From good management to “good luck” on COVID-19
As the province takes a new approach to dealing with COVID-19, some New Brunswickers say they feel like they have been left on their own to deal with the pandemic.
Public health is no longer contacting all those who test positive or is no longer looking for contacts of these positive cases. Exposure notifications have disappeared. Low-risk groups can no longer get an official PCR test, which means the number of daily cases is likely less and less accurate.
“I got to the point where we went from being good management to being ‘good luck’,” said Heather Shuve, Grand Bay-Westfield resident.
Saint John resident Caitlin Grogan tested positive on December 20. Although she and her equally positive partner were promised public health calls for advice on isolation, the calls never came.
“I still haven’t received a call from Public Health, and I don’t think I will at this point.”
Grogan said she had to decide for herself what to do by checking in with a friend who works in the healthcare system and doing extensive research online.
“It required using all of my social connections in order to get the most recent information. I think people with fewer resources or, frankly, who don’t care as much simply wouldn’t get that information.
“It requires a certain research capacity and social connections that not everyone has.”
With the fast-spreading Omicron variant now dominant in New Brunswick, the province expects to hit a thousand cases per day this week.
And it has overtaken public health’s ability to cope with the tasks that residents of the province have taken for granted since the start of the pandemic.
Only people from certain high-risk groups can now make an appointment for a PCR test. All other people with symptoms will be advised to use a rapid home test.
If they are positive, they are now expected to notify all of their contacts themselves, rather than giving the information to public health to trace.
“We are confident in this method to help people understand that yes they are positive, yes they can let their close contacts know and take whatever isolation measures they need as well,” the medical officer of health said in chief. Dr Jennifer Russell said Tuesday.
People who test positive will also be asked to self-register their case online.
Premier Blaine Higgs has defended the approach this week, saying the numbers are just too high to keep up with everyone.
“You can’t start contacting to trace cases,” he told CBC Power and politics.
“It’s just physically impossible to do. We all want to know how many there are, but I don’t think any of us really know and it will only get worse.
“We must therefore that each individual assume his responsibilities. [We’re] saying, ‘You have to do your part. We can’t find all of your friends and family and everyone you’ve been in contact with because the cases are escalating so quickly. ‘”
Shuve realizes the system is overwhelmed. But she said leaving the care to individuals would overwhelm some of them as well.
“We kind of left ourselves to our own devices, especially the people who might not be able to get out and line up, or stand on the side of the road waiting for quick tests.
“Or maybe they don’t have the literacy or the ability to follow the intense instructions for doing a quick home test,” she said.
A less rigorous do-it-yourself testing regime means the daily number of cases is less likely to capture a full picture of how the virus is spreading.
Russell said on CBC’s Fredericton Information Morning that public health will “absolutely miss some” cases, and Health Minister Dorothy Shephard has said the number of cases “is probably higher than we can report.”
Russell and Shephard said keeping an accurate count of high-risk populations remains essential, but the default now is that COVID is ubiquitous.
“We have to assume, just like the common cold, that it’s everywhere,” Shephard said.
“It’s not common for us to have this kind of state of mind with COVID-19, but the point is that we are looking to move into a different mindset and a different perspective on the way we live with COVID. “
Some medical experts say the Omicron variant, which spreads easier and faster but may have milder effects, could be an indication that the pandemic will gradually develop into an endemic influenza-like illness in which high-risk patients and patients alike. hospitalizations are at the center of concerns.
Shifting attention to high-risk groups is “kind of a pivot that we’ll have to do in the near future,” Shephard said.
But the minister acknowledged that for New Brunswickers accustomed to readily available testing, “it’s hard to understand this change. It’s about using our resources as efficiently as possible ”.
If people are to fend for the tests on their own, the province needs to improve in the distribution of rapid tests, said Memramcook-Tantramar Green MP Megan Mitton.
Horizon Health on Tuesday cut mobile rapid test distribution sites in Sackville, St. Stephen, Minto and Baie Ste-Anne.
Mitton said a more laissez-faire approach has crept into the province’s COVID strategy for months. But after Tuesday’s cancellation, Sackville residents in his constituency are wondering how they are supposed to handle the tests on their own if the tests are not available.
“Frustration is the word that keeps coming up,” she said. “People are asking, how are we supposed to do these tests?
Shephard said the coming month will see a sharp increase in rapid test shipments from Ottawa and the province will announce an expansion of distribution sites next week.
“It has to happen.”
But adding to the complexity, Russell said New Brunswickers will soon have to register online for a set time when they can take rapid tests.
On Tuesday, an online form was still not available for people to record their rapid positive tests, and the province’s daily COVID press release said the new case count of 746 was based solely on PCR test results. .
Shuve said she’s convinced she can navigate the increasingly passive approach, but isn’t sure everyone can.
“I have friends and acquaintances who are generally not online as far as I am. They are smart, smart and responsible people, but they would be looking for advice and wouldn’t necessarily know what to do.”