New Brunswick officials announced 23 cases of COVID-19 in the province on Saturday, setting a single-day high since the start of the pandemic.
The new cases bring the total of active infections in the province to 71, and one person is in the hospital related to the virus.
New Brunswick now has 424 confirmed cases of coronavirus. There have been 347 recoveries and six deaths.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said New Brunswickers are facing a situation that can quickly turn “serious” without immediate action.
“We need a renewed commitment to slow the spread of COVID-19, and we need it now,” she told a news conference on Saturday afternoon.
On Friday, 1,214 tests were conducted, for a total of 115,234 since the start of the pandemic in March.
The new cases include 16 in the Saint John region (Zone 2), six in the Moncton region (Zone 1) and one in the Fredericton region (Zone 3).
The uptick in new infections is the most since Oct. 20, when officials reported 20 new cases as the Campbellton region grappled with an outbreak.
Both the Moncton and Saint John regions were rolled back to tighter restrictions under the orange recovery phase this week.
Entire province could go orange
Premier Blaine Higgs indicated the entire province could move to orange-level restrictions if the rise in cases continues.
He told reporters that the current increase is a “reality check” that the virus exists in the province.
“We are now in our own bubble in New Brunswick,” he said. “And that bubble is about to burst.”
Public Health also declared an outbreak on Friday following a case of COVID-19 at Shannex: Tucker Hall, a nursing home in Saint John.
The facility reported three more cases, for a total of four. Three residents and one employee have tested positive, according to an update on the home’s website.
All residents and staff at the facility are being tested. As of Saturday morning, 527 tests had been processed, according to Public Health.
Higgs said he is saddened by the possibility of failing in efforts to contain the virus “at the last minute.”
“The threat we have in front of us right now is the entire province could go to orange phase,” he said.
We are now in our own bubble in New Brunswick. And that bubble is about to burst.– Premier Blaine Higgs
Health Minister Dorothy Shepherd urged New Brunswickers to report COVID-19 rule-breakers through the province’s tip line.
She said if efforts to contain the virus don’t improve, regions could see tighter restrictions.
“If we don’t change our behaviours and our actions today, as of this minute, that is where we are headed,” Shepherd said.
Russell said the time it takes for cases to double is concerning, and the situation could quickly escalate “out of control” and risk overwhelming the health-care system.
“We want to be much, much more targeted in our approach right now,” she said.
No details on ‘superspreader’ event
There are now 32 active cases in the Moncton region and 30 in the Saint John region. There are also seven active cases in the Fredericton region and two active cases in the Bathurst region (Zone 6).
Russell said on Friday that a COVID-19 “superspreader” event contributed to doubling confirmed cases in the Saint John region within a day.
But during Saturday’s briefing, she deflected questions about the type of event and the impact on the rise in cases in the Saint John region.
“I don’t really want to focus on one event because there are so many contributing factors to the spread,” she said.
Saint John, Moncton under tighter restrictions
New Brunswick residents are advised to avoid all non-essential travel in and out of the orange zones.
Police officers, peace officers and Public Health inspectors will be in Zones 1 and 2 to monitor orange rules and issue fines as needed.
Residents of the Saint John and Moncton regions are now required to maintain single-household bubbles. This can be extended to caregivers or an immediate family member who lives alone and needs support.
Masks are also mandatory in all indoor and outdoor public places in the orange zones.
Close-contact personal services and entertainment venues can remain open under operational plans.
Potential public exposure has been announced at Saint John restaurants, bars and a dinner theatre.
Potential exposure on flights
Public Health identified a traveller who tested positive and may have been infectious on two flights that arrived on Nov. 7:
Passengers on those flights should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days. If symptoms develop, they should self-isolate and get tested.
Gatherings in orange phase
The province also rolled out new rules for gatherings:
Residents must stay within a single-household bubble.
No informal indoor gatherings beyond this single household bubble are permitted.
Outdoor gatherings with physical distancing of 25 people or fewer are permitted.
Formal gatherings of up to 25 people allowed for weddings, funerals and faith-based services.
Faith venues may hold services with up to 50 people, but masks are mandatory.
Restaurant dining rooms can remain open, but a single-household bubble must be maintained.
A full list of the rules under the orange phase is on the government’s website.
WATCH | N.B. Premier Higgs on COVID-19 in province: