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Front-line workers awaiting guidance regarding COVID-19 variant now in New Brunswick

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Now that a COVID-19 variant has been confirmed in New Brunswick, health care workers and educators are looking for guidance. As Callum Smith reports, some are wondering what needs to be done to keep people safe. – Feb 3, 2021

Now that a COVID-19 variant has been confirmed in New Brunswick, front-line staff in both health care and the classroom are awaiting guidance on what needs to be done next to keep people safe.

Three cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first discovered in the U.K., were reported by public health Tuesday.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a marathon for everyone. And one union leader is asking people to stay the course until the finish line.

Read more: COVID-19 variants leave less ‘room for error’ in loosening restrictions, experts say

“Our front-line workers are tired, they’re doing the best they can, but they’re holding up this load on their shoulders for the last 11 months,” says Paula Doucet, the president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union. “They really need the support of the public and the communities now to help get through this curve.”

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Doucet says she was disappointed to learn of the variant’s arrival from a reporter prior to Tuesday’s press conference.

Now, she’s trying to seek clarity on if stricter personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols would be required.

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“I want to ensure that we have the maximum safety precautions in place for those that are on the front lines,” she says.

New Brunswick’s COVID-19 website says “the new variants of concern include mutations that seem to make the virus more infectious, allowing it to spread more easily.”

“However, they don’t appear to affect the severity of the disease,” the website states. “Currently, there’s no conclusive evidence that these variants impact the effectiveness of authorized drugs and vaccines.

“Given the limited data on the new variants, more research is needed to confirm these early findings.”

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There are weekly committee updates between the provincial health department, treasury board and public sector unions.

The New Brunswick Council of Hospital Unions represents over 10,000 front-line workers, including paramedics, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and patient care attendants, says president Norma Robinson. She’s expecting to learn more details about the variant at their next meeting Thursday.

“At a minimum, we are asking that public health and the department make N95 masks mandatory for (hospital staff), as we move forward with the variant in the province,” she says.

Meanwhile, the Council of Nursing Home Unions is calling for more direct communication from public health officials.

“This variant has shown the aggressiveness and how quick it can move so there should be no delay in ensuring that communication is directly out to those on the front line,” says Sharon Teare, the union president.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday that engagement sessions have been held with associations representing front-line workers.

Read more: New Brunswick’s top doctor confirms 3 cases of the new U.K. variant of COVID-19

With more than 300 doctors attending, the New Brunswick Medical Society says it recently hosted a meeting with Russell and Dr. Cristen Muecke, the province’s chief and deputy chief medical officer, “to provide an update to physicians regarding the COVID-19 surges, the vaccines and plans for vaccinations, and to answer questions related to all of this.”

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“With a more contagious COVID-19 variant unfortunately reaching New Brunswick, we would advise physicians and all health-care professionals to be diligent with applying personal protective equipment and following all other health and safety guidelines to keep themselves and their patients safe,” says Dr. Jeff Steeves, the president of the medical society.

Shifting to the classroom, the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association says one thing has been top of mind since the start of the pandemic — and that hasn’t changed.

“The safety of their students and themselves have been the highest priority,” Rick Cuming, the president of the association says of teachers. “So they’ve certainly reached out with concerns of safety.”

Cuming says they’ll await more guidance from public health in the coming days and weeks.

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