Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, quoted her counterpart from British Columbia. Dr. Bonnie Henry, during a Tuesday morning virtual press conference to describe the current COVID-19 challenges for the province and the entire world.
"This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated," Russell said.
Premier Blaine Higgs, who joined her at the conference, later echoed the views of Russell and Henry as they urged everyone to get the vaccine as soon as possible.
Russell welcomed the news that New Brunswick's vaccination rate, as of Wednesday, surpassed the 75 per cent mark among those eligible for the vaccination, noting that 75.5 per cent are fully vaccinated and 84.4 percent with at least one dose.
She said those are great numbers, but they don't reach herd immunity status.
"Is this a significant accomplishment," Russell rhetorically asked, "Yes, it is. Can we be proud we reached that goal? Yes, we can. Does that mean COVID is over? No, it does not."
Russell reminded New Brunswick that COVID-19 remains among them and remains a significant threat globally.
She and Premier Higgs stressed throughout the conference the importance of those not vaccinated getting the shot as soon as possible.
"You are not only protecting yourself, you are protecting others," said Russell.
She said more people who can get vaccinated protect those who can't get the shot because of health reasons, or children under 12, who are not yet cleared for the vaccination.
Although the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased dramatically after the province removed all COVID restrictions on July 31, Higgs defended the decision.
He said Public Health expected an increase in case numbers. He acknowledged, however, the vaccination rate didn't increase as quickly as expected.
Noting vaccination-rate improvements in recent days and hospitalizations remaining low, Higgs said his government is not ready to impose stricter regulations at this time.
As of Wednesday, three New Brunswick residents are in the hospital, including one in ICU.
Higgs said if the current positive trending numbers return, more restrictive options always remain on the table.
Higgs also explained that the improved vaccination rate lowered the need to introduce vaccine passports, similar to Quebec and Ontario quickly. Whether that means the province won't adopt the passports or return to tighter restrictions, Higgs said, "We never say never."
The premier said the decision of other provinces to introduce the passports means New Brunswick may need to follow suit if only to ensure the mobility of New Brunswick residents.
"Those looking to travel outside the province will likely need a passport," he said.
If the passport is introduced, Higgs said, businesses will choose to present a passport policy.
Higgs said the province plans to continue working with the federal government to develop a national vaccination passport.
He said the province already mandated all public servants must be fully vaccinated or undergo COVID-19 testing three times weekly. He said those requirements might be broadened to include employees of long-term care facilities.
Higgs said the province must impose policies that protect the residents of those facilities.
Russell and Higgs said they understand parents' concerns as children return to school next week, especially many parents of children under 12 who cannot be vaccinated.
Both expressed confidence in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Learning's back-to-school policing introduced last week.
They reminded people they can find Healthy and Safe School guidelines online at 2021-22-guidelines.pdf (gnb.ca)
Both also noted the positive trend of falling active COVID-19 cases in New Brunswick. Wednesday's report saw 11 new confirmed cases, along with 21 recoveries, bringing the active number to 127.
Two of the Wednesday reported cases occurred in Zone 3, Fredericton and Upper River Valley, involving a person 19 or under and another in their 30s. Public Health linked one to a previous case, and the other is under investigation.
Zone 1, the Moncton region, reported five new infections, of which it linked four to a previous case, with another under investigation.
Zone 6, the Bathurst region, reported one travel-related case and two which are under investigation.
Zone 4, the Edmundston region, reported a new case linked to a previously confirmed case.
Russell urged everyone to remember the virus, including more virulent variants, continue to spread. While the government no longer mandates mask use and distancing restrictions, she encouraged people to wear masks indoors. She also recommended that people continue to follow Public Health advice, including maintaining a safe distance and often washing or sanitizing hands.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun