In staff memo day before he was fired, Horizon CEO urged community masking against COVID

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Dr. John Dornan, who was only appointed president and CEO of Horizon four months ago, declined to comment Monday on his firing Friday. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)
Dr. John Dornan, who was only appointed president and CEO of Horizon four months ago, declined to comment Monday on his firing Friday. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)

Among his final acts as Horizon president and CEO, Dr. John Dornan encouraged staff to "consider showing an example" by masking in indoor public spaces, citing the "escalating" rate of COVID-19 transmission in the community and health-care settings.

In a memo last Thursday, the day before he was fired in a major health-care leadership shakeup, Dornan advised staff "multiple indicators have demonstrated an increase" in the virus across New Brunswick over the past two weeks.

COVID-19 incidence has jumped from 60 cases per 100,000 to 129, and the provincial PCR test positivity rate has doubled to 20 per cent, according to the memo obtained by CBC News.

Horizon spokesperson Kris McDavid confirmed Monday the memo is authentic.

The number of patients either admitted to a Horizon hospital because of COVID or initially admitted for another reason and later tested positive for the virus has spiked to 104 from 29, the memo indicates.

There are now COVID outbreaks on 15 Horizon hospital units, up from two.

And staff absenteeism due to COVID has increased from an average of 50 to an average of 150, Dornan advised.

"Given these concerning trends, Horizon and Vitalité continue to monitor data and will make an evidence-based decision on our [infection prevention control] alert levels," he wrote, noting similar increases in COVID activity are being seen in other provinces.

"Consider showing an example in our community by wearing masks when indoors, shopping, etc. As part of our larger community, the 14,000 of us can be good examples."

No plans for mandatory masking

Masking has not been required in New Brunswick since March 14, when all COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

Last week, the province's chief medical officer of health said a return to mandatory masking or other protective restrictions is not being considered.

"At this point … we're not having that conversation," Dr. Jennifer Russell told CBC News.

"The message right now is about vaccination, because that's the thing that's going to decrease people's risk of having severe outcomes and requiring hospitalization."

Submitted by AHS
Submitted by AHS

New Brunswick's decision to focus on COVID-19 vaccination alone in the face of rising COVID cases fuelled by the highly transmissible Omicron subvariants BA.5 and BA.4 is a "bad strategy," according to infection control epidemiologist Colin Furness.

He has predicted it will fail and put children under five, who are currently unvaccinated, at greater risk.

Asked Monday whether the province's position on masking has changed, Department of Health spokesperson Shawn Berry replied in an email: "Public Health has continuously messaged the value of pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions that help reduce the risk for themselves and others.

"Masking is one of the many tools individuals may choose to employ to help reduce the risk for themselves and others from COVID-19."

Asked what, if any role Dornan's memo played in his ousting Friday, Berry said the two events were "not related."

Dornan, who was only appointed president and CEO in March, after serving in the role in an interim capacity for about seven months, declined to comment.

Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters
Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters

Premier Blaine Higgs announced Dornan was fired, Dorothy Shephard was dropped as Health minister and the boards of both Horizon and Vitalité were removed, citing a growing health-care crisis that included the "traumatizing" death of a patient Tuesday in a Fredericton emergency department waiting room.

Margaret Melanson, Horizon's vice-president clinical services, will serve as Dornan's interim replacement.

Bruce Fitch has been named health minister and Shephard takes over as the minister of social development.

In place of the boards of directors for the two health authorities, Higgs said his government has appointed Suzanne Johnston and Gerald Richard as trustees for Horizon and Vitalité, respectively.

In addition to masking in public, Dornan asked staff in the memo to maintain continuous masking in Horizon facilities and to practise good hand hygiene.

They should also continue to follow infection prevention and control guidance, particularly physical distancing and occupancy limits in lunchrooms, he said, "as risk of transmission is significantly increased when your mask is removed while eating or drinking."

If staff have a community or occupational exposure to COVID, they should use on-site testing clinics, Dornan said.

If they have "ANY" symptoms of the virus, he stressed in capital letters, they should get tested.

Dornan thanked staff for their "ongoing diligence and support" in the pandemic response.

"Please stay safe and take time to recharge," he concluded.

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