The Saint John region will return to the yellow level of COVID-19 recovery at midnight and the Miramichi Regional Hospital will be the first distribution site for the COVID-19 vaccine, government officials announced on Thursday.
The news comes as four new cases of the respiratory disease have been confirmed in the province and an outbreak has been declared at the Edmundston Regional Hospital, involving six cases.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, said it’s exciting to have the entire province back at the less restrictive yellow level.
“We have accomplished this feat while other jurisdictions have struggled to cope with the pandemic’s second wave,” she said.
Some provinces are seeing thousands of new cases every day, their hospitals are overwhelmed by the sick and dying, and community spread of COVID-19 continues unchecked, said Russell.
“But please remember, yellow means caution,” she said during a news conference in Fredericton. “Everyone will still have to take great care to prevent the spread of COVID-19 so that we can maintain this enviable record.”
In the yellow level of recovery, people are no longer required to stick to a one-household bubble and informal indoor gatherings of up to 20 people are permitted.
“The fewer the better,” said Russell, adding that it’s “vitally important” people are consistent about the close circle family and friends with whom they spend time without wearing a mask or maintaining physical distance.
This will slow the spread of the virus, she said. “It will make it easier to contact close contacts when outbreaks happen, and will help keep outbreaks as short and as small as possible, and hopefully prevent zones from going back into orange.”
She recommends people stick with “a steady 20 for 2020.”
Dr. Jennifer Russell announced Saint John region will move back to the yellow level of recovery on Thursday at midnight. 1:29
Russell said the outbreak in the Saint John region (Zone 2) is not over, but she’s been “very pleased” with the progress since it was bumped back to the more restrictive orange level at midnight Nov. 20.
The growth in new cases has “slowed significantly,” thanks largely to public compliance to Public Health measures, and the testing backlog has been addressed.
All the cases are linked either directly or indirectly to a positive case in the Moncton region (Zone 1) who travelled to the Saint John region, she said.
Public Health is not aware of any new cases of community transmission.
“We remain concerned about the ongoing outbreak at [Shannex] Parkland Saint John, but we are confident that it has been brought under control with a reduced risk of further spread among residents and the wider community,” she said.
1 new case at Shannex nursing home
Another round of testing at the Shannex Tucker Hall nursing home has confirmed another positive case in a non-employee who has been helping out during the outbreak there, said Russell.
That brings the total number of cases at the Shannex Parkland complex to 18 — six employees, one non-employee and 11 residents.
More tests will be conducted on Friday, she said.
New case at school
Another school confirmed a positive COVID-19 case Thursday evening.
In an email to parents, Anglophone School District West superintendent David McTimoney said contact tracing will take place at Saint Mary’s Academy, a K-12 school in Edmundston, has one case.
“If you are not contacted by Public Health, then it has been deemed you are not a close contact of the individual who has been confirmed as positive and you can continue with regular activities, including returning to school when it resumes, said McTimoney.
He said Friday classes are cancelled so tracing can happen.
4 new cases reported on Thursday
The four new cases in the province include one person in their 30s in the Saint John region. The other three cases are in the Edmundston region (Zone 4): one person in their 20s, one person in their 30s and one person in their 40s.
All of the cases are self-isolating and under investigation.
New Brunswick now has 75 active cases of COVID-19 and four people hospitalized, three of whom are in intensive care, said Russell.
The four new cases of COVID-19 announced on Thursday bring the total active cases in the province to 75. (CBC)
The active cases include: eight in the Moncton region (Zone 1), 37 in the Saint John region (Zone 2), 17 in the Fredericton region (Zone 3), 10 in the Edmundston region (Zone 4), and three in the Bathurst region (Zone 6).
New Brunswick has had 546 confirmed cases since the pandemic began in March. Seven people have died and 464 people have recovered.
A total of 136,559 tests have been completed to date.
The state of emergency mandatory order was renewed Thursday under the authority of the Emergency Measures Act.
Shephard details who will get vaccine first
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced the priority groups for the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday.
These groups include:
Long-term care residents and staff. Staff from Provincial Rapid Outbreak Management Teams who respond to COVID-19 outbreaks. Extra-mural/Ambulance New Brunswick staff. Health-care workers. First Nations nurses. Seniors 85 or older. Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said vaccinating the entire province will be a slow process, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. (Government of New Brunswick)
The 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will arrive around Dec. 14, with a second shipment before the end of the year. It takes two doses of the Pfizer vaccine to immunize someone against the virus.
The first shipment of the “precious commodity” will be delivered under secure control to the Miramichi Regional Hospital, said Greg MacCallum, director of the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization, who is leading the rollout of the vaccine.
It was chosen based on its central location, both geographically and between the province’s two regional health authorities, said MacCallum. People from anywhere in the province can travel to the hospital within two or three hours, he said.
The first group of recipients will have to travel to Miramichi to get vaccinated because the vaccine must be kept cold while it’s distributed.
An ultra-low temperature freezer has been installed at the hospital to keep the vaccine stored at -80 C.
About 400 long-term care home residents will be vaccinated in the first round, said MacCallum. Other seniors not living in long-term care homes will also be invited to attend the clinics, he said.
On Wednesday, the province successfully completed a ‘dry run’ of the system to receive the first shipment.
Greg MacCallum announced vaccine rollout plan and said the first shipment will be sent to Miramichi 4:48
MacCallum said he realizes 1,950 may seem like a small number of doses in a province of roughly 700,000 people.
“I want to reassure people that it is the first step of a regular delivery schedule, which will immediately follow thereafter” and continue throughout 2021.
He said “there is not a shortage of freezers” available to store the vaccine in other parts of New Brunswick as more doses are released to the province. Work is underway to ensure they’re in “optimal locations.”
The province is currently taking inventory of all available freezers, he said, noting the vaccine is shipped in dry ice packs, which can last several days as long as the dry ice is replenished.
A former New Brunswicker who owns a tuna processing facility on Prince Edward Island has offered to loan two of his lab-grade freezers to the New Brunswick government to store the Pfizer vaccine.
MacCallum said the government is going to get more details from the “kind gentleman” and factor that into its considerations.
“If we identify a need for it, we’ll certainly be in direct communication with him about that very generous offer.”
Another vaccine by Moderna is expected to be approved by Health Canada in the “near future,” which is much easier to transport and distribute to diverse locations because it doesn’t have the same freezing requirements, he said.
A total of seven different vaccines will eventually be rolled out, said Russell.
Some COVID-19 restrictions will likely remain for 12 months after people begin to be vaccinated, she has said.
(CBC News) Visits suspended at Edmundston hospital
Visitation to the Edmundston Regional Hospital has suspended immediately until further notice, the Vitalité Health Network announced Thursday. The only exceptions are for palliative care, maternity and pediatrics.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell told reporters at the end the 2:30 p.m. COVID-19 news conference that an outbreak has been declared at the hospital.
Two patients are in intensive care, three health-care workers who worked in that unit have been diagnosed and a third patient was admitted on Thursday, she said.
“Outbreaks are a stark reminder that this virus is still present in New Brunswick and we need to be extremely cautious,” Russell later said in a written statement.
Public Health is working with Vitalité to control the disease and is conducting contact tracing.
Only urgent cases are being handled at the Edmundston Regional Hospital’s emergency department due to an outbreak of COVID-19. (Radio-Canada)
Earlier in the day, Vitalité CEO Dr. France Desrosiers issued a statement saying visitation was suspended “due to possible COVID-19 contamination within the facility.”
“We are currently in the process of investigating the situation,” she said.
Patients with appointments at the hospital Thursday can still attend their appointments, unless the facility contacts them beforehand, the news release said. They should continue to follow Public Health measures, including wearing a mask, handwashing and physical distancing.
People are asked not to visit the emergency department “except in extremely urgent cases.”
“We regret any inconvenience that this temporary measure [may] cause and we thank you for your understanding,” the statement said.
Potential public exposures on flights
Public Health added two flights to its list of possible exposures on Wednesday:
Air Canada Flight 865 on Dec. 6 from London to Montreal, arrived at 4:20 p.m. Air Canada Flight 8792 on Dec. 6 from Montreal to Saint John, arrived at 9:20 p.m.
Already on the list:
Air Canada Flight 8372 on Nov. 28 from Fort McMurray to Calgary, departed 6:10 a.m Air Canada Flight 144 on Nov. 28 from Calgary to Toronto, departed at 11:15 a.m. Air Canada Flight 8918 on Nov. 28 from Toronto to Moncton, departed at 8:30 p.m. What to do if you have a symptom
People concerned they might have COVID-19 symptoms can take a self-assessment test online.
Public Health says symptoms shown by people with COVID-19 have included:
A fever above 38 C.
A new cough or worsening chronic cough.
New onset of fatigue, muscle pain, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell.
In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.
People with one of those symptoms should: