New Brunswick reported a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and seven new cases on Thursday.
The province said six of the new cases are located in the Edmundston region and one is in the Fredericton region. There are 146 active cases in New Brunswick.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said in a briefing on Thursday that most of the cases in Zone 4 (Edmundston) are the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the U.K.
“This variant is much more transmissible than the original strain and the sustained outbreak is happening despite our best efforts to limit it,” she said.
As of Thursday, there are 20 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in New Brunswick — a record-high for the province. Of those, 13 patients are under intensive care.
Russell said public health is seeing more young people being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 complications.
“The variant is much more serious in terms of symptoms that it can cause, particularly the U.K. variant,” she said.
She said some of the people in hospital had been vaccinated, but not enough time had passed after the vaccination for it to be effective.
As a result, the province has moved more COVID-19 vaccines to the Zone 4.
Russell said 28.5 per cent of people over the age of 16 in that zone have received at least one dose.
The Edmundston area has been at the red alert level since March 25, and Russell said it “will be staying at that level for the time being.”
She said public health has now identified three large clusters of cases, alongside smaller groups and individual infections. There are also 13 cases still under investigation.
“This has been difficult,” said Russell, reminding New Brunswick to strictly follow public health guidance.
She said she expects all new travel-related cases to be the B.1.1.7 variant.
Russell said the province’s course forward will be determined by the three Vs: vaccines, variants and vigilance.
“As a percentage of our adult population, we have as of today provided more vaccinations than our neighbouring Maritime provinces, as well as the provinces of Manitoba and Alberta,” she said.
Vaccine plan changing
The province announced on Thursday that changes have been made to the vaccination rollout plan.
“Vaccination clinics will no longer be organized for large employers and home care workers as previously planned,” read a news release.
“Instead, people in these groups will be vaccinated once their age cohort is eligible.”
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said the province must be able to make such adjustments based on guidance and supply of the vaccine.
“Focusing on age-based eligibility will maximize efficiency and allow us to react to changing supply chains as we work to vaccinate New Brunswickers quickly and efficiently with the vaccines available to us,” said Shephard in the release.
Health officials also announced rotational workers, truck drivers and regular cross-border commuters can now schedule an appointment to receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
The groups can make an appointment by contacting a pharmacy or by reserving a spot at Vitalité Health or Horizon Health through an online form.
Appointments are also now open for New Brunswickers aged 55 and older at AstraZeneca vaccination clinics.
According to the province, these clinics will be in Woodstock, Grand Falls, Campbellton, Bathurst, Tracadie, Miramichi, Moncton, Fredericton, Oromocto, Saint John and St. Stephen.
“About 24,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine have also been allotted to 132 pharmacies across the province,” read the release.
Russell said in the release that the province is on track to vaccinate everyone with at least one dose by the end of June.
“Our vaccination campaign has accelerated significantly over the past month, and we are making great progress despite occasional supply issues and other setbacks,” said Russell.
Update for students
New Brunswick has implemented several COVID-19 regulations for post-secondary students and anyone who may be helping them move in and out of the province.
According to the province, as of Friday, the following rules are in effect:
- People can enter N.B. for a period of no more than 24 hours to transport a student or remove belongings from a residence
- Anyone travelling to pick up a student must register their travel online
- Staying longer than 24 hours is considered remaining in the province and the 14-day self-isolation would apply
- Before travelling to N.B., people should check with their home province to see if further restrictions apply upon returning home
- New Brunswickers entering Atlantic provinces for no more than 24 hours to remove belongings from a student’s residence are expected to observe all public health rules, but will not be required to self-isolate upon their return
- Anyone leaving N.B. to remove belongings from a student’s residence located outside the Atlantic provinces is ordered upon their return to self-isolate for 14 days and follow the directions of public health officials
- Students entering N.B. from outside the Atlantic provinces are ordered to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return
- Students returning to N.B. from other Atlantic provinces will not need to self-isolate upon their return