Expert suggests New Brunswick on ‘knife edge’ as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

FREDERICTON – An epidemiologist says New Brunswick is teetering on a “knife edge” as it tries to prevent COVID-19 from spreading uncontrollably.

University of Toronto professor Dr. David Fisman said New Brunswick’s current situation is similar to where Manitoba was last fall, right before cases rose sharply after months of relatively few infections.

“I have been suggesting to people that New Brunswick is on a knife edge right now and can go either way,” Fisman said in an email Thursday.

Read more: What a 2nd lockdown could look like in New Brunswick

Manitoba, which once had some of the lowest infection rates in the country, quickly became a cautionary tale as cases rose by several hundred each day by mid-November.

Fisman said certain factors have been hallmarks of big waves in places that previously had a low case count, including the spread of COVID-19 in schools, meat-packing facilities, long-term care homes and among highly mobile young people.

Dalhousie University immunology professor David Kelvin said reducing viral transmission among the young is key to controlling the virus, because cases in youth are often asymptomatic.

Kelvin said in an email Thursday that strategies such as pop-up rapid testing may help identify hot spots among young people.

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He added, however, that more research may be needed to see what lies behind the New Brunswick increases in order to project where the recent rise in cases is headed.

“It could be New Brunswick is in the early stages and will continue on the exponential increase in cases,” he said. “It could also be that New Brunswick is just beginning to level off, indicating that cases developed because of socializing during the holidays have plateaued and will fall as socializing events subside.”

Public health officials in New Brunswick reported 21 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and over half of the province has been placed at the “red” level of its COVID-19 recovery plan.

Fisman said he found the province’s interventions “lagging,” adding that shifting between various levels of the recovery plan isn’t ideal when faced with a sharp increase in cases.

“I think when you are hanging on to de facto COVID-free status, it is worth pulling out the stops and having a short, hard lockdown … the whole enchilada,” Fisman said. “It is significant short-term pain, but as Manitoba showed, the cost of allowing things to spiral is far more painful.”

Read more: Confirmed case of COVID-19 closes Riverview High School

Total cases in New Brunswick remain low at 132 cases per 100,000 people, but Premier Blaine Higgs said this week the entire province could move to a lockdown if current restrictions don’t curb the spread of the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021.

– With files from Michael Tutton.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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