N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Hospitalizations, ICU and ventilator cases all increase
89 people with the virus are in hospital, 8 are in intensive care, and 3 of them are on ventilators
- Fate of suspended doctors in limbo
- 13 cases of Omicron subvariant now confirmed
- Outbreaks at Dumont, Edmundston hospitals declared over
- 358 new cases at 122 schools
The number of New Brunswickers hospitalized with COVID-19, those requiring intensive care and those on a ventilator all increased Wednesday, the COVID dashboard shows.
There are 89 people in hospital, up three from Tuesday, including 45 admitted for COVID-19 and 44 admitted for something else when they tested positive for the virus.
Eight people are in intensive care, an increase of five, and three of them are on ventilators, up two.
The latest figures come as the province prepares to lift all COVID-19 restrictions by March 14.
Of those hospitalized, one is aged 19 or under, four are in their 20s, three in their 30s, eight in their 40s, six in their 50s, 17 in their 60s, 19 in their 70s, 18 in their 80s, and five in their 90s.
Of those in ICU, one is in their 30s, two are in their 40s, one is in their 50s, and four are in their 70s.
The seven-day average of COVID-related hospitalizations decreased Wednesday to 79 from 80, following two days of increases that interrupted a steady decline since Feb. 7, when it stood at 161.
The seven-day average of people requiring intensive care remained steady at four.
Hospital occupancy increased to 91 per cent from 90 per cent, while ICU occupancy jumped to 77 per cent from 73 per cent.
There are now 521 health-care workers isolating because of COVID-19, an increase of 53. These include 272 with Horizon Health Network, 159 with Vitalité Health Network, and 90 with Extra-Mural and Ambulance New Brunswick.
Public Health confirmed 386 new cases of COVID-19 through lab-based PCR tests, putting the active case count at 3,633.
An additional 579 people self-reported testing positive on rapid tests.
Of the new PCR-confirmed cases, 22 are aged nine or under, 38 are aged 10 to 19, 64 are in their 20s, 56 in their 30s, 68 in their 40s, 69 in their 50s, 38 in their 60s, 17 in their 70s, 10 in their 80s and four in their 90s.
The regional breakdown of PCR-confirmed cases includes:
Moncton region, Zone 1
117 new cases and 1,274 active cases
Saint John region, Zone 2
95 new cases and 772 active cases
Fredericton region, Zone 3
87 new cases and 832 active cases
Edmundston region, Zone 4
24 new cases and 190 active cases
Campbellton region, Zone 5
18 new cases and 122 active cases
Bathurst region, Zone 6
30 new cases and 296 active cases
Miramichi region, Zone 7
15 new cases and 147 active cases
A total of 735,097 PCR tests have been conducted to date, including 1,702 on Tuesday.
As of Wednesday, 50.1 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have received their COVID-19 vaccine booster dose, up from 50 per cent, 87.1 per cent have received two vaccine doses, unchanged, and 92.8 per cent have received one dose, also unchanged.
Since Dec. 1, 58.9 per cent of hospitalizations have had "partial or no protection," which the province defines as fully vaccinated more than six months, partially vaccinated, and unvaccinated. No further breakdown is provided.
The other 41 per cent were "protected," which the province defines as boosted or fully vaccinated less than six months.
During that same period, 69.6 per cent of ICU cases had partial or no protection, 77.6 per cent of ventilator cases had partial or no protection, and 52.5 per cent of deaths had partial or no protection.
New Brunswick has had 38,155 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with 34,214 recoveries so far and 306 COVID-related deaths.
Fate of suspended doctors in limbo
In less than two weeks, New Brunswick will lift all COVID-19 restrictions, but it remains unclear whether the doctors who refused to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be allowed to return to practise medicine.
"Undecided," said Ed Schollenberg, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick.
"Possibly influenced by hospitals' decision. And maybe not even then," he said in an emailed statement, without elaborating.
Eleven doctors remain suspended, including two specialists and nine family doctors.
They were suspended by the college three months ago, leaving their patients scrambling to find care in a province already desperate for more doctors.
"It's very frustrating," Schollenberg has said. "We would have hoped physicians would have been more scientifically based in their decisions, but that's unfortunately not what we're seeing now."
All of the suspended doctors worked within the Horizon Health Network.
Asked for an update, Horizon spokesperson Kris McDavid said, "In terms of physician and staff vaccination policy, we are complying with the GNB policy."
Last week, when Premier Blaine Higgs announced all New Brunswick COVID-19 restrictions will be removed by March 14, he said provincial employees will still be required to get vaccinated for now.
Those who failed to provide proof of vaccination or a medical exemption, as mandated last fall, will remain on unpaid leave for the time being, Higgs told reporters.
"We haven't made a decision in regards to when they will be able to return to work and under what conditions," he said.
"As we lift measures we will be looking at all our pandemic policies, including mandatory vaccination for existing employees." Getting vaccinated continues to be a condition for new employees, he added.
Dr. Mark MacMillan, president New Brunswick Medical Society, said the decision about whether to reinstate the suspended doctors is up to the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
"I would have to defer to their guidance on what, if any, changes are happening, but I don't believe any changes are planned," he said.
Pressed for his opinion about whether they should be allowed to return to practice, MacMillan replied, "Right now we are in support of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick's mandate on mandatory vaccination for health-care workers.
"We care for the sickest and most vulnerable people in this province. We have to lead by example. So, we do encourage New Brunswickers to get vaccinated, therefore, we should be vaccinated as well."
'Just common sense'
Green Party Leader David Coon agrees.
"Clearly in the health-care system and in the long-term care system where you've got vulnerable people, large numbers of them in hospitals and in and long-term care homes, that requirement, it's got to stay in place," he said.
"I mean, that's just common sense."
Jean-Claude D'Amours, health critic for the Liberals and MLA for Edmundston-Madawaska Centre, took no position on the issue, saying it's up to the government and the medical society "to work together and decide what is best."
"We all understand that each each group, each party has a responsibility to protect the public, so it's to them to look at it and make a decision," he said.
People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin, meanwhile, said the suspended doctors should "absolutely" be reinstated.
"We know now that the vaccines do indeed produce protection against severity of disease. But the vaccine itself does little to nothing in terms of infection and transmission. So I think it really takes away from the argument of the need for vaccination at this point," he said.
13 cases of Omicron subvariant now confirmed
Four more New Brunswickers have tested positive for the highly transmissible COVID-19 Omicron subvariant called BA.2, according to the Department of Health.
That brings the provincial total to 13 since the first case — a person in the Moncton region, Zone 1 — was announced on Feb. 4.
But the actual number is likely higher.
"Keep in mind that prior to the introduction of the Omicron variant, the Department of Health was sequencing all of its COVID-19 cases," department spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said in an email. "However, with the current level of transmission, we are no longer able to maintain the level of sequencing that we were doing previously.
"The sequencing data that we do have is based on a subset of cases."
The Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre's lab testing methodology sequences upwards of 200 samples a week, which includes finding the BA.2 variant, he said.
Macfarlane initially refused to release the locations of the 13 confirmed cases, saying "all COVID-19 confirmed cases, regardless of variant, are reported in their respective zone and age category."
When CBC News pointed out the department has released the distribution of previous variant cases, he provided the following:
- Moncton region, Zone 1 — Seven cases
- Saint John region, Zone 2 — Two cases
- Fredericton region, Zone 3 — Three cases
- Miramichi region, Zone 7 — One case
Reporting on cases and subsequent variants of concerns "has evolved over the course of the pandemic," said Macfarlane.
"The first [variant of concern], the Alpha variant, was identified in February of 2021, in which the same information was relayed; essentially the number of cases in the province, the zones in which these individuals lived, and that these cases were travel-related.
"The Delta variant quickly overwhelmed the province with its transmission rates. The public was kept up to date on its momentum, and it was confirmed by the chief medical officer of health that the majority of cases were assumed to be Delta."
Although the department has previously indicated the severity of previous variant cases and, on occasion, disclosed vaccination status information, Macfarlane refused to release any details about the BA.2 cases, citing privacy.
"COVID-19 symptoms have been provided since we knew what to look for in terms of symptoms on the COVID-19 dedicated website www.gnb.ca/coronavirus," he said. "In step with this information, increases in transmissibility by both Delta and Omicron was communicated to the public.
"While the impact of all variants continues to be monitored, we know that vaccination — including a booster — in combination with Public Health and individual measures, is key to reducing the spread of COVID-19 and its variants as we transition to living with COVID-19.
"There has not been enough evidence gathered to date on the BA.2 VOC to infer increased severity."
BA.2 is believed to be about 30 per cent more transmissible than the BA.1 Omicron variant, which has caused a surge in hospitalizations and cases during the fifth wave of the pandemic.
Danish scientists have reported, however, there's no difference in hospitalizations when compared with BA.1, and vaccines are expected to continue offering protection against severe illness.
Outbreaks at Dumont, Edmundston hospitals declared over
COVID-19 outbreaks at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton and the Edmundston Regional Hospital are over, the Vitalité Health Network announced Wednesday.
Outbreaks had been declared at the Dumont hospital on Jan. 15 and Edmundston hospital on Jan. 7 because of the large number of nursing units affected by the virus.
General visits remain suspended, but eligible patients may once again be visited by a designated support person.
358 new cases at 122 schools
Another 358 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported at 122 schools since Tuesday, the Department of Education's website shows.
The self-reported cases include students and staff.
According to the website, the regional breakdown of some of the new cases is:
- Moncton region, Zone 1 — 58
- Saint John region, Zone 2 — 118
- Fredericton region, Zone 3 — 92
- Edmundston region, Zone 4 — Eight
- Campbellton region, Zone 5 — Six
- Bathurst region, Zone 6 — 20
- Miramichi region, Zone 7 — Six
A regional breakdown isn't always immediately available for all self-reported cases, department spokesperson Danielle Elliott has said.
A total of 9,818 cases have been reported at the province's schools since Feb. 1.
Since Sept. 7, when the school year started, 12,296 cases have been reported.
With files from Harry Forestell
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