N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Province provides update after single-day record high of new cases

The province is providing an update on COVID-19 this afternoon, after reporting a single-day record high of 174 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and two more COVID-related deaths. A media advisory says the province will remain at Level 1 of the COVID-19 winter plan at this time, “as hospitalizations remain manageable and the majority of schools are operating normally.” Health Minister Dorothy Shephard and Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, are participating in the 2:30 p.m. news conference. It is being livestreamed here on CBC New Brunswick’s website and on the government’s YouTube channel in English and in French. Shephard told reporters at the legislature Friday that the province will have a high case count again today. Asked whether the province has enough contact tracers, and whether they’re able to contact trace in a good amount of time, she said it’s “being managed. “We probably in the early days of COVID, wanted to make sure that we got our contacts within 24 to 48 hours. Right now, with the number of cases, that’s probably not happening.” People who are diagnosed with COVID, however, are being instructed to notify their close contacts, she said. We probably won’t be able to stay contact tracing for every single case.- Dorothy Shephard, health minister “That’s why we also changed the procedure to go to isolation even if you’re vaccinated, right? That’s the next level because we probably won’t be able to stay contact tracing for every single case. “In some of them, we don’t even know where the contacts came from,” she said, referring to community transmission. “I know that there was hope that vaccination would free us. We know now that that’s not the case.” People need to continue to follow Public Health measures. “The number one prevention is vaccination and then masking, social distancing, washing our hands. All of those small little things can contribute to keeping us safe.” Extended Christmas break for students being considered The majority of recent cases of COVID-19 have been among youth under 19, particularly in the Fredericton region, Zone 3. “Nobody’s comfortable with high numbers of cases, but certainly if they don’t translate into the same number of hospitalizations in terms of the pressure on our health-care system then we can tolerate those numbers,” Russell told CBC’s Information Morning Fredericton on Friday. Russell and Shephard both said the government is trying to keep schools open because children are better off that way. But options, such as extending Christmas break, are being considered, in conjunction with the Department of Education. Youth will have more protection as vaccination rates increase, Russell noted. Twenty-two per cent of children under 12 have now had their first dose, she said. Shephard is reluctant to impose stricter rules. “We’ve seen in Moncton that the last circuit breaker didn’t have barely any effect. So we need for people in New Brunswick to take their power back.” She continues to focus on appealing to New Brunswickers to take individual responsibility by avoiding crowds, following Public Health measures and getting vaccinated. The next level of Public Health measures will only be considered if there’s a positivity rate of 10 per cent across the province or in one zone, if 70 people are hospitalized or 34 people are in intensive care, and if Public Health resources are unable to contact cases or sites of exposure within a “reasonable” time frame, Russell has said. Forty people are hospitalized with COVID-19, including 16 in intensive care. Eight of them are on ventilators. There are 892 active cases across the province. New Brunswick has now recorded 9,223 cases of the illness, 8,192 recoveries and 138 deaths. A total of 574,278 tests have been conducted so far, including 2,144 on Wednesday. Pharmacists bear brunt of booster-dose change frustrations Some pharmacists in New Brunswick are bearing the brunt of frustrated patrons who can’t get their COVID-19 vaccine booster shot right away. Earlier this week, Premier Blaine Higgs told reporters people 50 and older don’t have to wait the full six months after their second dose to get their booster shot. They can get it after five months. The policy change took pharmacists by surprise, says Jake Reid, executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists’ Association. And pharmacists all don’t all have the capacity to take on more appointments, he said. “I know of one pharmacy where they said unfortunately, they had to call the police on someone who came in and demanded that they were able to get their vaccination right away,” Reid said. “They were worried of a threat of violence. “I heard another pharmacy that said that someone tossed some toilet paper rolls that they had on them, that they were buying at the store. They threw them at the pharmacy counter in frustration. … So, you know, people are hearing that they qualify for these booster shots. But there was no regard for the pharmacists at the other end who have to deal with this.” New Brunswickers 50 and older who are due for a booster any time in December can book an appointment now, even if a full six months have not passed. (Sam Nar/CBC) Until now, people have only been eligible for a booster dose of an mRNA vaccine if six months have passed since their second dose, based on the advice of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. Higgs said the decision was prompted in part by fears of an “unmanageable” wave of cases after Christmas holiday gatherings. Normally, when there are these sorts of announcements, Reid said, there’s “lots of information” shared between Public Health and pharmacists. “We have meetings weekly, multiple times, weekly actually to discuss the ins and outs of the COVID vaccination program. A program of this size, you know, takes a lot of co-ordination. And so normally there would be some sort of a heads up, of course, if there’s going to be a change.” Reid said he understands that during a pandemic decisions sometimes have to be made quickly. But this time, pharmacists were left to answer questions from the public and didn’t have the answers. He said there’s also an issue as to whether pharmacies can handle the influx. Jake Reid, executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists’ Association, said one pharmacy had to call the police, afraid of a patron who was upset they couldn’t get their booster. (Submitted by Jake Reid) People 50 or older who are due for a booster any time in December can book an appointment now, even if a full six months have not passed, Public Health said. Anyone who is 50 or older or in a current eligible group and received a second dose in July will be eligible for their booster dose anytime in January, it said. In the coming weeks, eligibility for booster doses will be expanded to people in their 40s, followed by all other New Brunswickers. As of Thursday, 82.2 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 87.9 per cent have received their first dose. The province’s goal is to get at least 90 per cent of the total population fully vaccinated. According to the CBC vaccine tracker, 78.1 per cent of the total population are double-dosed, while 83.5 per cent have received at least one dose. Appointments for booster shots for those eligible and for first and second doses can be scheduled for a regional health authority community COVID-19 vaccination clinic through the online booking system or at a participating pharmacy. Public exposure notices For the full list of public exposure notices, visit the provincial government’s website. People who have not been fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to a possible exposure and who have symptoms should get a COVID lab test. They can book an appointment online or call Tele-Care 811 and must isolate while waiting for their test result. People who are not fully vaccinated and do not have symptoms are now being instructed to pick up an At-Home COVID-19 Rapid Point of Care Test (Rapid POCT) screening kit. They do not need to isolate if they have not been directed by Public Health to do so. All positive point-of-care test results must be confirmed with a laboratory polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test. It can take up to 14 days to test positive after being exposed to COVID-19, so even if results come back negative, people 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 lab test if symptoms develop. They do not need to isolate while they wait for their test results. If they do not have symptoms, they can pick up a rapid test kit and do not need to isolate. 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.

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