FREDERICTON — New Brunswick reported 36 new cases of COVID-19 Sunday as it moved a hard hit area in the province's north into the red alert phase of pandemic precautions.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said the number of new cases was the largest single day tally since the pandemic began, with 24 alone reported in the Edmundston-Grand Falls area.
Russell said as a result of the recent spike, the Edmundston region was being moved to the red alert phase as of 12:01 a.m. Monday.
"This is by far the most cases in a single zone in a single day since our first case of COVID-19 was reported in March, 2020," Russell told a news conference in Fredericton.
Russell added that in one day the number of active cases in the Edmundston area had jumped by more than one-third from 52 to 76, adding it was clear the majority of the cases reported are liked to one "workplace area." She did not identify the workplace.
Sunday's figures brought the total number of cases in the province to 292, nearly a third of all the COVID-19 diagnoses reported in the province over the last 10 months.
Red-level rules specify that many businesses will be required to close or to reduce services to essential levels and residents will be asked to stay home in single family bubbles as much as possible, although schools will remain open. Outdoor gatherings are limited to five people or fewer with masks and physical distancing measures in place, while in-person dining at restaurants is prohibited.
Russell said five of the other cases announced on Sunday were in the Moncton region, with four in the Saint John area, two in the Fredericton region and one in the Bathurst area.
She said while the other zones would remain at the less restrictive orange alert level for the time being, it was clear that Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton were on the cusp of moving to the red alert level.
"We are again reminded of how quickly the COVID-19 virus can spread and how fast our situation can change," Russell said. "We are responding to limit the severity of this outbreak, but to bring this under control we need every New Brunswicker to contribute."
She said the province was at a "critical juncture" and the next week would tell whether it is headed for a further rapid rise in cases as seen in neighbouring Maine and Quebec.
Premier Blaine Higgs called the developments "extremely disappointing," adding the province's case count simply isn't where it needs to be.
Higgs said part of the problem is that too many people are travelling between regions, keeping the virus on the move." He urged people to stay home unless they absolutely need to be out.
Higgs said the province needs to be proactive in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
"We need to buy time for the vaccine to be rolled out," he said. "We must all take this seriously because the next step after the red alert is an entire lockdown . . . we do not want to be in that position."
New Brunswick has had 947 cases of the novel coronavirus since the onset of the pandemic, with 642 people having recovered and 12 deaths.
One patient is currently in hospital.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2021.
— By Keith Ducette in Halifax
The Canadian Press