rise, how high they're going to be, it's not 100 per cent clear, but I don't think we're expecting it to be as high as some of the other peaks that we've had in other surges."

For now, Public Health will continue to encourage boosters, she said.

New Brunswick lifted all COVID-19 restrictions, such as mandatory masking, physical distancing and gathering limits, on March 14, with the end of the mandatory order.

Russell acknowledged masking, like "all of the things in the toolbox help reduce risk. So they're all important.

"But the most important one is vaccination."

Whether mandatory measures might be possible at some point in the future will depend on how high the numbers go and how many people "heed the call" to get boosted, Russell said.

Asked whether she will use her new powers under the recently amended Public Health Act to impose restrictions, she replied, "If we feel that we as a team, a Public Health team, if we feel that that recommendation is warranted, we definitely would go down that path.

"I just can't say whether that's going to happen or not."

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