Testing for the COVID-19 virus in New Brunswick has begun to reach levels close to those being achieved in neighbouring Nova Scotia, but problems getting started earlier this month have left the province behind a number of jurisdictions and scrambling to catch up.
"I want to assure the public New Brunswick is testing more people more widely as the situation evolves," said Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health.
On Wednesday, Russell's office reported a total of 1,550 test results have been completed in the province since the beginning of the pandemic. It's still well behind the 2,840 test results logged next door in Nova Scotia, but the current pace of testing in the two provinces has largely evened up.
Between Sunday and Wednesday, New Brunswick added 692 new test results, close to the 724 results posted by Nova Scotia. Nine new cases of the virus were found in New Brunswick and 40 in Nova Scotia during that time and Russell predicted as testing continues to expand the virus will show itself more and more.
"As we increase testing in the days and weeks ahead, we will find more confirmed cases," she said.
The two Maritime provinces are similar in size — Nova Scotia has 25 per cent more people — but their paths differed in the early days of the pandemic with Nova Scotia moving more aggressively to search for the virus.
It established regional testing sites in the province a week before New Brunswick and, by March 13, Nova Scotia had already tested 226 people. Relying mostly on emergency room visits, New Brunswick had tested only 19 people by the same day.
That difference has widened steadily since, although at a much slower rate recently.
On Tuesday, Russell told reporters New Brunswick has been slower to test its population for the virus than most other provinces, because it showed up later.
"Each province started at a different time in terms of when they had their first case and each province would have started with travel-related cases and then community transmission so we're at an earlier stage in our evolution," she said.
But New Brunswick was on notice before many provinces.
It and Quebec had the earliest March breaks for students in Canada this year with hundreds of people travelling out of New Brunswick and back between Feb. 29 and March 8, just before the pandemic hit.
That created a pool of potential carriers other provinces did not have to worry about.
COVID-19 test results (sources: N.B., N.S. public health data) DATE N.B. N.S. March 3 4 7 March 10 13 45 March 13 19 226 March 16 203 676 March 19 421 1,387 March 22 858 2,116 March 25 1,550 2,840
The first diagnosed case of the virus in Atlantic Canada also showed up in New Brunswick on March 11. That's the day before one appeared in Saskatchewan or Manitoba and three days before any turned up in Nova Scotia, although all three launched far more aggressive testing programs than New Brunswick.
As of Wednesday, Saskatchewan had completed 6,270 tests, four times more than New Brunswick, even though it has only 50 per cent more people. The effort has helped turn up 86 cases there, including several suspected cases of community transmission.
Manitoba completed 4,520 tests as of Monday — quadruple the number New Brunswick tested as of Monday. Manitoba's population is about 75 per cent larger than New Brunswick's.
Still, Russell said New Brunswick is plotting its own course and the rate of testing will increase further when health officials here deem it appropriate.
"We remain focused on testing the right people to track down those with this disease and those that have come in contact with them so that we can isolate them and slow the spread of COVID-19," she said.