New Brunswick’s top doctor says coronavirus response not ending ‘any time soon’

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A little more than three weeks after New Brunswick confirmed its first known case of the novel coronavirus, health officials say their efforts to combat the disease are not going to end soon.

“You’re probably wondering when this will end. The answer is not any time soon,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health.

Russell and Premier Blaine Higgs said during a provincial update on Friday that they are planning to release New Brunswick’s COVID-19 modelling projections next week.

Russell said they should give a good idea of the path forward as well as how the province’s health system will respond to the pandemic.

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She said that she does not know when this crisis will “peak,” referring to when the number of cases and deaths reach their height before dropping off.

“The demands will be significant no matter how this plays out, whether the [models] are accurate or not accurate,” said Russell.

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Coronavirus outbreak: 10 new COVID-19 cases in N.B., 91 total
Coronavirus outbreak: 10 new COVID-19 cases in N.B., 91 total

Provincial officials confirmed four new cases on Friday, bringing the total number of cases in New Brunswick to 95.

Although it was a small figure compared to the number of cases confirmed in the previous days, Russell stressed that now is not the time to let up on physical distancing procedures or not follow the directives of the provincial state of emergency.

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“This is in your hands so keep your hands clean,” said Russell.

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Russell said that six people have been hospitalized as a result COVID-19. Two have since been discharged but one remains in the ICU.

As of Friday, 54 cases are travel-related, 28 are close contacts of confirmed cases, three cases are from community transmission and 10 cases remain under investigation.

Coronavirus outbreak: NB confirms first case on community transmission
Coronavirus outbreak: NB confirms first case on community transmission

New Brunswick does not expect testing to be an issue

Higgs acknowledged that there are 3,500 testing kits available until later in April. He confirmed that if the province decided to double the number of tests it was conducting it would run out of current supplies.

The premier said testing would only be delayed while New Brunswick waited for additional supplies from the federal government.

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The province has continued to lag behind the number of tests carried out per capita nationally.

As of Friday, New Brunswick had completed just 4,756 COVID-19 tests.

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Neighbouring Nova Scotia has performed 3,000 more tests than New Brunswick.

Russell stressed that after conversations with other health officials, she is confident the province will have enough when it needs it.

The chief medical officer of health said testing has been expanded but that it remains focused on those who need it the most, the elderly and front-line health-care workers.

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New post-secondary fund

Higgs announced a new $500,000 fund for the province’s post-secondary students who are in need of assistance.

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The Emergency Bridging Fund for Vulnerable Post-Secondary Students will be administered through post-secondary institutions, which the premier encouraged to contribute to their own funds.

In order to be eligible, students must be impacted by the pandemic and not be eligible for employment insurance, personal savings, or other COVID-19 related financial assistance programs.

Eligible students will be able to draw on a one-time benefit of up to $750.

Higgs said that approximately 15,000 people have been approved for the $900 New Brunswick Workers Emergency Income Benefit that is being administered by the Canadian Red Cross.

He added that 54,000 people have applied for the fund but did not disclose how many had been denied.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

With files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Graeme Benjamin