New Brunswick health officials reported 23 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, bringing the number of total active cases in the province to 246.
The new cases include seven in the Moncton area, five in the Edmundston area, four each in Fredericton and Campbelltown, two in the Saint John region and one in Bathurst.
“Our situation remains grim,” said chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell in a COVID-19 update on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the province reported its 12th death linked to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
“This deeply saddens me,” Russell said. “Your loss is our loss, and all of New Brunswickers grieve with you today.”
Russell said early projections for the pandemic in New Brunswick estimated the province would see 55 deaths in the best scenario.
“Thankfully, we’ve only experienced only a fraction of that loss to date,” Russell said. But, noted that even 12 lives lost is too many.
Russell reminded residents there are still some New Brunswickers that are not compliant with Public Health protocols.
“In the orange phase, your household are your close contacts,” Russell said, adding that individuals must limit contact with anyone else.
“If you are outside of your household, and you’re not with the support person that’s attributed to your household, you have to wear a mask.”
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Premier Blaine Higgs emphasized in the briefing that New Brunswick has reported 260 cases in the new year, saying it should be “a wake-up call” to everyone.
“Some people have been asking whether the province needs to move back to red to turn things around,” Higgs said. “If we were to see out of control community spread… it is a possibility.”
Moving the province to the red phase of COVID-19 recovery would mean moving all schools to virtual learning and shutting down many businesses.
Higgs said in the Thursday briefing that health inspectors visited 172 sites recently and the majority were compliant. Higgs said 99.4 per cent of patrons were wearing masks.
However, Higgs said it was concerning that only 88.9 per cent of employees wore masks. Two employees and one business were fined after refusing to wear a mask.
While the majority of businesses were sticking to their approved COVID-19 plans, Higgs said that 23 businesses visited did not have a plan at all.
“Nearly 10 months into a state of emergency, that is not acceptable,” Higgs said. Businesses that fail to follow the rules will be subject to upwards of $10,000 in fines, he said.
“I know it may not feel like it right now, but this is not going to last forever,” Higgs told New Brunswickers, adding the vaccine plan is continuing to roll out.
This week, the province received 2,700 doses of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 that will be administered to residents of long-term care. The province is also receiving another 3,900 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week.
Higgs said this week 975 doses will be administered in Saint John and Fredericton each, and 488 in Campbelltown and Edmundston each. Over a thousand doses will be administered in Moncton.