Faced with daily record numbers of COVID-19 infections and an even more concerning rise in hospitalizations and deaths, the New Brunswick government reintroduced a state of emergency.
During a press conference Friday afternoon, Sept. 24, Premier Blaine Higgs, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell announced the enhanced measures in addition to the strict restrictions which took effect earlier this week.
In addition to announcing 78 new confirmed cases in the province since yesterday, they reported 31 people now in hospital and three more COVID-related deaths.
COVID-19 and its variants are not going away any time soon, said Shephard, after noting the "shocking news" of three more deaths, bringing the provincial total to 52 since the pandemic began.
Shepherd said the rise in case numbers and hospitalizations demand the province take further action to reduce the virus spread.
"It's concerning, it's upsetting, and it's frightening," she said.
Citing hospitalizations as the trigger, Higgs said the province would invoke a state of emergency, effective at midnight on Friday, which would include a return to the Steady 20 bubble, requiring New Brunswickers to limit contact with only 20 people, including family and friends.
The new measures will also limit indoor private gatherings to 20 or less. Non-essential public businesses, such as restaurants, bars, sports and entertainment venues, must continue to adhere to requirements allowing entry to only fully vaccinated individuals.
Higgs said essential businesses, such as grocery stores, where the vaccination regulations are not in effect, must return to distancing requirements. Earlier this week, the province returned to a mask mandate in all indoor public spaces.
The province also announced new rules for faith venues, providing them with two options for church services. They can require proof of vaccination for anyone attending the service. Otherwise, they must meet specific protocols, including reducing attendance to 50 per cent capacity, ensuring continuous mask use, maintaining family bubbles and distancing, recording all in attendance, and eliminating singing from all services.
Higgs said the province introduced stricter measures to protect the health-care system as it struggles under the weight of COVID-19 hospitalizations. He cited 25 people in the hospital as the trigger for the state of emergency.
With the province currently treating 31 people in hospital, including 15 in ICU, he said, the system is struggling under the load.
Shepherd said not only is the province's health-care system battling reduced staff levels as the virus forces hundreds off the job because of COVID-related contacts, but the treatment of COVID-19 patients requires significantly more resources.
She said reduced staffing levels and increased level of care for COVID-19 patients means New Brunswick hospitals must postpone other types of health-care services, treatments and surgeries.
During a technical briefing before the government press conference, Horizon Health Network interim president and CAO Dr. John Dornan cited as an example the temporary closure of the Upper River Valley Hospital's obstetrics and birth unit because of a lack of health-care staff.
Because of the demand created by COVID-19 patients across the province, Dornan said, the movement of staff means expectant mothers in the Upper St. John River Valley will need to go to Fredericton to give birth to their child.
Everyone at the press conference and the technical briefing before it emphasized the single most important contributing factor to the volcanic rise in COVID cases, hospitalization and death — those who are not fully vaccinated.
They explained those not fully vaccinated make up the vast majority of the cases and hospitalizations.
Russell said two doses of the vaccination wouldn't entirely stop a person from contracting the virus, but it reduces their chances of catching COVID, spreading the virus, and the impact of the disease.
They stressed the only way to get past the pandemic is to get as many eligible New Brunswickers vaccinated as possible. Russell said those who choose not to get vaccinated increase the risk of catching the virus and ending up in the hospital. They also put others at risk, including children under 12 who, as yet, can't be vaccinated and those who can't get it because of health reasons.
Of the 78 new cases announced Friday, 75 per cent were not fully vaccinated, the Public Health update reported. Those numbers remain consistent through the current fourth wave, with between 75 to 85 per cent of the daily reported new cases occurring among those not vaccinated.
Zone 3, the Fredericton and Upper River Valley region, and neighbouring Zone 4, the Edmundston, Grand Falls and St. Quenton region reported the highest number of new cases on Friday, with 28 and 22 respectively.
Zone 3 also reported several forced closures of schools because of the virus, including the Townsview School in Woodstock. Public Health also reported a confirmed infection at the Woodstock After-School Program.
NBCC also confirmed a positive COVID-19 case at its Woodstock campus, but it did not require the college to close.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun