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N.B. COVID-19 roundup: 7 new cases, most people in hospital since pandemic began

New Brunswick has seven new cases of COVID-19 and 20 people in hospital — a record high since the pandemic began, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell announced Thursday. Six of the new cases are in the Edmundston region, Zone 4, where 115 of the province’s 146 active cases are located. “The sustained outbreak is continuing despite our best efforts to limit it,” Russell said, noting “most” of the cases in Zone 4 are the highly transmissible COVID-19 variant first reported in the U.K. Public Health is “very concerned” and the region must remain at the red COVID alert level “for the time being” to allow contact tracing to continue, she said during a live COVID briefing in Fredericton. To illustrate her point, Russell shared a graphic of the region from March 22, when it was still at the less restrictive yellow alert level, with each dot representing a confirmed case and each line representing a connection to another case. At that time, there were 19 cases, with all but one clearly linked to other existing cases. Russell compared the outbreak in the Edmundston region, Zone 4, on March 22 (left) and April 7. Three large clusters of transmission have now been identified, but several smaller clusters and individual infections remain under investigation.(Government of New Brunswick) She then shared a graphic of the region from April 7. Public Health has identified three large clusters of cases, along with several smaller groups and individual infections, she said. “We haven’t yet established how these large and small clusters are related to another.” There are also 13 cases still under investigation. “I know that many people are very concerned and afraid right now in that area,” said Russell. To help slow the spread, the province has moved more COVID vaccines into the region. As a result, 28.5 per cent of people over the age of 16 in Zone 4 have now received at least one dose, compared to the provincial average of 18.4 per cent. High schools in Zone 4, with the exception of Polyvalente A.-J.-Savoie in Saint-Quentin and École Marie-Gaétane in Kedgwick, will remain open and continue to follow their blended-learning model. “New Brunswick has reached a crossroads in our journey through the COVID-19 pandemic. Our course forward will be determined by the three Vs — vaccines, variants and vigilance,” Russell said. Four of the people in hospital were vaccinated, but were infected before the vaccine had time to take full effect, she told reporters. She did not say which vaccine they received or disclose any information about the individuals, other than to say three of them were immunized at least 14 days prior to the onset of symptoms and the other one, less than 14 days prior. “It takes two to three weeks before you actually have the level of immunity that’s required to protect you from severe symptoms of COVID-19,” said Russell. “Even with two doses, there are still risks,” she stressed. “This is why we need everyone, whether they’re vaccinated or not, to continue to respect Public Health guidelines. It’s very important because you can be protected, but the people around you in your community are not protected yet.” Russell also said she expects most of the new travel-related cases to soon be all either the variant first identified in the U.K. or the P1 variant, which is often associated with Brazil, where COVID-19 cases and deaths have spiked significantly in recent weeks. P1 was first discovered in Japan, in four travellers who had returned from Brazil. The variants are up to 70 per cent more transmissible and are seriously affecting younger people. With the previous strain, Public Health saw an increased risk of hospitalization, ICU admission and death starting around the age of 50 and increasing each decade thereafter, she said. Now, that’s dropped to age 29. 146 active cases The seven new cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick break down in this way: Edmundston region, Zone 4, six cases: An individual 19 and under. Two people 30-39. An individual 60-69. An individual 70-79. An individual 80-89. Three of these are contacts of previous cases, while the other three are still under investigation. Fredericton region, Zone 3, one case: An individual 50-59. This case is a contact of a previously confirmed case. The seven new cases reported Thursday pushed the provincial total of active cases to 146.(CBC) There are now 146 active cases in the province. Of these, 119 are either confirmed or presumptive cases of the variant first reported in the U.K., said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health. Twenty people are in hospital, 13 of whom are in intensive care. The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick to date is 1,686. There have been 1,508 recoveries and 31 COVID-related deaths. A total of 264,084 tests have been conducted, including 1,082 on Wednesday. Cause of death revised Public Health revised how it described the cause of death of the latest victim of COVID-19 after his widow took to social media to protest. On Wednesday, shortly after 1:30 p.m. AT, Public Health issued a news release saying that a person between the ages of 30 and 39 in the Edmundston region, Zone 4, had died “as a result of underlying complications, including COVID-19.” Public Health did not identify the person, but family members confirmed to Radio-Canada that it was Luc Bélanger of Saint-Basile, and that he died Tuesday after contracting COVID-19. Luc Bélanger, 38, of Saint-Basile in Zone 4 died Tuesday as a result of COVID-19. He is the youngest person to die of COVID in New Brunswick.(Bellavance Funeral Home/Radio-Canada) Within an hour of the news release being posted on the government’s Facebook page, Bélanger’s widow, Julie Bélanger, posted a comment. “I would like to advise that my partner had no health problem before contracting the virus please change your message please!!” she wrote in French. The news release was subsequently updated to say the individual had died “as a result of COVID-19.” Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. Luc Bélanger is the youngest person to die of COVID-related causes in New Brunswick to date, with the previously recorded youngest death being a person in their 40s. Changes to vaccination plan Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced changes to Stage 2 of the province’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, which is scheduled to be held in April-May. Clinics will no longer be organized for large employers and home-care workers, she said. Instead, people in these groups will be vaccinated once their age cohort is eligible. “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,” Shephard said during a live COVID briefing in Fredericton. In addition, rotational workers, truck drivers and regular cross-border commuters may also now choose to schedule an appointment to receive their first dose of the vaccine through Vitalité Health Network or Horizon Health Network clinic online or by calling 1-833-437-1424. They can still book an appointment through a pharmacy. Dr. Jennifer Russell and Health Minister Dorothy Shephard addressed reporters during the COVID-19 update Thursday.(Government of New Brunswick) Some clinics postponed Some COVID-19 vaccination clinics have had to be postponed in recent weeks because of problems, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard confirmed on Thursday. Some shipments of the Moderna vaccine did not arrive when the province was expecting them, she told reporters. There was also a “glitch” with the online registration system, but that has now been repaired, Shephard said. The province remains on track to vaccinate every New Brunswicker who wishes to be vaccinated by the end of June, she said. Appointments are now available for people 55 and older at upcoming AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccination clinics organized by the Horizon Health Network and Vitalité Health Network in Woodstock, Grand Falls, Campbellton, Bathurst, Tracadie, Miramichi, Moncton, Fredericton, Oromocto, Saint John and St. Stephen. Eligible individuals may register online or by calling 1-833-437-1424. More than 18 per cent of adult population is at least partially protected against COVID-19, having received at least one dose of vaccine, said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell.(CBC) New Brunswick has accelerated its vaccination program with “encouraging results,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell. “Over the past seven days, we have vaccinated 33,078 people. That’s an average of more than 4,700 vaccines per day,” she said. As of Wednesday, 121,468 New Brunswickers have now received at least one dose. That’s 18.4 per cent of the adult population at least partially protected, Russell said. New Brunswick has provided more vaccinations than its neighbouring Maritime provinces, as well as the provinces of Manitoba and Alberta,” she said. “But as fast as our vaccine effort is moving, it seems that the new variants of COVID-19 are moving just as quickly.” Saturday is moving day for university, college students Saturday has been set as the day for university and college students, and anyone helping them, to move their belongings in or out of the province. People may enter New Brunswick for up to 24 hours to retrieve a student and/or remove belongings from a student’s residence, said Health Minister Dorothy Shephard. But they’re expected to follow Public Health rules and minimize their contact with others, except the student they’re picking up, she said. If they stay longer than 24 hours, it will be considered remaining in the province and they will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. Before travelling, they must register online and should also check with their home province to see if further restrictions apply upon returning home, Shephard added. Similarly, New Brunswickers may enter Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador, as long as those provinces permit them to do so, for up to 24 hours to help a student move, without having to self-isolate upon their return. They are expected to observe all public health rules and minimize contact with others while away. Anyone from New Brunswick travelling outside the Atlantic provinces must self-isolate for 14 days upon their return and follow the directions of Public Health officials. Students entering from outside the Atlantic provinces are also ordered to self-isolate for 14 days. Students returning to New Brunswick from other Atlantic provinces, however, will not need to self-isolate. Print your test results New Brunswickers can now print off their negative COVID-19 test results to “provide proof … as required for travel or other purposes,” said the province’s chief medical officer of health. The MyHealthNB website, a secure web portal created during the first wave of the pandemic to allow people with a medicare card or federal health card to access to their test results faster, has an added print feature, said Dr. Jennifer Russell. “They say that necessity is the mother of invention and this pandemic has spurred creative ways like MyHealthNB to improve service delivery to New Brunswickers. These innovations will be with us long after the pandemic is over.” Some getting vaccines at a moment’s notice New Brunswickers age 55 and over are getting access to vaccines at a moment’s notice because pharmacies are trying to use up extra AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines, according to the executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists’ Association. Jake Reid said the province was able to secure an extra allotment of the COVID-19 vaccine for people 55 and older before the Easter long weekend. “The window of eligibility is 70 and over, but for this particular vaccine, 55 and older, you can get that vaccine,” Reid said. “They really are pop-up.” Up until now, New Brunswick pharmacies were working with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines only. But many pharmacies across the province were willing to take on the extra allotment of doses. “A lot of stores said ‘yes,’ ” he said. “So they were able to put together really quickly in their plans to accommodate this extra allotment of vaccines.” And the appointments are booking up fast. “We’ve been able to do things very quickly and that’s a good thing for our province.” Reid said this is the only additional allotment pharmacies are aware of right now. Pharmacies are only made aware of the doses 14 days in advance. Twenty patients are hospitalized in New Brunswick, including 13 in an intensive care unit.(NIAID-RML via The Associated Press) He said he couldn’t speak for government as to why the extra allotment wasn’t announced by Public Health, but said the pop-up vaccination clinics are “a good thing” for New Brunswick. “The province is working really hard to secure as many doses as they can, quickly.” He said pharmacies across the province are prepared to administer more vaccines, but they need supply to ramp up. But Reid remains hopeful that everyone who wants a vaccine will receive their first dose by July 1. “We want to make sure every vaccine goes into an arm.” Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced Thursday afternoon about 24,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine have been allotted to 132 pharmacies across the province. She encouraged anyone 55 and older who is interested in an appointment to check a pharmacy’s website and social media channels prior to calling. Pandemic changes the way LSDs vote Elections in local service districts are happening differently this spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic. John Cairns of Simonds Parish, about 36 kilometres northeast of Saint John, is concerned that residents aren’t being given enough notice and will miss their chance to vote. “Nobody has got the notices yet,” he said. Normally the whole community gathers in a local hall at an appointed meeting time for nominations and a vote. This year, residents have to register to vote in advance. The meeting will take place by video and phone conference, and ballots will have to be mailed in. Residents in Simonds Parish have until April 14 to register to vote. Their Zoom meeting is planned for April 28. List of exposures Saint John Regional Y on April 1, 2021, between 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. March 31 between 12 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. – Scotiabank (75 Canada Rd., Edmundston) March 30 between 12 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. – Scotiabank (75 Canada Rd., Edmundston) March 29 between 8:45 a.m. and 4 p.m. – Scotiabank (75 Canada Rd., Edmundston) March 22 between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. – Sparta Progressive Gym (113, 44th Avenue D, Edmundston) What to do if you have a symptom People concerned they might have COVID-19 symptoms can take a self-assessment test online. Public Health says symptoms shown by people with COVID-19 have included: Fever above 38 C. New cough or worsening chronic cough. Sore throat. Runny nose. Headache. New onset of fatigue, muscle pain, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell. Difficulty breathing. In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes. People with one of those symptoms should: Stay at home. Call Tele-Care 811 or their doctor. Describe symptoms and travel history. Follow instructions.

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