17 new COVID-19 cases linked to Moncton, N.B., special care home

17 new COVID-19 cases linked to Moncton, N.B., special care home

Officials reported 17 new cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick on Wednesday, amid efforts to contain an outbreak at a special care home in Moncton.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said all of the new cases are in the Moncton health zone and connected to the Manoir Notre-Dame special care home, where an outbreak was declared Tuesday.

Russell said 13 residents, four staff and two family members have tested positive for the coronavirus. The first two cases were announced Tuesday. Two residents are in hospital. 

Russell said the source of the outbreak remains under investigation. 

“This is definitely a wake-up call,” Premier Blaine Higgs said at a COVID-19 briefing Wednesday.

There are 22 active cases of the respiratory illness across the province.

The 17 new cases, the largest single-day increase since late March, are:

  • Two people in their 20s.
  • Three people in their 40s. 
  • One person in their 50s. 
  • Two people in their 60s.
  • Five people in their 70s. 
  • Two people in their 80s. 
  • Two people older than 90. 

Russell warned of two other potential public exposures related to the outbreak. Anyone who has visited the Moncton Costco Optical Centre or the Moncton St. Hubert Restaurant since Oct. 1 is asked to self-monitor for symptoms. If they develop symptoms, they should call 811.

Russell said Tuesday that a rapid-response team was sent to the home on Monday night to begin mass testing and contact tracing. 

Admissions and visits at Manoir Notre-Dame are suspended until further notice.

According to the facility’s website, the home has residence rooms with two bedrooms and a shared bathroom as well as private rooms. It’s not clear how many of the rooms have shared bathrooms.

A representative of the New Brunswick Special Care Home Association did not return a request for comment.

A command centre trailer has been set up beside the home. Staff were coming and going but declined to comment. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Visitation changes

The outbreak has led to a series of changes to visitor access at other care homes in the region, and at two local hospitals. 

Vitalité Health Network said Wednesday it is temporarily suspending visits throughout the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre as it moves to a higher internal alert level. It is also reducing elective surgeries and some ambulatory services.

Visits to the obstetric, pediatric and palliative care units are restricted to one designated visitor per patient. Patients receiving a medically assisted death will be allowed two designated visitors, with one at a time, other than exceptional cases. 

Horizon Health Network says no visitors will be allowed at the Moncton Hospital. There are some exceptions with the details available on Horizon’s website

There was far less activity outside Notre-Dame on Wednesday. A emergency command centre has been established. Staff were coming and going from the trailer but declined to comment. Calls to the home went unanswered. 

At least 10 home oxygen kits were delivered to the home Wednesday morning, though it wasn’t clear why. 

Anne-Marie Johnson with her mother, Huguette, a resident of Manoir Notre-Dame. (Submitted by Anne-Marie Johnson)

No screening questions

Anne-Marie Johnson says she feared there would be new cases at the home where her mother lives. Johnson’s 89-year-old mother, Huguette, is one of 112 residents of Manoir Notre-Dame.

Based on what she considered lax entrance procedures at the home, Johnson said she fully expected more cases at Manoir Notre-Dame. 

When she and her sister visited the home two weeks ago, they wore masks and had their temperature checked in the lobby, but no screening questions were asked. She also said her sister and brother-in-law, who visited on Sunday, were not contacted on Tuesday as part of the contact-tracing process.

Johnson says she has tried to reassure her mother that everything will be OK. 

“I can’t show her how scared I am,” Johnson told Information Morning Fredericton. 

“I’m definitely sure I’m not the only person rattled this morning.” 

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said on Tuesday she’s concerned about the other 110 residents and 56 staff at Notre-Dame. (Submitted by the Province of New Brunswick)

She said she doesn’t feel comfortable leaving her mother at Manoir Notre-Dame.

“If there’s 10 cases there, I can’t leave my mother there. I can’t,” said Johnson. 

She planned to contact the Department of Social Development on Wednesday and ask about removing her mother from the special care home.

“I’ll do whatever I have to do to keep my mom. Bottom line. And I’ll make the calls that I need to make today,” said Johnson. 

She said the home was short-staffed before the pandemic hit, “but for us, that was the only home we could afford.”

Johnson said her mother told her that all residents of the facility were on lockdown in their rooms. 

“She said, ‘I’m just going to lay here and I’ll be OK,'” said Johnson. 

Jodi Hall, executive director of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes, said her organization doesn’t represent Notre-Dame since it’s not a nursing home. However, she said nursing homes are taking a closer look at their visitor rules.

Hall said she’s spoken with nursing homes in the region and hasn’t found any that shared employees with Notre-Dame. 

The cases at the home bring the total number of cases in New Brunswick since March to 222. Two people, both residents of Manoir de la Vallée, a special care home in the Campbellton region, died in June. 

There are now 20 active cases in the Moncton region and two in the Saint John region. A total of 81,696 tests have been done since March, with 887 over the last 24 hours. 

Manoir Notre-Dame is licensed for 120 beds. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Progressive Conservatives win coveted majority, CBC News projects

Progressive Conservatives win coveted majority, CBC News projects

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs’s snap election gamble has paid off as the governing party wins a majority, CBC News projects.

Higgs has won his coveted majority after two years of leading the province’s first minority government since 1920. The victory ends a streak of four consecutive single-term governments. 

The PC have been elected in 24 ridings and are leading in three more, which would give them 27 seats — two more than the 25 needed for a majority.

Touting the importance of stability in a tumultuous year, Higgs spent the abbreviated four-week campaign championing his government’s successful handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Brunswick and the province’s ongoing economic recovery.

Those are two factors that put him in a strong position when he called the election on Aug. 17, sending New Brunswickers to the polls amid the pandemic.

It’s the first general election in Canada since the emergence of COVID-19, and the snap election call itself has become one of the key points of contention in the four-week campaign that couldn’t be defined by a single prevailing issue.

However, it appears that hasn’t hurt Higgs or the party.

New Brunswick Votes 2020 Results: Watch returns come in live on our interactive results page.

The PCs are hovering around 40 per cent of the popular vote, a considerable bump compared to the 31 per cent share in 2018, and the party has gained seats in different regions of the province, including the three major centres: Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John. 

The party, however, lost the lone seat — Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou — it won two years ago in the predominantly francophone northern New Brunswick, showing Higgs continues to have trouble reaching francophone voters.

The Liberals, under first-time leader Kevin Vickers, have been elected in 15 ridings and are ahead in two others. A final tally of 17 would be four fewer seats than 2018. 

Several PC ministers have been re-elected, including Ted Flemming, Dominic Cardy, Andrea Anderson-Mason, Ross Wetmore, Jake Stewart, Bill Oliver and Trevor Holder.

How we got here

Higgs dissolved the legislature on Aug. 17 following unsuccessful talks between political parties to uphold the PC government until the official end of the pandemic or next the fixed election date in October 2022.

PC Leader Blaine Higgs made the snap election call on Aug. 17. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

Previous polling suggested the PCs were in a strong position amid the generally successful management of the outbreak in New Brunswick and economic recovery — something the Tories mentioned often in the past four weeks. 

Instead, the opposition parties are quick to praise Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, and the importance of the all-party cabinet committee struck to oversee COVID-related decisions. 

Third parties, like the Greens and People’s Alliance, have routinely used that point to extol the virtues of minority governments. Alliance Leader Kris Austin, who offered support for the PC government, and Green Leader David Coon have said the arrangement allows for greater government accountability, while arguing Higgs can’t be trusted with a majority.

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers used that refrain at almost every opportunity on the campaign trail, warning voters of Higgs’s “secret plan” to make deep cuts to public services, including health care in rural areas despite a PC pledge not to do so.

Vickers, the first-time leader who is seeking his first seat in the New Brunswick legislature, isn’t discussing a minority as the party hopes to flip enough seats to regain power and extend the run of one-term premiers.

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers is running in his first political campaign. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

The Brian Gallant Liberals’ unsuccessful bid to form government following the 2018 election furthered the streak governments held to a single term to four. Prior to the 2006 election, New Brunswick political parties have managed at least two consecutive terms in office since Confederation. 

Meanwhile, interim leader MacKenzie Thomason spent the campaign redefining the NDP as the party of the left after recent shifts in ideology. The NDP, which is seeking its first seat since 2003, has been shut out in four consecutive elections.

Things to keep in mind

The PCs won the most seats in the 2018 election with 22, three short of the 25 needed for a majority. The Liberals won 21, the Greens and Alliance took a historic three each. 

At dissolution, the PCs were down two seats after the death of Saint Croix MLA Greg Thompson and the departure of former deputy minister Robert Gauvin, who sat as an independent in Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou but is now running for the Liberals in Shediac Bay-Dieppe, a seat vacated by Gallant and unfilled prior to the campaign. 

The Liberals carried the popular vote in 2018 with a 37.8 per cent vote share — six points higher than the PCs. The Alliance received 12.5 per cent, the Greens earned 11.8 per cent and the NDP mustered five per cent. 

No party enters election day with a full roster of 49 candidates, after the PCs, Liberals and Alliance dismissed a candidate each last week over offensive social media posts targeting marginalized groups.

Former PC candidate Roland Michaud will be running as an independent in Victoria-La Vallée, a potential blow for the party who lost the seat to the Liberals in 2018 by 358 votes. On the other hand, the Liberals have no chance of retaking Saint Croix from the PCs after dropping candidate John Gardner, who is also running as an independent.

As the Tories scour the province for possible gains, they will be looking to central, western and southern areas. In 2018, Higgs had trouble breaking through in northern New Brunswick, which is predominantly francophone and leans heavily towards the Liberals; the electoral map showed a stark linguistic divide. 

The 2018 election results map shows a stark linguistic divide between the francophone north and anglophone south. (CBC)

The informal partnership between the PCs and the People’s Alliance, a party that has criticized the implementation of bilingualism in New Brunswick and called for a “common sense” approach, in the previous legislature appears to have deepened the divide. In the days after the 2018 election, the Alliance pledged to prop up a PC minority government for 18 months.

As CBC poll analyst Eric Grénier notes, the paths to victory for both Higgs and Vickers are narrow.

CBC News coverage 

CBC New Brunswick brings you election night coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. 

Join host Harry Forestell with expert analysis from Jacques Poitras, Rachel Cave and reporters in communities across the province. Polls close at 8 p.m. and we will have continuing coverage until the results are in.

Watch or listen on: CBC TV, CBC Gem, CBC Radio, CBC Listen, CBC News Network, cbc.ca/nb and on the CBC New Brunswick Facebook page. 

PCs will form government, but majority too close to call

PCs will form government, but majority too close to call

The Progressive Conservatives will form government, CBC News projects, but it’s too early to tell if leader Blaine Higgs’s snap election gamble for a majority has paid off.

This is a breaking news update. An earlier story is below.

Polls across New Brunswick are closing, and the results that will determine who forms the next provincial government are now coming in.

Touting the importance of stability in a tumultuous year, Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs is seeking a majority after two years of leading the province’s first minority government since 1920.

The PCs’ chief opposition are the Liberals under the leadership of Kevin Vickers, the former ambassador to Ireland and sergeant-at-arms in the House of Commons, in his first political campaign.

The PCs need to gain at least three seats over the 22 they took in 2018 to secure the 25 needed for majority, while the Liberals need to hold the 21 seats they won in the last election and flip another four.

Meanwhile, the Green Party and People’s Alliance want to improve on their historic finish in the previous election and extend the minority-government situation.

As of 8:15, there are already several elected ridings. Several PC ministers have been re-elected, including Ted Flemming, Dominic Cardy, Andrea Anderson-Mason, Ross Wetmore, Jake Stewart, Bill Oliver and Trevor Holder.

New Brunswick Votes 2020 Results: Watch returns come in live on our interactive results page.

Meanwhile, the Green Party and People’s Alliance want to improve on their historic finish in the previous election and extend the minority-government situation.

It’s the first general election in Canada since the emergence of COVID-19, and the snap election call itself has become one of the key points of contention in a four-week campaign that can’t be defined by a single prevailing issue.

Higgs dissolved the legislature on Aug. 17 following unsuccessful talks between political parties to uphold the PC government until the official end of the pandemic or next the fixed election date in October 2022.

PC Leader Blaine Higgs made the snap election call on Aug. 17. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

Previous polling suggested the PCs were in a strong position amid the generally successful management of the outbreak in New Brunswick and economic recovery — something the Tories mentioned often in the past four weeks. 

Instead, the opposition parties are quick to praise Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, and the importance of the all-party cabinet committee struck to oversee COVID-related decisions. 

The opposition

Third parties, like the Greens and People’s Alliance, have routinely used that point to extol the virtues of minority governments. Alliance Leader Kris Austin, who offered support for the PC government, and Green Leader David Coon have said the arrangement allows for greater government accountability, while arguing Higgs can’t be trusted with a majority.

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers used that refrain at almost every opportunity on the campaign trail, warning voters of Higgs’s “secret plan” to make deep cuts to public services, including health care in rural areas despite a PC pledge not to do so.

Vickers, the first-time leader who is seeking his first seat in the New Brunswick legislature, isn’t discussing a minority as the party hopes to flip enough seats to regain power and extend the run of one-term premiers.

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers is running in his first political campaign. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

The Brian Gallant Liberals’ unsuccessful bid to form government following the 2018 election furthered the streak governments held to a single term to four. Prior to the 2006 election, New Brunswick political parties have managed at least two consecutive terms in office since Confederation. 

Meanwhile, interim leader MacKenzie Thomason spent the campaign redefining the NDP as the party of the left after recent shifts in ideology. The NDP, which is seeking its first seat since 2003, has been shut out in four consecutive elections.

Polls across the province close at 8 p.m. AT, though six polling stations in five ridings will remain open beyond the deadline as a result of some “technical glitches,” according to Elections New Brunswick, the provincial agency that oversees elections. 

Spokesperson Paul Harpelle said there were some start-up issues in Fredericton and other areas have had trouble with “netbooks used for striking off voters on the electors list who have voted.”

Things to keep in mind

The PCs won the most seats in the 2018 election with 22, three short of the 25 needed for a majority. The Liberals won 21, the Greens and Alliance took a historic three each. 

At dissolution, the PCs were down two seats after the death of Saint Croix MLA Greg Thompson and the departure of former deputy minister Robert Gauvin, who sat as an independent in Shippagan-Lamèque-Miscou but is now running for the Liberals in Shediac Bay-Dieppe, a seat vacated by Gallant and unfilled prior to the campaign. 

The Liberals carried the popular vote in 2018 with a 37.8 per cent vote share — six points higher than the PCs. The Alliance received 12.5 per cent, the Greens earned 11.8 per cent and the NDP mustered five per cent. 

No party enters election day with a full roster of 49 candidates, after the PCs, Liberals and Alliance dismissed a candidate each last week over offensive social media posts targeting marginalized groups.

Former PC candidate Roland Michaud will be running as an independent in Victoria-La Vallée, a potential blow for the party who lost the seat to the Liberals in 2018 by 358 votes. On the other hand, the Liberals have no chance of retaking Saint Croix from the PCs after dropping candidate John Gardner, who is also running as an independent.

As the Tories scour the province for possible gains, they will be looking to central, western and southern areas. In 2018, Higgs had trouble breaking through in northern New Brunswick, which is predominantly francophone and leans heavily towards the Liberals; the electoral map showed a stark linguistic divide. 

The 2018 election results map shows a stark linguistic divide between the francophone north and anglophone south. (CBC)

The informal partnership between the PCs and the People’s Alliance, a party that has criticized the implementation of bilingualism in New Brunswick and called for a “common sense” approach, in the previous legislature appears to have deepened the divide. In the days after the 2018 election, the Alliance pledged to prop up a PC minority government for 18 months.

As CBC poll analyst Eric Grénier notes, the paths to victory for both Higgs and Vickers are narrow.

CBC News coverage 

CBC New Brunswick brings you election night coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. 

Join host Harry Forestell with expert analysis from Jacques Poitras, Rachel Cave and reporters in communities across the province. Polls close at 8 p.m. and we will have continuing coverage until the results are in.

Watch or listen on: CBC TV, CBC Gem, CBC Radio, CBC Listen, CBC News Network, cbc.ca/nb and on the CBC New Brunswick Facebook page. 

In-depth contact tracing casts doubt on N.B. doctor as source of spring COVID-19 outbreak

In-depth contact tracing casts doubt on N.B. doctor as source of spring COVID-19 outbreak

Within an hour of finding out he had tested positive for coronavirus in May, Dr. Jean Robert Ngola was being blamed as the source of a COVID-19 outbreak in Campbellton, N.B., after his confidential health information was leaked on social media. 

But an investigation by CBC’s The Fifth Estate and Radio-Canada reveals new contact tracing information that casts doubt on the certainty with which Ngola was identified as “patient zero” in the outbreak that resulted in more than 40 cases of COVID-19 and two deaths and points to dozens of other people in the northern New Brunswick community who could have brought the virus into the area.

Ngola’s legal team also showed CBC documents that indicate some of the people with whom Ngola came in contact during a trip to Quebec did not have the virus. Ngola had travelled to the neighbouring province in early May to pick up his four-year-old daughter without informing the hospital where he worked and did not self-isolate upon his return.

“We’ll fight it on the facts. Because on the facts, Jean Robert was not wrong,” said Joel Etienne, Ngola’s lawyer.

Ngola has since left Campbellton after enduring weeks of threats that he says drove him from the town he called home for seven years, which lies across the Restigouche River from Pointe-à-la-Croix, Que. He had more than 2,000 patients at his family clinic and also worked shifts at the Campbellton Regional Hospital emergency room.

Campbellton Regional Hospital employs 90 health workers who live in Quebec. More than 20 per cent of its patients are also from Quebec. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

At the time of the outbreak, Ngola was only seeing his clinic patients virtually but was treating patients in person in the ER.

You can go to Campbellton and ask what kind of physician is Dr. Ngola. I love this population but in one day, everything was destroyed,” said Ngola, 50, who has medical degrees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Belgium and the University of Laval in Quebec.

No symptoms

In a two-hour interview, Ngola answered questions about his reasons for travelling to Quebec and described the extent of the racist attacks he endured and the betrayal he said he felt at the hands of his employer and the province.

The Congolese-Canadian doctor found out he had tested positive for COVID-19 in a phone call from public health authorities around 11 a.m. on May 27. He was shocked because he didn’t have any symptoms. One hour later, his clinic staff informed him that his positive virus result was leaked on Facebook and he was being called “patient zero.”

At the daily 2:30 p.m. provincial pandemic update that day, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs confirmed three COVID-19 cases, including a child, a man in his 90s and an “irresponsible medical professional.” The premier didn’t name Ngola but publicly accused the unnamed “medical professional” of hiding his reasons for travel and breaking the rules by not self-isolating after his trip.

Two hours later, his employer, the Vitalité Health Network, suspended Ngola without pay over email. Another public health nurse called Ngola at 5 p.m. and informed him his daughter was also COVID-positive.

By the end of the week, spurred by a complaint by the province and Vitalité, the RCMP began investigating Ngola for criminal wrongdoing. 

The doctor blames a rush to judgment by the premier and his employer for tarnishing his reputation and putting him at risk. 

Lawyer Joel Etienne is representing Ngola and says the province rushed to judgment when it pinned an outbreak on him. (Jean-François Benoît/CBC)

“It’s more than racism — they put my life in danger,” said Ngola. 

His employer, however, says the physician violated the hospital’s COVID-19 protocols. Vitalité provided CBC with a copy of a self-assessment checklist emailed to all employees on April 6 that specified that anyone who travelled outside of New Brunswick — except those who commute from Quebec or Maine — had to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return.

Ngola said he received the email but that “there was a lot of confusion” and other doctors he worked with had not self-isolated after travelling out of province.

“I took precautions,” he said of his trip.

Disparaged on social media

Once his case was made public, Ngola was called a “disease” on Facebook and told to “go back to Africa.” One Campbellton resident posted a comment saying Ngola should be “lynched and dragged back across the bridge” referring to the span between Cambellton and Pointe-à-la-Croix, Que.

Meanwhile, photos of his home were splashed online. 

Residents called 911 with false reports that the doctor was seen shopping at Walmart. Ngola said police officers showed up at his door to ensure he wasn’t violating his quarantine. 

Unnerved by the invasion of his privacy, Ngola said he didn’t feel safe and “hid in the basement” with his child. 

“I have the fear in my belly. I don’t know what can happen,” he said. “You know some person — [if] mentally, they are not correct — they can come to do something. And I was alone with my daughter.”

At the time he tested positive, Ngola was only seeing patients virtually in his clinic but thinks he contracted the virus earlier from a patient while working in the Campbellton Regional Hospital ER.

“The pandemic is a war, and the physician is the first line,” he said. “We see patients who are asymptomatic.”

Currently on the campaign trail, Higgs brushed off criticism that singling out Ngola — even in a roundabout way — was reckless. 

“I had no knowledge of the individual until it appeared in social media,” he said. “The concern I had throughout this pandemic is that we have to be conscious, we rely heavily on our medical professionals. It was disappointing because it resulted in a situation where we had two fatalities.”

No criminal charges but could face fine

On May 30, the provincial government and Vitalité asked the RCMP to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing by Ngola. After a six-week investigation, police decided against laying criminal charges, but Ngola could still face a hefty provincial fine for violating the Emergency Services Act by not self-isolating for 14 days after travel. He is set to appear in provincial court in Campbellton on Oct. 26.

WATCH: Ngola describes the effect of the leak of his personal information:

Within an hour of finding out he was COVID-positive, he was attacked on social media. 1:27

The former lead investigator into the Walkerton tainted water scandal says he is in Ngola’s corner. Craig Hannaford, a former RCMP officer who is now a private investigator with the firm Haywood Hunt and Associates in Toronto and was hired by Ngola’s lawyer, spent one month retracing the physician’s overnight trip to Montreal looking for evidence that could prove Ngola didn’t get COVID-19 in Quebec.

Hannaford said he identified several health workers who were crossing into Quebec from Cambellton and not isolating upon their return around the same time as Ngola. 

“The long arm of the state seems to be pointing fingers [at Ngola], saying: ‘You did it.’ Yet there seems to be all sorts of explanations as to how this happened,” said Hannaford.

He said his investigation took one month compared to the few hours it took New Brunswick Public Health to zero in on Ngola.

“That’s not a fair and balanced investigation,” he said. 

Anatomy of a trip

When Ngola met the The Fifth Estate team in Quebec, along with his lawyer, they provided more information about his reasons for the trip to Quebec and the precautions he took.

In early May, Ngola said, he was in a conundrum. He was asked by his ex-partner, who lives in Montreal, to take care of their four-year-old daughter while she flew to Africa to attend her father’s funeral. Ngola had shifts at the Campbellton ER that he was concerned management couldn’t backfill. So he asked his younger brother, who is a student in Montreal, to look after the child for five days while he figured out how to pick her up. 

Unsure of the rules under the provincial Emergency Services Act, Ngola called the RCMP before his trip, who directed him to the New Brunswick COVID hotline. 

Ngola said the operator told him that as an essential worker, he did not have to self-isolate upon his return.

CBC found conflicting information on New Brunswick government websites about who needs to self-isolate when returning to the province. On one site outlining travel guidelines, a section labelled “People not required to self-isolate” lists healthy residents who must cross the border to access required goods services, patients accessing medical care and parents with a shared custody of children.

Ngola also called the Quebec COVID hotline for advice. He said the person who answered reminded him to bring a letter that showed he had permission to take his child across the border. He doesn’t have recordings of his conversations but said his cellphone logs prove he made those calls. 

The J.C. Van Horne Bridge spans the Restigouche River and connects Campbellton, N.B., to Pointe-à-la-Croix, Que. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

On his 30-hour round trip, Ngola said he encountered a total of five people: his daughter, his brother, two doctors and a gas station clerk.

On May 12, Ngola left Campbellton after his ER shift ended at 4 p.m. He gassed up his car and drove nearly nine hours without stopping to Montreal. After a brief conversation with his brother, he went to sleep. The next morning, he left the city with his daughter around 9 a.m.

Ngola said he had a previously scheduled conference call with two doctors in Trois-Rivières on May 13 but decided to meet with them in person since he was passing through the town.

They met for 20 minutes, wearing masks and gloves, and sat two metres apart. They discussed a potential job for Ngola at their clinic. The only other stop Ngola said he made on this journey was at a gas station in La Pocatière, Que. 

After filling up, he went inside to pay for the fuel and some food before crossing into New Brunswick near Edmundston around 6 p.m. 

Ngola said he told peace officers at the border checkpoint that he was a doctor and that he had travelled overnight to pick up his daughter. He said he was given a pamphlet with general instructions about self-isolating. By 9 p.m., he was back home in Campbellton.  

Craig Hannaford, a former RCMP officer who is now a private investigator, spent one month retracing Ngola’s overnight trip to Montreal to look for evidence that he didn’t get COVID-19 in Quebec. (Mia Sheldon/CBC)

Unlikely but not impossible

Hannaford said the Trois-Rivières doctors did not get COVID-19 nor did Ngola’s younger brother.

The Fifth Estate was unable to reach the doctors for comment but has seen the brother’s negative test result. The 36-year-old was tested at the Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont in Montreal three days after Ngola’s own nasal swab. 

CBC also asked Dalhousie University epidemiologist Dr. Karina Top, who studies infectious disease and vaccine efficacy, to review the information. The physician said it’s unlikely, but not impossible, that Ngola contracted the virus on his brief trip.

“Overall, it’s a short time, and he was in contact with a small number of people,” Top said. “So it would seem like the risk would be reasonably low as to have been in contact with COVID-19. But it’s not impossible.”

Top said the public should be informed when they come in contact with someone who is infected, but she’s alarmed by the privacy breach in Ngola’s case. 

“It’s also counterproductive to public health efforts, because it means other people will see what he went through and may be less likely to get tested if they have mild symptoms,” she said. “And if they are found to have COVID, they may be less likely to be forthcoming and honest about where they’ve been and who they’ve been with out of fear that they will face the same stigma.” 

The investigation by Hannaford also points to a potential government worker in Campbellton as the source of the leak. 

Social media posts reviewed by The Fifth Estate suggest that Ngola was identified on Facebook by someone who said their spouse was on “the COVID-19 monitoring team.” The person did not respond to Facebook requests for an interview. 

Daycare contact

New Brunswick had just recorded two straight weeks without a coronavirus case when the outbreak publicly linked to Ngola forced the Restigouche region to remain in lockdown while the rest of the province opened restaurants and gyms and expanded social bubbles. 

The first sign of the outbreak came on May 21. Public health authorities announced a child in Campbellton tested positive for the virus. 

Two other cases quickly followed. On May 27, New Brunswick’s chief public health officer, Jennifer Russell, announced that a man in his 90s and a medical worker had also tested positive. 

At the time, she also said it was mandatory for health professionals to self-isolate after leaving the province and later lamented that the outbreak had been “preventable.”

Ngola was the medical worker, and the man in his 90s was one of his patients who had stopped by his clinic a few days earlier to ask for a prescription refill. Ngola said he filled the order while remaining physically distanced and wore a mask.

The boy who tested positive happened to also had spent one day at the same daycare that Ngola’s daughter attended, Garderie les Bouts et Choux, and his mother is a nurse who works at Campbellton Regional Hospital. 

Hours after Ngola’s name was leaked on the internet, residents started calling 911 with false reports that he was breaking his quarantine. RCMP were dispatched to his Campbellton home to ensure he was self-isolating. (Serge Bouchard/ Radio-Canada)

Daycare operator Cecile Castonguay said she doesn’t blame Ngola for the outbreak. 

“I don’t know if the boy gave the virus to [Ngola’s] daughter or if his daughter gave it to the boy. How can anyone know?” said Castonguay.

CBC News has learned and Vitalité confirmed that the nurse shares custody of the boy with a parent who lives on the Quebec side of the Restigouche River. 

Vitalité says 90 employees, or nearly 10 per cent of its hospital staff, live in Pointe-à-la-Croix and cross the bridge to Cambellton daily. More than 20 per cent of patients who visit the ER at Campbellton Regional Hospital are from Quebec.

Because of staff shortages, hospitals in northern New Brunswick rely heavily on doctors from outside the province. CBC had previously reported that 22 doctors who worked for the Vitalité Health Network, including nine in the Cambellton region, did not fully self-isolate after travelling out of province.

No apology owed, says employer

Despite initially warning that 150 people might have been at risk of infection, the head of the hospital network admits he doesn’t know if Ngola was the source of the spring outbreak.

“At Vitalité, we don’t know if he’s patient one, zero, four or five. We’re not privy to that information” said Gilles Lanteigne, Vitalité’s CEO. 

Lanteigne said he didn’t bow to political pressure but acted because the physician had violated the hospital’s COVID-19 protocols. 

Christian Michaud, a constitutional lawyer in Moncton, is a member of Ngola’s legal team. (Nicolas Steinbachs/Radio-Canada)

“I don’t think I owe Dr. Ngola an apology … that decision was done quickly based on the fact that Dr. Ngola had not informed us that he was leaving the province and that after he came back he didn’t self-isolate.” 

Ngola’s lawyer, Etienne, said his client took all the necessary precautions and is being scapegoated and arbitrarily punished for what was a common practice among the public and medical staff. During the outbreak, at least 10 hospital employees, including at least one other doctor, contracted the virus, but only Ngola’s name leaked out.

“This is all about the arbitrariness of making rules when there were no rules, making them on the fly — and deciding that one person is guilty,” said Etienne.

WATCH: Lawyer sees lasting impact of confidential leak:

Joel Etienne says Ngola will face consequences for the rest of his life. 1:14

The most recent addition to Ngola’s defence team is Christian Michaud, a constitutional expert based in Moncton who says Ngola’s charter rights were violated by the premier when he de facto identified him as patient zero.

“This is a public interest case. It involves the premier who has prejudged the case,” he said. “I’m very concerned about what I’m observing in terms of breaches of basic fundamental principles of charter rights. For example, the presumption of innocence, the right to remain silent, the right not to suffer any abuses of power.” 

Ngola is focused on building a fresh start at a clinic in Louiseville, Que.

He said his suspension and the threats prevented him from helping his patients transition to a new doctor and drove him out of Campbellton before he could sell his house. But he has received more than 200 letters and emails of support from across Canada. Many are from strangers. 

Louiseville has a shortage of doctors and has embraced Ngola with open arms, he said, allowing him the opportunity to see his daughter more often without crossing provincial borders.