New Brunswick recorded two more COVID-related deaths Thursday and 69 new cases of COVID. But there are “hopeful signs” the pandemic is starting to recede, said Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health. New cases have decreased by 50 per cent and active cases by a third since circuit breakers were implemented, she told the COVID briefing. Still, Public Health is concerned about the rise of cases in Zone 2, particularly in Saint John and the surrounding areas, Russell said. It has the highest positivity rate in the province. As a result, Premier Blaine Higgs announced the circuit breaker will be expanded to include a larger part of the Saint John region, as of Friday at 6 p.m., and extended for at least seven days. It may feel like a setback, he said, but it’s a “cautionary move” to ensure cases and hospitalizations “don’t get away from us.” The circuit breaker already includes Zone 1, Moncton region, as far north as and including Sainte-Anne-de-Kent; the northern portion of Zone 3 from and including Deerville and Florenceville-Bristol, but excluding Hayesville and Parker Ridge; as well as all of Zone 4, the Edmundston region. The Campbellton region, Zone 5, is also under a circuit breaker. There are 549 active cases across the province. Thirty-one people are in hospital because of the virus, down from 33, including 16 in intensive care, an increase of one. As of Wednesday, 84.3 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 12 or older are fully vaccinated, while 92.3 per cent have received at least one dose. New Brunswick has had 6,263 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with 5,617 recoveries so far and 114 COVID-related deaths. A total of 522,610 lab tests have been conducted to date, as of Wednesday. Confirmed cases don’t always close schools St. John the Baptist/King Edward School and Simonds High School in Saint John both have an operational day Thursday, according to a notice issued by the Anglophone South School District. Students are learning from home. Both schools confirmed to CBC News that it’s COVID-related. Schools no longer always close to students when there’s a confirmed case, the Department of Education said. “As per the most recent updates to the Healthy and Safe Schools guidelines, schools may move to home learning following a confirmed case that impacts students,” spokesperson Flavio Nienow said in an emailed statement. He pointed to the new rapid-testing program in schools. The aim of the program is to minimize the impact on learning, allowing students to return to school, provided they have no symptoms, have received two negative rapid tests and continue to rapid test daily for the remainder of the exposure period, as outlined by Public Health, he said. The new rapid testing program is meant to minimize the impacts on learning for students, the Department of Education said. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC News) “When a school experiences an outbreak, Public Health “carries out a detailed risk assessment and gives direction to students and school personnel based on factors within the circumstances of each individual situation, including any requirements for additional cleaning and disinfection of areas,” Nienow said. “This is why two schools may respond to confirmed cases differently.” While cleaning and disinfecting are important mitigating factors, they are just one component of a layered approach to protecting students and staff, he added. Others include vaccination, masking, physical distancing, hand washing, “respiratory etiquette,” suitable ventilation, staying home when sick and getting tested when symptomatic. As of Wednesday, 396 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed at 109 schools since the beginning of the school year. Fifty-nine early learning and child-care facilities have had confirmed cases of COVID-19 since Sept. 7. The total number of cases has not been provided. Public exposure notices Public Health added new public exposure notices Thursday, including a beauty salon and construction site in the Saint John region, Zone 2, both over three days. For the full list of new and previous public exposure notices, please visit the government of New Brunswick’s website. Public Health recommends that people who have not been fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to a possible exposure get a COVID test, even if they don’t have symptoms. They can book an appointment online or call Tele-Care 811. If they do have symptoms, they must isolate while they await their results. It can take up to 14 days to test positive after being exposed to COVID-19 so even if their results comes back negative, they should continue to self-monitor for any symptoms and get tested immediately if any develop. They should also avoid visiting settings with vulnerable populations, such as nursing homes, correctional facilities and shelters during that 14-day period. For people who have been fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to a possible exposure, Public Health recommends they monitor for symptoms for 14 days after the possible exposure and get a COVID test if symptoms develop. They do not need to isolate while they wait for their test results. What to do if you have a symptom People concerned they might have COVID-19 can take a self-assessment test online. Public Health says symptoms of the illness have included a fever above 38 C, a new or worsening cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, a new onset of fatigue, and difficulty breathing. In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes. People with one of those symptoms should stay at home, call 811 or their doctor and follow instructions.