The New Brunswick government laid out its Winter Action Plan to address the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 virus, beginning with Level 1, which differs little from the lifestyles New Brunswickers currently experience.
While encouraging people to adhere to the minimal steps now in place, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell and Health Minister Dorothy Shephard explained the province could move to the more restrictive Levels 2 or 3 if active COVID-19 infections and hospitalization continue to climb.
"We must all live with COVID-19," said Russell. "That's not the same as ignoring COVID-19.
She said the virus would remain a part of New Brunswickers' daily lives for a long time.
Shepherd said the goal of the winter plan is to keep the virus from overwhelming the province's health-care system while protecting the mental, physical and financial health of New Brunswickers.
Russell and Shephard delivered details for the winter plan in a virtual press conference Friday afternoon, Dec. 7, in which they also announced two more COVID-related deaths in the province and news that active cases increased to over 700.
Friday, the Public Health daily update identified the deaths as a person in their 50s in Zone 3, the Fredericton and Upper River Valley region, and someone in their 70s in Zone 1, the Moncton region.
Russell expressed condolences to loved ones of the latest COVID victims, the 131st and 132nd since the pandemic began.
"We mourn with the families of these individuals in this time of grief," she said.
Russell also reported 97 new COVID-19 infections, increasing the total of active cases to 711.
Despite the rising numbers, Russell and Shephard expressed belief New Brunswickers could reduce the spread of the virus by simply following the minimal restrictions included the Level 1 on the winter plan.
Shepherd said the Level 1 plan, which takes effect on Saturday, Dec. 4, at 11:59 p.m., will ask New Brunswick residents to keep informal indoor gatherings to a maximum of 20 and informal outdoor gatherings to 50.
"However," she said, "everyone should keep your contacts as low as possible. If you're unvaccinated, it is recommended you avoid informal indoor gatherings, such as those held in households."
Shepherd noted the high risk of unvaccinated individuals catching the virus at these types of gatherings. The minister and Russell also stressed the much higher likelihood of unvaccinated people ending up in the hospital or ICU.
To emphasize that point, Russell explained the disproportionate numbers related to COVID-19 data between the vaccinated and unvaccinated. She said data show 8.8 vaccinated people per 100,000 catch the virus, compared to 32.9 for the unvaccinated.
"That's almost four times higher," she said.
Russell added that unvaccinated people are 10 times more likely to end up in ICU beds.
She added 59 per cent of people in ICU are over 60.
Shepherd explained Level 1 requires masks in outdoor public spaces where physical distancing cannot be maintained. She added Level 1 requires the enforcement of physical distance between patrons in public areas, such as malls, stores, retail outlets and salons, where proof of vaccination is not mandated.
Shepherd added that individual businesses where the government does not mandate proof of vaccination could enforce it if they so choose.
If rising COVID numbers require further action, the minister said the government holds the option to move to Level 2 or 3, which could reduce household bubbles, lower capacity in public spaces and restrict travel in and out of designated areas.
Russell said that upgrading from one level to another won't be based on specific triggers but through the analysis of certain criteria. She cited as an example a growth of more than 10 per cent in positive cases over seven days in a zone or across the province.
She added that 70 cases in hospital or 34 patients in ICU would push the health-care systems' limits to cope, resulting in an increased level.
Shephard said the Winter Action Plan requires New Brunswickers' support.
"The power to keep us in Level 1 is in our own hands," she said.
Shepherd said the government understands the population is growing weary of COVID protocols.
"We proposed something everyone can live with and can follow," she said. "The same things that worked before will work now if everybody follows them."
More information on the Winter Action Plan is available online at https://www2.gnb.ca/.../promo/covid-19/alert-system.html
Friday's COVID-19 update reported 49 patients in the hospital, including 16 in the ICU and nine on a ventilator.
Zone 3 led the province in new infections for the third consecutive day, reporting 34 on Friday. Only Zone 4, covering the Edmundston, Grand Falls and St. Quentin region, reported no cases on Friday.
A breakdown by zone of Friday's new cases is as follows:
The 13 new cases in Zone 1 (Moncton region) are as follows:
four people 19 and under;
a person 20-29;
two people 30-39;
two people 40-49;
two people 50-59;
a person 60-69; and
a person 70-79.
Ten cases are under investigation, and three cases are contacts of previously confirmed cases.
The 27 new cases in Zone 2 (Saint John region) are as follows:
four people 19 and under;
six people 20-29;
four people 40-49;
two people 50-59;
five people 60-69;
five people 70-79; and
a person 80-89.
Fourteen cases are contacts of previously confirmed cases, and 13 are under investigation.
The 34 new cases in Zone 3 (Fredericton region) are as follows:
15 people 19 and under;
three people 20-29;
four people 30-39;
five people 40-49;
four people 50-59; and
three people 60-69.
Twenty-one cases are under investigation, 12 are contacts of previously confirmed cases, and one is travel-related.
The one new case in Zone 5 (Campbellton region) is a person 40-49 who is a contact of a previously known case.
The two new cases in Zone 6 (Bathurst region) are 19 and under. One case is under investigation, and the other is a contact of a previously confirmed case.
The 20 new cases in Zone 7 (Miramichi region) are as follows:
five people 19 and under;
two people 20-29;
three people 30-39;
two people 40-49;
a person 50-59;
three people 60-69; and
four people 70-79.
Seventeen cases are contacts of previously confirmed cases, and three are under investigation.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun