New Brunswick doctor suspended after contracting COVID-19 in Quebec and not self-isolating

A long-term care worker is among two new cases of COVID-19 in northern New Brunswick linked to a family doctor who contracted the coronavirus outside the province and didn’t self-isolate when he returned.

That brings the cluster of active COVID-19 cases in the Campbellton region to eight — three of them health-care workers, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell announced on Friday.

Two of the people who have tested positive for the respiratory disease are in intensive care, but in stable condition “at the moment,” Russell told reporters during a news conference in Fredericton.

“Some may regard this as an issue that does not concern them because they don’t live there or haven’t visited there lately. But I need to tell you that in the strongest possible terms, this is not the case,” she said.

Contact tracing shows people living outside the Campbellton region are in the circle of transmission. So the cluster “could easily spread to other regions,” she said, urging people across the province to monitor for symptoms and continue to be vigilant.

The doctor linked to the seven other cases and who may have exposed at least 150 other people to the coronavirus has been suspended, the president and CEO of the Vitalité Health Network Gilles Lanteigne has confirmed.

The two new confirmed cases include a person in their 60s and the long-term care worker, who is in their 30s.

The affected worker is a caregiver at the Manoir de la Vallée in the neighbouring village of Atholville, confirmed Guy Tremblay, president and general director of Groupe Lokia, which owns the special care home for seniors.

About 100 people, including 57 residents, could have been exposed before the night worker was diagnosed on Thursday, Tremblay said.

The Manoir de la Vallée in Atholville has an employee who tested positive for COVID-19. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

Russell — without naming the facility — said a rapid response team tested everyone on Friday and all of the residents have been isolated.

The employee was reportedly contagious during three shifts at the Manoir de la Vallée, according to Tremblay.

“We are lucky because the shifts were at night. This limits the exposure, since night activities are at a minimum,” he said.

The facility is for independent seniors who do not have major illnesses that require significant health care, said Tremblay. Each resident receives between one and three hours of care per day.

The employee is not exhibiting any symptoms, but is self-isolating at home and will not return to work for at least three weeks, said Tremblay.

Test offered to anyone in Campbellton who wants it

COVID-19 testing is being offered to anyone in the Campbellton region who wants it, Russell said.

There are about 25,000 people in the region, also known as health Zone 5.

“The good news in this very unfortunate and challenging situation is that we have the ability to ramp up testing in a region and on very, very short notice,” said Russell.

Test sites have been set up at the Memorial Civic Centre in Campbellton and the Dalhousie Inch Arran Ice Palace.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs urges people to get tested. He says people shouldn’t fear coming forward if they have symptoms. 0:40

People don’t need to have symptoms to be tested, but must call Tele-Care 811 or their family doctor to get an appointment.

Russell said 811 wait times are long and asked people to be patient. She expects testing will take up to a week.

The region extends from Whites Brook to the Village of Belledune, including Tide Head, Atholville, Campbellton, Dalhousie, Eel River Dundee, Eel River Bar First Nation, Balmoral and Charlo.

Premier Blaine Higgs said he doesn’t want anyone to fear coming forward if they think they might have COVID-19.

“Getting the virus is not your fault,” he said. “By getting tested, by self-isolating and taking the proper precautions, you are actively taking steps to protect your loved ones and your fellow New Brunswickers.”

People angry

The premier also urged people to let the RCMP, Vitalité and Public Health officials complete their investigation into the actions of the doctor linked to the outbreak, whom he has only identified as a medical professional, but whom CBC News has confirmed is a male family doctor.

The doctor, who is in his 50s, caught the virus when he recently travelled to Quebec for personal reasons, according to Higgs. He was “not forthcoming” about his reasons for travelling upon returning to New Brunswick and “did not self-isolate as a result.”

The doctor then returned to work at the Campbellton Regional Hospital.

We don’t want anyone taking matters into their own hands.– Blaine Higgs, premier

The outbreak forced Higgs to order the Campbellton region back into a stricter phase of pandemic recovery, known as the orange phase, and to delay the additional loosening of restrictions of the yellow phase the rest of the province is under until June 5.

“I know people are upset but we don’t want anyone taking matters into their own hands,” said Higgs.

“This situation is best left to the proper authorities. I trust that they will take whatever steps are appropriate.”

On Wednesday, Higgs had described the doctor’s actions as “irresponsible.”

Border enforcement

Asked Friday what follow-up border officials would have done to ensure self-isolation rules were being followed, Higgs said the investigation will determine what information was “supplied at the border.”

In general, he said, the officers stop every vehicle, ask where the people are going and why, determine whether it’s essential travel or not and whether isolation is required or not.

If isolation is required, they gather contact information and “many calls are made to verify the facts.”

Premier Blaine Higgs responds to a question Friday about whether authorities followed up properly after a doctor crossed the border from Quebec and was supposed to self-isolate. 0:53

But it “depends on the situation,” said Higgs.

“If it’s a new situation, then they would be called and checked on.

“If it’s a situation where it is a routine, maybe there’s been a rapport that’s been developed there, so you know where they’re going and that’s been followed up in the past and you have some reliability in that factor.”

Could be ‘exponential rise’ in numbers

Public Health officials continue to track down people who came into contact with the positive cases, the Chief Medical Officer of Health said.

“This is a really big investigation that we’re conducting. There are many contacts to trace,” said Russell.

The doctor’s child is among the positive cases, the premier confirmed. The child attended two daycares in the region before being diagnosed.

The other cases include two people in their 90s, someone under 19 and someone in their 40s.

WATCH | N.B.’s chief medical officer of health says probe into new cluster ongoing:

Dr. Jennifer Russell calls for people to reserve judgment until an investigation into an outbreak in Campbellton linked to a doctor who didn’t self-isolate is complete. 12:15

On Friday morning, Russell told CBC’s News Network it’s a “rapidly evolving situation,” and there could be an “exponential rise in the number of cases very quickly.”

Initial contact tracing indicated at least 150 people were potentially exposed to the infected doctor, including 50 health-care workers at the Campbellton Regional Hospital and 100 people in the community.

But Russell noted that was just the “first round” of contact tracing.

“As each new case is diagnosed, there’s another round,” she said.

Vitalité Health Network president and CEO Gilles Lanteigne said he expects 500 people in the Campbellton region to be tested for COVID-19 within the next couple of days. (CBC)

With three of the cases being health-care workers, “this can be very widespread.”

The incubation period of the virus is about 14 days.

Until last week, New Brunswick had no active cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. All 120 people infected since the pandemic began in March had recovered.

To date, 24,169 COVID-19 tests have been conducted in the province.