The COVID-19 news keeps getting worse in New Brunswick as the province announces four deaths in the past 24 hours and active cases soaring to a record 760.
In addition to the four deaths, Public Health reported 140 new confirmed infections in its daily report, delivering the worst 24 hours since the pandemic began more than a year and a half ago.
Two of the four COVID deaths occurred in Zone 3, the Fredericton and Upper River Valley region, involving a person in their 30s and one in their 70s.
The virus also claimed the lives of an individual between 50 and 59 in Zone 4, the Edmundston, Grand Falls and St. Quentin region, and a person between 70 and 79 in Zone 1, the Moncton region.
As he expressed his sympathies to the families of the latest COVID-19 victims, Premier Blaine Higgs reminded New Brunswickers the virus could strike anyone.
“This virus is affecting New Brunswickers of all ages,” Higgs said. “Healthy younger people are getting sick as well as older individuals. Of the 140 cases announced, 88 are under 40. Those in that age bracket are less likely to end up in hospital, but they still carry and can transmit the virus.”
New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell stated in Saturday’s Public Health update that the alarming numbers could worsen before the province’s heightened restrictions introduced last week begin to take effect.
“Four more New Brunswickers lost to the virus is a grim reminder of the continuing toll COVID-19 is taking on our communities and on people at every stage of life,” she said
Saturday’s update reported 44 people are currently undergoing treatment in New Brunswick hospitals, including 17 in intensive care.
While the province is witnessing a significant spike in cases, Russell said the number of hospitalizations remains manageable. Still, they place an “extreme burden” on the province’s health-care facilities and negatively affect care delivery for non-COVID patients.
Even as the province’s vaccination rate shows the majority of New Brunswick residents are fully vaccinated, Public Health statistics show the unvaccinated minority represent a massive portion of new cases and hospitalizations.
As of Saturday, Oct. 2, 80.4 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers received two vaccine shots, with 89.4 per cent with one shot.
The Saturday update indicated the unvaccinated represent two out of three of 140 new infections. The fully vaccinated represented 24.5 per cent of the new cases, while those partially vaccinated defined 8.5 per cent.
Among the 44 people receiving treatment in the hospital, 35 are unvaccinated, while only nine are fully or partially vaccinated.
This week, reports on the CBC and other media interviewed residents of communities like Perth-Andover, blaming some local churches for pushing an anti-vaccination message to their congregations.
Under the COVID-19 restrictions announced last week, churches have two choices when conducting services. Church officials can require proof of vaccination from anyone attending the service. Or, they can reduce attendance to 50 per cent of capacity and enforce strict distancing requirements and mask-wearing.
Noting recent public exposure at several New Brunswick churches, the province announced that Public Safety officers would be conducting spot checks this weekend to ensure they follow mandatory orders.
The officers will issue fines to institutions and individuals who break the mandatory orders.
The spreading virus continues to disrupt schools across the province, including several Carleton County schools. Over the past week, confirmed COVID cases forced students at Carleton North High School, Hartland Community School and Centreville Community School into distance learning for a day or more.
On Saturday, some parents reported the confirmation of another COVID case at Townsview School in Woodstock. However, it is unlikely to force the closure of the school. Officials told parents that unless they receive a message stating otherwise, students can attend school on Monday.
Anglophone West School District tweeted late Friday that John Caldwell High School in Grand Falls will continue distance learning through next week, Oct. 4 to 8.
“We will reassess the situation again as the week progresses,” the school district tweeted.
The school district advised staff, parents and students at three Perth-Andover schools that they will return to in-class learning starting Monday, Oct. 4.
In a tweet posted Friday, Oct. 1, the school district stated health and school officials reviewed the situations at Perth-Andover Middle School, Andover Elementary School and Southern Victoria High School, recommending a return to class.
Since the spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths started to climb in early September, several long-term care homes and other public institutions faced virus outbreaks.
In its Saturday update, Public Health announced an outbreak at Shannex Losiere Hall nursing home in Miramichi.
“Following three confirmed cases of COVID-19, Public Health declared an outbreak and activated the Provincial Rapid Outbreak Management Team (PROMT),” health officials stated in its update.
The Canadian Red Cross also hit social media with advertising to hire emergency care workers to support health-care workers in New Brunswick.
Dan Bedell, Canadian Red Cross - Atlantic Region communication director, said the organization deployed a team of 12 nurses, personal care workers and administrative staff from across the country to support the New Brunswick government’s PROMPT team at the 118-bed Drew Nursing Home in Sackville.
“We are currently using social media and other avenues seeking additional personnel in hopes of recruiting some more personnel within New Brunswick or neighbouring provinces who can eventually take over from the out-of-province personnel we’re currently using at the Sackville site,” Bedell said in an emailed response to River Valley Sun.
He added that the new employees could potentially be available for similar help at one or two other long-term care facilities in the province if the NB government makes such a request.
Bedell said the Red Cross offered similar support at long-care homes in the past.
At the recent and ongoing COVID-19 outbreak at Harvest House in Moncton, Bedell said, the Canadian Red Cross provided 50 folding cots plus blankets, pillows, toiletry and other supplies to help Public Health establish at a centre at Moncton Lions Club. In the larger facility, he explained, COVID victims could better maintain social distance.
Bedell said the Canadian Red Cross would provide as much support as possible to ease the strain on New Brunswick’s health-care workers.
Public Health’s Potential Public Exposure list continues to grow. Zone 3 saw several new Woodstock-area locations added to the list. They include as follows:
A breakdown of Saturday’s record daily COVID numbers by Zone follows:
Zone 1, Moncton region, 52 cases
Zone 2, Saint John region, 9 cases
Zone 3, Fredericton and Upper River Valley, 23 cases
Zone 4. Edmundston, Grand Falls and St. Quentin, 41 cases
Zone 5, the Campbellton region, 9 cases
Zone 6, the Bathurst region, 2 cases
Zone 7, the Miramichi region, 4 cases
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun