FREDERICTON (GNB) – The following update on COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus) was issued today by Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health:

Everyone has a role to play in mitigating the impact of COVID-19. It takes more than governments and action from the health sector to protect the health and safety of New Brunswickers.

Social distancing measures are a way to minimize COVID-19 transmission in the community. This means minimizing close contact with others during the peak of an outbreak. In addition to staying home when ill, New Brunswickers should plan actions they can take to reduce the spread of infection in places where people gather.

Some social distancing measures need extensive preparation, especially those with large crowds.

At this time, in an abundance of caution and to address public anxiety, the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health recommends that any non-essential mass gathering (150 or more people) be cancelled or postponed until we are able to better determine the risk to our population. We understand that such a measure will disrupt the normal activities of our residents but believe it the prudent path to ensuring that we delay and minimize the impact of COVID-19 on our population. We are also encouraging amateur sports leagues or social gathering activities like dance or theatre to consider suspending their non-essential activities.

Mass gatherings can have the potential for serious public health consequences if they are not planned and managed carefully. They can increase the spread of infectious diseases and cause additional strain on the health-care system when held during outbreaks.

Infections can also be transmitted during transit to and from an event, and in the homes of event participants upon their return.

Event planners need to consider the COVID-19 outbreak.

Aside from cancelling or postponing an event, other measures to reduce infection risks during smaller mass gatherings include:

  • avoiding shaking hands;
  • practising proper hygiene;
  • avoiding common sleeping areas;
  • discouraging attendees from sharing food or drinks;
  • increasing social distance between others (ideally to two metres) by:
    • broadcasting events
    • offering virtual participation
    • moving the venue from indoors to outdoors
  • eliminating self-serve buffet style eating at social or religious gatherings;
  • encouraging people who are ill or those with high-risk medical conditions not to attend gatherings;
  • supporting hand hygiene by providing hand sanitizer dispensers in prominent locations;
  • ensuring event organizers have arrangements in place to safely isolate and transport people who become ill onsite; and
  • communicating clearly to attendees about the risks and directing them to our advice on reducing the spread of illness.

For more information, refer to Public Health Agency of Canada’s COVID-19 guidance on risk-informed decision making for mass gatherings, available online.