The proof is in the cases: Masks and physical distancing work, Russell says

·4 min read

As the case count continues to rise in New Brunswick, Dr. Jennifer Russell says one thing has proven to be unfailingly true: masks and physical distancing work, and ignoring that truth is risky.

In an interview Monday on Shift, the province's chief medical officer of health said recent cases of transmission related to sports have prompted people to question whether allowing practices and games is a good idea.

Her answer, she said, is that sports aren't the problem. Letting your guard — and your mask — down is.

If people are following the guidelines, participating in sports and practices should be relatively safe, Russell said. It's when people engage in "the social side of things," removing their masks and being within two metres of one another, that the risk rises.

"You have to remember that of every single one of these cases, we're above 500 now, every single case of COVID in every close contact was somebody who was within six feet of somebody without wearing a mask for more than 15 minutes," Russell said.

"That advice from the very beginning of the pandemic has held true and will continue to hold true until everybody is vaccinated."

We like to really thoroughly investigate before we label anything as community transmission. - Dr. Jennifer Russell

Russell was also asked about the origins of the 120 active cases in the province, and said that most of them have been figured out, "with the exception of probably a couple in the Moncton region."

She acknowledged she does worry about community transmission, given that there are cases of community transmission in Halifax, but cautioned against labelling anything "too early."

"Obviously, anybody who's come or gone from the Halifax area in the last 14 days should be monitoring for symptoms," she said. "If you have come back after the new directions were provided around the border, you do need to self-isolate for 14 days … with the exception of people who are essential workers."

During the outbreak in the Campbellton region earlier in the pandemic, she said, there were cases that for a long time did not appear to be linked, "but by the end of the investigation, after four weeks," all of the links were established.

"So we like to really thoroughly investigate before we label anything as community transmission," Russell said.

Shane Fowler/CBC file photo
Shane Fowler/CBC file photo

Testing backlogs easing, but still some concerns

Russell said the backlogs that have caused testing delays are easing, but there are still some concerns.

There have been some cases of priority testing not being completed within the advised 24-hour window, and Russell said she has heard of some people who have been waiting up to seven days.

She urged anyone in this situation "please don't be shy to call again or fill out another assessment form, because we do want people to get tested."

In the meantime, she said, "we are working away every day" to erase the backlog, bringing in extra staff, more testing sites and working extra extra hours.

"Time is of the essence, because the sooner we test and do the contact tracing and make sure people are self-isolating, the sooner that we know that people are not at risk of transmitting COVID to other people in their close contacts."

CBC News file photo
CBC News file photo

Mental health toll, exhaustion wearing on everyone

Russell also made a point of issuing "a big thank you to all the people who have been working so hard and sacrificing" throughout the pandemic, from health-care workers to business owners to students.

The mental health toll, and the sheer exhaustion of having to adapt to new measures and guidelines, has been felt by everyone, she said.

"It is impacting everybody in this province, whether it's your social life, whether it's your business, whether it's your mental health, even the school system — students who are going to school in a different type of environment wearing masks — there are a lot of things that people have had to adjust to and that can be really tiring," she said.

In the months ahead, as we move toward the rollout of vaccines, Russell said it will be important for people to reserve their energy and to recharge, "to keep on keeping on and and really work together" to get to the finish line.

"We have done very well up until now. And that success has has been contributed to by so many people, so many citizens."