Masks will be mandatory in most indoor public spaces in New Brunswick, regardless of whether physical distancing can be maintained, as of midnight Thursday, Premier Blaine Higgs has announced.
The decision comes as three new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, bringing the total number of active cases in the province to 24.
Only children under age two and people with a medical condition are exempt.
“Unfortunately, there are still too may people not wearing a mask when they are required,” Higgs told reporters during a news conference in Fredericton.
He had been hopeful the majority of people would “do the right thing” and choose to wear a mask to protect the people around them, he said.
But enforcement officers surveyed 600 public spaces over the past week and found the average number of people wearing a mask provincially was 36 per cent.
In major urban centres, the number was as low as 16 per cent, he said.
“These numbers are simply not acceptable.”
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said she recommended a mandatory mask policy to the COVID-19 cabinet committee and cabinet before members discussed the issue Thursday morning.
She cited the outbreak at Manoir Notre-Dame special care home in Moncton, where 19 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, and the need to take more steps to prevent the spread of the virus.
The province is into the second wave of COVID-19, Russell said Wednesday, but the full extent of the outbreak won’t be known for another two weeks, the average incubation period of the virus.
Before the COVID-19 committee and cabinet meeting, Interim Liberal Leader Roger Melanson told CBC he would support mandatory masks, if that was the recommendation of Public Health.
“I mean, when you see the inconsistency … there’s some private companies that do enforce it, some are suggesting we do wear one, we’re seeing more municipalities now in their locations going forward to wear a mask. It’s very inconsistent and people have their different interpretations — Should I wear one? Should I not wear one?
“So I think we have to have a provincial policy and make it clear if you should or should not.”
The three new cases of COVID-19 confirmed Thursday include a person in their 40s in the Saint John health region, or Zone 2, a person in their 20s in the Fredericton health region, Zone 3, and a person in their 30s in the Campbellton health region, or Zone 5.
The Saint John and Fredericton cases are related to travel outside the Atlantic bubble, while the Campbellton case remains under investigation, Russell said.
Of the 24 active cases in New Brunswick, 20 are in the Moncton health region, which is Zone 1, two in the Saint John health region, one in the Fredericton health region and one the Campbellton health region.
Three people are in hospital, one of them in intensive care, said Russell.
Seventeen of the cases were announced Wednesday — the province’s largest single-day increase since New Brunswick’s first case March 11.
All of those cases are in the Moncton health region and connected to the Manoir Notre-Dame outbreak, which was declared Tuesday after two residents tested positive.
Thirteen residents, four staff and two family members who were close contacts of a resident have tested positive, said Russell.