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New Brunswick reported 26 new COVID-19 infections Monday as the Edmundston region entered the province’s highest pandemic-alert level.

Health officials said New Brunswick had more than 300 active reported infections. The largest number of new cases on Monday were identified in the Edmundston region, located in the northwest of the province, bordering Quebec.

The move into the “red” alert came after the province reported 36 infections Sunday – the highest single-day number since the start of the pandemic.

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Red-level rules require businesses to close or to reduce operations to essential activities. Residents are asked to stay home in single-family bubbles as much as possible, though schools remain open. Outdoor gatherings are limited to five people or fewer, while in-person dining at restaurants is prohibited.

Many of the cases identified in the Edmundston zone are at the Nadeau Poultry plant in the community of Haut-Madawaska, west of Edmundston and near the border with Maine and Quebec.

“There is a problem at the Nadeau plant,” Haut-Madawaska Mayor Jean-Pierre Ouellet said in an interview Monday. “There are about 20 workers that have been diagnosed positive with COVID-19.”

“The plant is closed until Friday in order for the management to clean the facility,” he said.

Representatives of the company could not be reached for comment, but Public Health officials confirmed the outbreak and said a second round of mass testing will occur at the facility on Tuesday.

“We have kept the avalanche of cases out of New Brunswick so far,” Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said in a statement Monday afternoon.

“We must act now to keep this virus from doing even more damage than we are already seeing, especially with transmission now in workplaces. We cannot keep COVID-19 out completely, so we must do absolutely everything we can to prevent it from spreading within our province,” she said.

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On Sunday, Russell said Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton are close to moving into red alert.

Public Health also reported several new cases in schools Monday. Officials reported a case at Ecole Elementaire Sacre-Coeur in Grand Falls and another at a daycare located in the school. There is also a positive case at Quispamsis Middle School in Quispamsis.

Colin Furness, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, said if New Brunswick is to control the rise in new cases it needs to redouble efforts to reduce travel from outside the Atlantic region.

“If the province keeps doing what it’s doing, you’ll have more cases – plenty more – but not at the level that will get out of control,” Furness said in an e-mail Monday. “New Brunswickers should feel confident and optimistic, and of course, vigilant – drop your guard and you can get swamped between now and the summer.”

Efforts in some countries to control COVID-19 in schools by limiting class sizes and using alternate locations made for a more stable and effective learning environment, according to Prachi Srivastava from Western University. She says research shows a lower teacher-to-student ratio also has better education outcomes overall. The Globe and Mail

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