N.B. to move three more zones into red-alert level; another resident of Saint John nursing home dies
HALIFAX -- New Brunswick is moving three more health zones into the red-alert level of pandemic restrictions and has reported another death related to COVID-19.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, says Zones 1, 2, and 3 – Moncton, Saint John, and Fredericton -- will move to the red phase as of midnight on Tuesday. Zone 4 will also remain in the red phase, meaning more than half of the province will be in the highest level of pandemic restrictions.
This area includes the province's three largest cities and is where the majority of New Brunswickers live and work.
At the red level, you must stay within your single household bubble. It also means gyms, salons, and recreational facilities must close, while restaurants can only offer takeout or delivery. Outdoor gatherings are limited to a maximum of five people, with masks and physical distancing.
"This is not a decision that we are taking lightly," Russell said Tuesday during a news conference in Fredericton. "But we need to do this to avoid an avalanche of cases being experienced just beyond our borders."
New Brunswick also reported 31 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, raising the total of active cases in the province to 316.
Russell also reported another death – the province's 13th COVID-19-related death since the pandemic began.
The latest death involves an 89-year-old who was a resident of Lily Court at Parkland Saint John. It's the fourth death at the long-term-care complex in the last week.
There is also one person in hospital with COVID-19.
"We have had some success in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus across our province, and we have succeeded because we acted swiftly and decisively," Russell said Tuesday. "We haven't waited, as some other jurisdictions have done, until critical levels have been breached."
Of the 31 new cases, they are in the following health zones:
- Zone 1 (Moncton), four new cases;
- Zone 2 (Saint John), three new cases;
- Zone 3 (Fredericton), one new case;
- Zone 4 (Edmundston), 21 new cases;
- Zone 5 (Campbellton), one new case; and,
- Zone 6 (Bathurst), one new case.
Russell said that there are currently 1,953 New Brunswickers in self-isolation.
Russell said the rapid growth of COVID-19 cases in the province is "alarming."
"The threat it poses to our health-care system and our citizens cannot be ignored," Russell said.
The province has now passed the 1,000-case threshold since the pandemic began, with more than 400 new cases confirmed in the last 30 days.
Russell said many of the new cases were spread through large social gatherings, such as parties and holiday gatherings around Christmas and New Year's.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said the decision to move to the red level of restrictions was made because this is a critical point for New Brunswick. He said that the cooperation of New Brunswickers, though, is more important than any restrictions the government puts in place.
"We need all hands on deck right now. We need people coming forward and taking extra precautions, not saying 'oh, I don't think I have a problem,'" Higgs said at Tuesday's new conference. "This isn't a difficult request, but it's one that is extremely necessary. And if you are sick, obviously, stay away from others. Don't take chances. Even if you have mild symptoms of COVID-19. Get tested, and be sure."
POTENTIAL FOR LOCKDOWN
Higgs said that if things don't improve over the next few days, there is a chance for tighter restrictions, as the province saw last spring.
"We are not making enough progress with the current measures that are in place," he said. "We know there are more cases in these zones that exist but have not yet tested positive, and we cannot take the risk of potentially overwhelming our hospitals."
He said a continuing rise in case numbers could mean a return to a full lockdown as was in place in March, with schools closed and people staying home except to buy essential items.
Higgs said the all-party COVID cabinet committee would meet again Thursday to discuss next steps.
"Public health is currently working to determine exactly what a lockdown would look like if we need to take this additional step," he said. "We're not going to wait till it's too late, and if we don't see immediate results over these coming days, then certainly we won't be afraid to make the next step by the end of the week if necessary."
PREMIER VOWS TOUGHER ENFORCEMENT
There has already been tougher enforcement in the past few days, but there could be even tougher enforcement of the rules, Higgs said, because many people aren't taking them seriously enough.
"If people think they're getting away with something, they have an opportunity to infect someone else," Higgs said. "You know this is this is a I guess a poor indication of how, how we how we feel about each other because we've got to work on this together. So yes, we'll do all of the enhanced enforcements, but the point is, we'll never catch everybody. And if people want to be part of the solution we really need them right now to do just that."
In relation to a potential lockdown. Higgs says the province is looking the criteria, as well as considering the possibility of closing schools, something they are loathe to do again.
"Then you have parents that don't have a place for the kids to go," Higgs said. "You have a situation that we know we got into last year with daycares. So you have a whole different dynamic, and then it's a case of 'what do we do then?' How do we keep people at home but how do you keep the economy moving and people employed and all of the impacts."
VACCINE SHIPMENT DELAYED
Higgs also said Tuesday that the province learned this week that it will not get as many doses of vaccine as it was expecting, saying that it won't receive any of the Pfizer vaccine next week.
"We still expect to receive enough doses by mid-March to vaccinate 35,325 people," Higgs said. "But that's only half of the critical first candidates that we want to be vaccinated first. ... Even though vaccine is on the horizon. We don't have them. And we can't vaccinate the levels we'd like to, but we're in the same boat in that regard, is to our neighbors across the country. Well, we continue to ask the brokers to be patient and vigilant."
PROVINCE AMENDS EMERGENCY ORDER TO KEEP SCHOOLS OPEN
The province announced a change Tuesday which keeps K-12 schools open, even at the red level.
"This will be done with enhanced health and safety measures including," the province said in a news release.
Those measures include:
Students and staff stay home if they have even one symptom of COVID-19.
School staff are actively screened for COVID-19 when they report to work each day.
If a positive case of COVID-19 is confirmed at a school in the red level, the school will be closed for a minimum of three days to allow for contact tracing. On-site testing will also be available for school staff.
"Regarding all cases identified at schools, if you or a family member have been in close contact with a case, you will be notified by Public Health for contact tracing," the province said in a news release. "If you do not hear directly from Public Health, you have not been identified as a close contact."
CONFIRMED CASES AT TWO SCHOOLS
Public Health announced confirmed cases at two schools on Tuesday.
A positive case of COVID-19 was confirmed at Princess Elizabeth School in Saint John and one case has been confirmed at École Régionale Saint-Basile in Saint-Basile.
The number of cases are broken down by New Brunswick's seven health zones:
- Zone 1 – Moncton region: 243 total confirmed cases (73 active cases)
- Zone 2 – Saint John region: 203 total (58 active cases)
- Zone 3 – Fredericton region: 216 total (54 active cases)
- Zone 4 – Edmundston region: 136 total (92 active cases)
- Zone 5 – Campbellton region: 177 total (30 active cases)
- Zone 6 – Bathurst region: 23 total (9 active cases)
- Zone 7 – Miramichi region: 6 total (0 active cases)
Public Health has identified potential public exposure to the virus at the following locations:
- Goodlife Fitness Centre (175 Ivan Rand Drive East, Moncton – Zone 1);
- Jan. 13 between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
With files from The Canadian Press.