New Brunswick reported another COVID-related death on Wednesday, Sept. 29, bringing the total to 57 since the pandemic began, including eight in the past week.
"These are not just numbers," said Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, in a Wednesday afternoon virtual press conference. "These are people with lives and families, who loved and were loved."
She said the latest COVID victim was a person in their 90s from Zone 1, the Moncton region.
Russell also reported 84 new confirmed COVID infections in the province, including 40 undergoing treatment in New Brunswick hospitals, with 16 in the intensive care unit.
During the press conference featuring Russell and Premier Blaine Higgs, both noted it's still too early to see the impact on COVID numbers resulting from the state of emergency and stricter regulations introduced over the past week.
Russell said the current "serious situation" calls for "serious measures," adding the most significant concern remains the strain hospitalizations put on the province's health care system.
"These new restrictions are not forever, any more than those we've recommended in the past. When the pressures on our hospitals are reduced, we will once again be able to relax the most restrictive measures."
The measures introduced last week included proof-of-vaccine requirements for people entering numerous New Brunswick venues.
In a statement issued early Wednesday, the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission director Marc-Alain Maillet said callers inundated the commission with complaints and questions about the vaccine and mask requirements.
Of the 318 inquiries received in the past month, he said, 67 per cent related to vaccine requirements. Maillet said that increased to 90 per cent over the past week.
He said the commission handled complaints claiming the measures violated their human rights, adding many callers accused the commission of not defending their rights.
"This is far from the truth," Maillet said in the statement.
He explained the Human Rights Act protects against discrimination on specific grounds.
"Thus, if someone claims that it is their human right to be exempt from COVID-19 vaccinations, the claim must be based on the grounds of either physical disability, mental disability, or creed or religion," Maillet said. "If a physician has certified that a person should not be vaccinated because of their disability, such a person can approach the commission for redress if an employer or service provider refuses to accommodate their disability."
Maillet said to claim an exemption under creed or religion, the complainant must demonstrate that point.
He explained that a person's vaccination choice based on "personal" beliefs is not protected under the Human Rights Act.
Maillet said commission staff strive to protect individuals from human rights abuse, but the Act binds decisions.
"Alleged violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are typically addressed through the court system, not by the Human Rights Commission," he said.
Maillet expressed concern about some callers' "disrespectful, even belligerent, attitude toward commission staff."
"It is worrisome that many people are approaching the commission to vent their frustrations or objections related to the pandemic, and not to inquire about legitimate human rights issues, which diverts commission resources from dedicated work on urgent human rights complaints," he said.
When asked about the Human Rights Commission statement during the press conference, Premier Higgs said Maillet provided clear instructions and interpretation.
He said the restrictions issued by the province are not a human rights issue but a public health issue.
Russell and Higgs continued to express that the growing COVID-case numbers and hospitalizations related directly to vaccinations.
The Wednesday update broke down the 71 hospitalizations between Aug. 1 and Sept. 28, noting 15.5 per cent were fully vaccinated, 5.6 per cent had one COVID shot, and 79.8 per cent were unvaccinated.
The update also noted that 80 per cent of the 84 new infections were people not fully vaccinated.
Russell said Public Health also recommended booster vaccine doses to a larger group of New Brunswickers. Earlier the province announced booster doses for immunocompromised residents. It will now make it available to seniors living in long-term care facilities.
"Our plan is to administer the booster dose along with our annual flu vaccine campaign," said Russell. "New advice from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) makes it possible for us to provide both vaccines at the same time.
Wednesday's Public Health update reported several more schools hit by the virus, including Carleton North High School in Florenceville-Bristol. Anglophone West School District closed CNHS on Wednesday to allow health and school officials to conduct contact tracing, do a risk assessment and prepare operational responses.
The updated potential public exposure list for Zone 3 includes several dates involving Woodstock's Walmart. It reports potential exposures on Sept. 18, between 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Sept. 20, 21 and 22, between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sept. 23, between 2:30 and 10 p.m.; and Sept. 24, between 2:30 and 8 p.m.
The potential exposure list also includes Truth Temple Inc. on Williamstown Road in Centreville, between 10 a.m. and noon on Sunday, Sept. 26.
Public Health announces locations on its exposure list in situations "where officials cannot be certain of exactly who may have been exposed to the virus."
The public can view the complete potential exposure list online at: https://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/corporate/promo/covid-19/potential_public_exposure.html#what
While the virus is hitting all areas of the province, Zones 1, the Moncton region, Zone 3, the Fredericton and Upper River Valley region, and Zone 4, the Edmundston, Grand Falls and St. Quentin region, continue to report the highest number of new infections.
Zone 1 reported 27 on Wednesday, with 24 in Zone 3 and 15 in Zone 4.
Zone 2, the Saint John Region, reported nine; Zone 5, the Campbellton region, had four; Zone 6, the Bathurst region, also reported four; and Zone 7, the Miramichi region, confirmed only one new infection on Wednesday's update.
New Brunswick is now dealing with 657 active cases.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun