New Brunswick’s top doctor reflects on 2 years of COVID-19 as restrictions lift

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New Brunswick’s top doctor reflects on 2 years of COVID-19
WATCH: New Brunswick declared its first COVID-19 case just over two years ago. More than 41,000 cases and 317 deaths have been reported since then. Dr. Jennifer Russell has guided the province through the pandemic, becoming a household name. Nathalie Sturgeon sat down with the province’s top doctor to learn about her experience since it all began – Mar 14, 2022

On March 11, 2020, Dr. Jennifer Russell went live to tell New Brunswickers COVID-19 had entered the province with its first presumptive case.

At the time, testing was done in Manitoba, and a lot has happened since then.

New Brunswick has recorded more than 41,000 cases of COVID-19 and 317 people have died. There have been five waves — the latest, the Omicron wave, was the deadliest in the province.

“Obviously, we’ve learned a lot over the last two years, and it hasn’t always been easy on the population,” she said in an interview on Monday.

Russell said there have been many ups and downs in the past two years, but feels overall the province has done well in managing the pandemic.

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“We’re at a time now where we’re past the peak of Omicron wave,” she said. “We have 66 per cent of the population vaccinated with two doses plus booster. We have educated the public in terms of the tools in their toolkit they can continue to use, which we encourage them to use moving forward.”

Restrictions in New Brunswick were lifted on Monday for the second time. The first time happened in the summer of 2021 and the Omicron wave soon followed. Cases began to climb and so did deaths.

Russell faced criticism for the decision.

“I guess you can’t ride the highs too high, and you can’t let the lows drag you down,” she said. “You sort of really have to try and keep an even keel.”

For her, the biggest triumph during the pandemic was the communication with the public.

“It was really important to have trust. It was really important to be transparent and it was very important to have regular communication with the public,” she said.

Russell said in the beginning, Public Health was taught a lot about managing information and how to deliver it to the public.

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She spoke directly to the communications staff who have been working alongside her to deliver the messaging.

“That’s what helped the public come along with us,” Russell said.

The biggest challenge, she said, was the beginning with rising cases and lockdowns.

Click to play video: '2 years of COVID-19 in New Brunswick'
2 years of COVID-19 in New Brunswick

“The social determinants of health were definitely negatively impacted,” she said. “We are getting more and more data around exactly how much negative impact there was.”

“We’ve never taken it lightly, the balance between Public Health measures that we’ve had imposed along with the negative impact and unintended consequences.”

She said after two years, people have the tools in their toolkit to protect themselves as best as possible, adding that maintaining vaccination is the best defence against the virus.

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“We do have this transition period right now but moving forward we do have to plan for the future and know that COVID is not over,” she said.

“Just because the mandatory order has been dropped, COVID is not over. The pandemic is not over until the World Health Organization declares that it’s over and we don’t know when that will be.”

Lifted restrictions

As of Monday, masking will no longer be required in public spaces.

Capacity limits and physical distancing will end, and those who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer be required to isolate — “however, people are encouraged to stay home if they are sick,” the province has said in a release.

The province is encouraging people to “assess and manage their personal risk” during this time.

Even as restrictions lift, the province says some facilities and businesses may choose to maintain their own policies on public health practices.

The COVID-19 dashboard will now be updated on a weekly basis every Tuesday with data up until, and including, the previous Saturday.

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