New Brunswick reported 23 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, increasing the number of active cases in the province to 246.

There are also three people in hospital, said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health in a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Russell said New Brunswick residents needed to remain vigilant as COVID-19 cases surged in Quebec to the north and in the American state of Maine, to the west. New Brunswick reported 23 new COVID-19 infections Thursday as authorities maintained the province at the "orange" pandemic-alert level.

"Our situation remains grim," Russell said, adding there is no let up in rising case counts. As of Thursday, more than 2,000 New Brunswickers are in self-isolation. "Our neighbours' houses are on fire and the hot embers are falling onto our roof."

Russell said the Washington and Aroostook counties in Maine had more than 1,000 active cases while Quebec was averaging 2,500 new infections a day.

Of the new cases, there are:

  • 7 new cases in Moncton region
  • 2 new cases in Saint John region
  • 4 new cases in Fredericton region
  • 5 new cases in Edmundston region
  • 4 new cases in the Campbellton region
  • 1 new case in the Bathurst region.

"Right now, we are seeing our highest number of active cases to date," said Premier Blaine Higgs. "This should serve as a wakeup call to New Brunswickers. This situation is concerning, and we all have to work together to get our province back on track."

Higgs made an impassioned plea and called out reckless behaviour that he says put everyone at risk.

"We could lose it all from one more birthday party, or one big event where someone says it won’t happen to me," Higgs said. "That's where we are right now."

Higgs says health inspectors wiill now levy fines on the spot and shut businesses down if they aren't following the rules.

And while the entire province remains in the orange level, he hasn't ruled out reverting to red if outbreaks can't be controlled or hospitals get overwhelmed.

Public health will be accelerating efforts to vaccinate residents of long-term care homes, including those where outbreaks are now underway, says Dr. Russell. 'We are now better able to provide vaccines across the province as the supply increases'

— Laura Lyall (@LauraLyallCTV) January 14, 2021

Russell reminded New Brunswickers of the role they can play in controlling the spread of COVID-19.

"To prevent a surge of COVID-19 cases from happening in New Brunswick, we all must take the simple actions that prevent the spread of the virus, such as wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance and reducing our number of close contacts,” said Russell. “In Orange level of recovery, we all must stay within our single household bubble and we should have no contact with anyone else within two metres without wearing a mask.”

Higgs said while the province remains "orange" -- the second-highest alert level -- it could move to red should health officials lose control of community spread of COVID-19.

Inspectors visited more than 170 businesses this week and judged most of the sites to be in compliance with health orders, Higgs said, with over 99 per cent of patrons wearing masks. That number, however, dropped to less than 89 per cent regarding employees at those sites. Higgs said inspectors discovered that 23 business, representing more than 13 per cent of the sites inspected, had no COVID-19 operational plan in place.

"For now, our entire province remains in the orange level with heightened restrictions and yet we still don't see the compliance we need to, nor are we making the progress that we need," Higgs said.

UPDATE ON OUTBREAKS AT LONG-TERM CARE FACILITIES

Public Health confirmed on Thursday there is a case of COVID-19 at an Edmundston nursing home.

As a result, Public Health has declared an outbreak at the Résidences Jodin Inc., a 180-bed nursing home in Edmundston, in Zone 4.

"Public Health has started an investigation at the facility," the province said in a news release. "Contact tracing has begun and members of the Provincial Rapid Outbreak Management Team will provide support to residents and staff. Staff from the Extra-Mural Program and Ambulance New Brunswick will test the facility’s residents and staff today."

Public Health also said that it was re-testing staff and residents at Fundy Royal Manor (Hillsborough) and at Parkland Saint John’s Tucker Hall – both on Thursday.

With clusters of COVID-19 inside several long-term care facilities, the province will speed up its vaccination program. All residents will be vaccinated, including facilities experiencing an outreak.

"We are now able to move forward with vaccinating residents in those facilities with an ongoing outbreak, with the exception of the most affected units," Russell said.

Vaccinations in Zone 2, the Saint John area, begin Friday.

That includes at Shannex's Parkland campus where three residents died this week from complications brought on by COVID-19.

Of the cases now active in the province, Public Health is also investigating three they suspect might be related to community transmission.

CASE LOCATIONS

The number of cases are broken down by New Brunswick’s seven health zones:

  • Zone 1 – Moncton region: 216 total confirmed cases (59 active cases)
  • Zone 2 – Saint John region: 178 total (44 active cases)
  • Zone 3 – Fredericton region: 197 total (67 active cases)
  • Zone 4 – Edmundston region: 76 total (42 active cases)
  • Zone 5 – Campbellton region: 169 total (31 active cases)
  • Zone 6 – Bathurst region: 17 total (3 active case)
  • Zone 7 – Miramichi region: 6 total (0 active cases)

EXPOSURE NOTIFICATION ON FLIGHT TO MONCTON

Public Health identified today a positive case in a traveller who may have been infectious on Jan. 3 while on the following flight:

  • Air Canada Flight 8910
  • from Toronto to Moncton, arrived at 11:23 a.m.

Everyone who travelled on this flight should continue to follow the directives given to them during the travel registration process and when they entered New Brunswick.

With files from The Canadian Press.