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Higgs warns N.B. could enter highest alert level should infections continue to rise

New Brunswick reported 23 new COVID-19 infections Thursday

FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health described the province on Thursday as a home surrounded by a neighbourhood in flames.

Dr. Jennifer 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 neighbours' houses are on fire and the hot embers are flying onto our roof," Russell told reporters Thursday. "If we don't take necessary actions to keep this fire at bay, it will engulf as well."

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. New Brunswick, by contrast, had 246 active reported cases and three people were in hospital with the disease, she said, adding that more than 2,000 people in the province were in self-isolation.

Premier Blaine 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.

Public Health declared an outbreak Thursday at seniors care home Residences Jodin Inc. in Edmundston, after a case had been identified at the facility.

On Wednesday, Public Health said nine Dollarama locations between Oromocto and Edmundston had been forced to close for 48 hours because of possible workplace COVID-19 exposures.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2021.

— By Danielle Edwards in Halifax.

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

The Canadian Press

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