New Brunswick to reinstate mandatory mask policy; reports 199 new cases over the weekend

New Brunswickers will once again be required to wear masks in any indoor public space beginning Tuesday at midnight.

Speaking during a press conference alongside New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, Premier Blaine Higgs says enforcement of the mask mandate will begin Wednesday.

"As of Wednesday, peace officers will have the ability to issues fines to people who are not wearing a mask in an indoor space," said Higgs.

The decision comes after the province announced 199 new cases over the weekend. 63 cases on Saturday, a record high of 75 new cases on Sunday, and 61 on Monday. The total number of active cases across the province is 484.

"This is the most we have recorded since the pandemic began 18 months ago," said Russell.

Twenty-three people are now in hospital with the virus, with 14 in an intensive-care unit. Provincial Green Party leader David Coon says he believes some of the continued cases may have been avoided had the province re-implemented the mandate sooner.

"It should have been done earlier, no question about it, but I'm glad that the government is bringing in masks in indoor public spaces again," Coon told CTV News from his constituency office via Zoom.

Despite the return of the mask mandate, New Brunswick is still in the green phase, though Higgs says that could also change in the coming days.

"We're anxious to work through the numbers and decide what next steps are required, but that could include any of the restrictions that we had in the past as we might move back there to ensure that we get under control."

When asked if he regretted the province's original decision to lift the state of emergency, and subsequently all restrictions, on July 30, Higgs said he stands by the decision.

"I'd certainly do the same thing again. I think a lot of people benefited from the summer, period," said Higgs.

David Coon, who has been vocal about disagreeing with the Premier's COVID-19 recovery plan, says vaccination numbers over the summer didn't add up to what was necessary for a safe reopening.

"It was very clear that the rate of vaccinations had already slowed down before that decision had been made. You could see it was not occurring at the rate that was needed."

Higgs says the province has seen a spike in vaccination bookings since last week.

"Between last Wednesday when we announced our new measures, and today at 11 am, more than 6,600 people have booked an appointment for their first or second dose of COVID-19 vaccine," said Higgs.

As of Monday, the province is reporting 77.8 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers are fully vaccinated, and 86.5 per cent have received their first dose.

According to Public Health, 152 of the 199 new cases, or 76 per cent are not fully vaccinated.

“We are now seeing infections among fully vaccinated New Brunswickers. We were aware that we could have breakthrough cases in the population, but certainly the affect on our health care system is much, much lower in those who are fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Russell during Monday’s news update.

MANDATORY MASKS IN EFFECT TUESDAY

As of 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, masks will be mandatory in all indoor public spaces, including:

  • public spaces where the public and employees interact, such as retail businesses, malls, service centres, places of worship, and restaurants and bars except while eating;
  • organized indoor gatherings in public spaces, such as weddings and funerals;
  • common areas like lobbies, elevators and hallways, and public shared spaces including those in private sector and government workspaces; and
  • public transportation.

Previously existing mask policies continue to apply in public schools and early childhood learning facilities.

The province announced last week that also effective Tuesday at 11:59 p.m., people will be required to show proof of vaccination when accessing certain events, services and businesses, and anyone entering New Brunswick must preregister their travel.

“The past few weeks have been difficult for all New Brunswickers as we have seen our case numbers and hospitalizations rise quickly,” said N.B. Premier Blaine Higgs during Monday’s news update. "The return of these health and safety measures may feel like we are taking a step backwards, but we must look at our current situation and consider what will happen if we do nothing."

CASE BREAKDOWN

Forty-six new cases were reported in the Moncton region (Zone 1) involving:

  • eight people age 19 and under
  • nine people in their 20s
  • five people in their 30s
  • eight people in their 40s
  • seven people in their 60s
  • four people in their 70s
  • two people in their 80s
  • three people age 90 and over

A total of 32 cases are under investigation and 14 are contacts of previously confirmed cases.

Six new cases were reported in the Saint John region (Zone 2) involving:

  • two people age 19 and under
  • one person in their 30s
  • one person in their 50s
  • one person in their 60s
  • one person in their 70s

Two cases are under investigation and four cases are contacts of previously confirmed cases.

Sixty-nine new cases were reported in the Fredericton region (Zone 3) involving:

  • 19 people age 19 and under
  • eight people in their 20s
  • two people in their 30s
  • eight people in their 40s
  • 11 people in their 50s
  • 14 people in their 60s
  • four people in their 70s
  • three people in their 80s

A total of 44 cases are contacts of previously confirmed cases and 25 are under investigation.

Sixty-nine new cases were reported in the Edmundston region (Zone 4) involving:

  • 11 people age 19 and under
  • seven people in their 20s
  • three people in their 30s
  • one person in their 40s
  • two people in their 50s
  • two people in their 70s
  • three people in their 80s

A total of 15 cases are contacts of previously confirmed cases and 14 are under investigation.

Thirty-five new cases were reported in the Campbellton region (Zone 5) involving:

  • 14 people age 19 and under
  • 12 people in their 20s
  • four people in their 30s
  • one person in their 40s
  • three people in their 50s
  • one person in their 70s

A total of 17 cases are under investigation, 17 are contacts of previously confirmed cases and one case is travel related.

Thirteen new cases were reported in the Bathurst region (Zone 6) involving:

  • three people age 19 and under
  • one person in their 20s
  • two people in their 30s
  • four people in their 40s
  • three people in their 60s

Eight cases are under investigation and five are contacts of previously confirmed cases.

One new case was reported in the Miramichi region (Zone 7), involving a person in their 70s, and is under investigation.

VACCINE UPDATE

As of Monday, 77.8 per cent of New Brunswickers age 12 and older are fully vaccinated and 86.5 per cent have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

In total, 1,143,926 vaccine doses have been administered in New Brunswick.

All eligible New Brunswickers can book their second dose appointments now for a date that is at least 28 days after their first dose.

COVID-19 CASE DATA

New Brunswick has had 3,237 cumulative cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

In total, 2,818 people have recovered and 48 people have died in the province from COVID-19.

Public health says a total of 432,494 COVID-19 tests have been processed since the start of the pandemic.

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

  • Zone 1 – Moncton region: 927 confirmed cases (139 active cases)
  • Zone 2 – Saint John region: 352 confirmed cases (17 active cases)
  • Zone 3 – Fredericton region: 691 confirmed cases (152 active cases)
  • Zone 4 – Edmundston region: 862 confirmed cases (59 active case)
  • Zone 5 – Campbellton region: 336 confirmed cases (85 active cases)
  • Zone 6 – Bathurst region: 183 confirmed cases (22 active cases)
  • Zone 7 – Miramichi region: 85 confirmed cases (10 active cases)

ADDITIONAL MEASURES IN SCHOOLS

Last week, New Brunswick health officials announced that the province was updating its Healthy and Safe Schools guidelines to better protect students in kindergarten to Grade 12.

On Monday, the following measures came into effect in schools across the province:

  • Using classroom groupings (or bubbles) to the greatest extent possible. Class sizes will not be changed.
  • Only classroom bubble-friendly field trips will be permitted for students in kindergarten to Grade 8.
  • Schools will look for ways to encourage greater physical distancing between groupings, such as adjusting lunch or recess schedules.
  • Physical education classes will be taught outdoors, weather permitting. If taught indoors, students and staff must wear masks.
  • Assemblies will no longer be permitted.

The province also says that effective Wednesday, all students who are eligible to be vaccinated (those born in 2009 and earlier who do not have a medical exemption) must be vaccinated to be eligible to participate in indoor or outdoor extracurricular and intramural activities.

"To reduce the risk of transmission on buses, and allow for greater physical distancing, families are asked to drive their children to school if they are able," public health said in a news release. "Community use of schools remains restricted to youth activities. Students 12 and over must be vaccinated or have a medical exemption to participate."

The province says it will review these guidelines in the next few weeks.

"The growing number of cases of COVID-19 in communities is having a significant impact on public school operations," said Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy. "We have a duty to protect our students, especially those under 12 who are not yet eligible to receive protection through COVID-19 vaccines."

Cardy said the province can only do so much, and called on parents to do their part.

"We will need the help of families, communities and businesses to help protect our school communities," he said.

POTENTIAL PUBLIC EXPOSURES

Anyone with symptoms of the virus, as well as anyone who has been at the site of a possible public exposure, is urged to request a test online or call Tele-Care at 811 to get an appointment.