Northeastern N.B. has no COVID-19 cases, but province won't say how many tested

Cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick continue to climb but so far none have been reported in the northeastern corner of the province — a curiosity starting to raise questions among residents about how much testing the province has done in the area.

"The question people are beginning to ask is are they doing enough testing here in our region," said Tracadie-Sheila MLA Keith Chiasson.

"That's probably the concern of people. Is testing being done and are we missing people that might have coronavirus?"

New Brunswick had 2,064 test results recorded as of Friday and 45 of those have been positively diagnosed with COVID - 19. But so far not a single case has been found in Miramichi, Bathurst, Tracadie, Shippagan, Caraquet, or dozens of other communities that make up health zones 6 and 7 in northeastern New Brunswick.

Photo: CBC News

About 120,000 people live in the area and, although the zero infection rate sounds like good news, it is impossible to know how aggressively the province has been hunting for the virus in those communities.

No regional testing information has been released by the province despite multiple requests it be provided.

Miramichi is the largest community in the area with no positive cases reported yet, and Mayor Adam Lordon said he would like more information about what is happening.

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"I would hope they will release a regional breakdown of testing," Lordon said. "We haven't seen that information and I'd certainly be curious to see it." 

Saskatchewan is currently the only province publishing data on where tests in the province are done and efforts to have New Brunswick supply similar information have gone nowhere.

On Friday, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, appeared to confirm testing has been uneven around the province but wouldn't pinpoint what the differences are, saying only some areas have had more recent travellers than others and they have been a testing priority.

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"If you look at all the regions in the province and you think, 'Well, if we're doing less tests here or there, then it means that our efforts are not, we're not putting in maximum effort or we're not putting in the right kind of effort,'" she said.

"It's very important to test the right people for the right reasons at the right time."

But beyond vague references to regional differences in testing for the virus, the province has resisted providing firm numbers.

'I will talk to my team about this'

Last Monday, all questions about regional testing were referred to the two regional health authorities, neither of which provided information after being contacted.

On Wednesday, Russell told reporters she would look into whether regional testing numbers could be supplied but none were.  

On Friday, she was asked about it again and again said she would look into it.

"I think the last time it was asked I thought I would try to see if we could get the numbers on tests in each region," said Russell.

"I will talk to my team about this."  

Ed Hunter/CBC

New Brunswick has been trailing other provinces in the amount of testing it has done for the virus overall. Lordon does want to see what has been done in his area but is more concerned testing efforts improve in the days ahead.

"Hopefully [regional numbers] will be sent out, but we know that generally that the test numbers have been low and what I'm interested in is more tests happening here in Miramichi and across the province."