N.B. delays reopening after 3 more COVID-19 cases linked to returning health-care worker
HALIFAX -- New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health says, after successfully flattening the curve, the province should brace for an influx of new COVID-19 cases after three more cases were announced Thursday -- all linked to the cluster in Campbellton, N.B.
"I would expect based on the contact tracing and the testing that we are doing, we will see more cases," Dr. Jennifer Russell said during a news conference in Fredericton.
"The circumstances of this outbreak were completely preventable and happened despite our best efforts to keep the virus at bay," Dr. Russell said. "We need to always be aware of what our actions can do to contribute to more cases of COVID-19."
One of the three new cases is a health-care worker, which means that two of the six active cases in New Brunswick work in health care.
On Wednesday, public health officials revealed that a health-care professional employed at the Campbellton Regional Hospital made a personal trip to Quebec and didn't self-isolate upon return.
The hospital shut down its emergency department Wednesday night and cancelled all non-urgent or elective procedures when it was learned that the employee was in contact with about 50 employees and several patients during a two-week period.
Health-care worker under investigation
Premier Blaine Higgs said the matter will be investigated.
"It appears, in this case, the person that was involved chose to see patients after returning without following the rules of public health," Higgs said. "Information has been passed along to the RCMP to determine exactly what took place, and whether charges are warranted."
A statement from the New Brunswick Medical Society Thursday says they are ''deeply concerned."
"Physicians across New Brunswick have been working diligently for months battling the COVID-19 pandemic to protect New Brunswickers," said Dr. Chris Goodyear, the society's president. "All health-care professionals have a responsibility to abide by public health guidelines and the provincial state of emergency. No one is or should be exempt from the rules and recommendations put in place to protect our province.”
Higgs says it's out of his control, but he expects there could be a hearing that might lead to professional ramifications, too.
"This must be left in the hands of the professionals," Higgs said. "All that I can say is that is it is a human resources manager matter, which will be addressed by the individual's employer. I'm confident they will take the appropriate steps after the appropriate investigations are complete."
Everyone in Zone 5 should get tested
Dr. Russell is encouraging people in Zone 5 to get tested.
"Everyone in that region should be on high alert," Dr. Russell said.
Testing sites are being set up in the zone, including mobile testing. Dr. Russell is asking that non-essential travel be limited to the area.
Anyone who wants to get tested should call 811 and they'll be directed to the Memorial Regional Civic Center in Campbellton or the Inch Arran Arena in Dalhousie.
"The objective of this mass testing is to get the most accurate possible picture of the prevalence of the coronavirus within this community," the Vitalite Health Network said in a statement.
“We want to take all necessary measures to prevent a second wave of the pandemic. This is why we are inviting everyone in Restigouche, with or without symptoms of COVID-19, to get tested. If the virus is present in the community, this is certainly a sure and effective method of taking appropriate measures to combat it and limit its spread,” Gilles Lanteigne, the president and CEO of Vitalite Health Network, said in a news release.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said public safety officials are in the Campbellton region to ensure compliance with public health directives.
Legislature adjourned until at least June 9
The New Brunswick legislature was adjourned Thursday, just two days after it opened, because of the disclosure of the cluster of COVID-19 cases in the Campbellton area.
The house speaker and two other Liberal MLAs returned to their homes in Campbellton-Dalhousie Wednesday night to self-isolate.
Two of them issued a joint statement, saying they will be asking about getting tested for the virus, even though they have yet to display any symptoms.
"These are unprecedented times and we both believe it's best we return to our home ridings," said Guy Arseneault, who represents Campbellton-Dalhousie, and Gilles LePage, the member for Restigouche West. "We have no symptoms but will self-monitor."
The house may not sit now until June 9. The original plan for the legislature was to sit Tuesday to Thursday for the next four weeks.
Green party Leader David Coon said the adjournment until June 9 was unavoidable, given the fact that the legislature brings together 47 people from across the province.
"Given the potential of a 'super spreader event' from the cluster in Campbellton, we felt it was really important to ensure that we allow the 14-day incubation period to go by," Coon said outside the legislature.
He said politicians must make a point of modelling good health-care hygiene.
"We have a situation where MLAs could potentially act as vectors to spread the virus from one region of the province through their interaction with other MLAs back to other regions of the province," he said.
"So the cautious approach to take was to adjourn."
Transition to next step of yellow phase delayed one week
Last week, the province moved to the yellow phase of its COVID-19 recovery plan, allowing larger groups of people to meet and the opening of more businesses and services.
Dr. Russell said the Campbellton area will take a step backwards to the orange level, which means a return to tighter restrictions on physical distancing.
There was going to be an additional relaxing of restriction across the province on Friday, but that is being delayed a week.
"Because of this ongoing situation, the all-party Cabinet Committee on COVID-19 has made the difficult decision to delay the further loosening restrictions in the yellow phase for one more week," Higgs said. "Those lifting restrictions were supposed to begin tomorrow May 29. Instead, they will be delayed until Friday, June 5."
The three new cases bring the province's total of confirmed cases to 126 and 120 of those had recovered until the Campbellton cluster emerged.
Campellton Mayor Stephanie Anglehart-Paulin is crestfallen after the latest outbreak in her community.
"I'm just sad to know that someone would come to the community and not care enough for the rest of us," she said.
With files from The Canadian Press.