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Contact tracing indicates Campbellton COVID-19 cluster might have spread to other parts of N.B.
HALIFAX -- New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health said the Campbellton cluster of COVID-19 cases might have already spread to other parts of the province.
"I need to tell you that we know, based on our contact tracing of the current cases in Zone 5, that people living outside that region are in the circle of transmission and this cluster could easily spread to other regions of New Brunswick if we fail to work together," Dr. Jennifer Russell said Friday afternoon at a news conference in Fredericton.
"This is why every New Brunswicker must be vigilant."
The Campbellton cluster was triggered when a doctor in the Campbellton area travelled to Quebec for personal reasons and failed to self-isolate upon his return. At least 100 staff and patients were exposed during the two weeks before it was confirmed he had COVID-19.
Dr. Russell urged everyone to do the things they can as they wait to get to get tested. This includes physical distancing, wearing a face mask when you can, washing hands and surfaces, and using proper coughing and sneezing techniques.
"Please limit your close contacts with others," Dr. Russell said.
She also reported two new cases, both in Zone 5 and both related to the travel case that started the cluster in Campbellton. Of the two new cases, one of them is a health-care worker in their 30s who works at a long-term care home.
Premier Blaine Higgs assured New Brunswickers that the province has acted quickly in response to that news.
"Public health has a rapid response team on the site at the facility," Higgs said. "We're using rapid test kits to give a response within 45 minutes. We've tested every resident and employee of that facility as well we are encouraging people from the community to get tested."
The two new cases on Friday brings the number of active cases to eight, and two of those people are hospitalized and in intensive care. They are in stable condition.
Because there is a risk that COVID-19 has spread outside of Zone 5, that is why it's important for all New Brunswickers to take ownership of their actions, Dr. Russell said.
"If you think it's an issue that does not concern you because you don't live there, this is not the case," Dr. Russell said. "Everyone in New Brunswick has a role to play. We are all in this together."
She said the public health team in Zone 5 is working hard to trace all the people who have been in contract with the eight active cases and she had a pointed reminder for people.
"It is vital that if you are contacted you must be truthful with public health, and you must follow their directions to the letter," Dr. Russell said. "We really rely on you, we really depend on the public ... in these contact tracing situations. It is very, very important that everybody is forthcoming and cooperates, because that's how we can keep everybody safe."
The Campbellton cluster began because someone didn't self-isolate when they were supposed to.
"If you were advised to self-isolate do so immediately," Dr. Russell said. "Don't make a last run to the grocery store, please ask a friend or neighbour to do it for you."
Non-essential travel to and from Zone 5 stopped
She also said that all non-essential travel to and from Zone 5 should already have stopped.
"I was speaking with some of the medical officers of health from the region today, and they are really asking the public that they just minimize their travel and movement as much as possible," Dr. Russell said. "We would just really like to get the situation contained and under control as best as we can, at this time, and those are the types of actions that will help us be able to do that."
As for the frustration that some feel about delaying a reopening, Dr. Russell said she understands it, but it's too risky to proceed at this time and she has to put the health and safety of New Brunswickers first.
"This is a really big investigation that we're conducting, there are many contacts to trace," Dr. Russell said. "Some of those contacts are outside of Zone 5, so it would really not make sense at this point in time to put others at risk right now, when we know that there's more contact tracing to be done and there are more cases that we expect to find."
Worst-case scenario, health authority CEO says
The chief executive of the Vitalite health network in northern New Brunswick says the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak is a worst-case scenario in a region with underlying health issues and an older population.
Gilles Lanteigne says the doctor has been suspended from work after coming into contact with more than 100 people.
The premier says he knows people are angered by the actions of the person he called an "irresponsible individual" for starting an outbreak after the province had flattened the curve.
"This has been referred to the RCMP and any professional ramifications will be handled by the employer," Higgs said. "I would encourage everyone to let the authorities deal with this. I know people are upset, but we don't want anyone taking matters into their own hands."
Additional testing centres set up
The health authority has ramped up testing for people who came into contact with the worker and is providing tests to any community members who ask.
More than 200 people were tested Thursday evening and Lanteigne says elective surgeries have been suspended.
With so many people being tested, hospital officials are concerned about potential staff shortages.
"We're very worried about the capacity of staffing," Lanteigne said. "We have a staffing issue now because there are people that have been tested and we have to establish if they're going to be in isolation or not, and if they're in isolation, that's 14 days, so that's a lot of time."
The cluster that grew to eight confirmed cases on Friday has led to the adjournment of the provincial legislature, the rollback of reopening measures in the northern region known as Zone 5, and a one-week delay in relaxing restrictions in the rest of the province.
Two additional assessment centres have been set up for the weekend to test residents of Zone 5. One is at the Campbellton Memorial Regional Civic Centre and the other is at the Inch Arran Arena in Dalhousie. Call Tele-Care 811 or your family physician to set up an appointment to get tested at the nearest facility.
While waiting for a test, it's important to self-isolate and monitor your conditions. You can also take an online self-assessment.
With files from The Canadian Press.