New Brunswick

N.B. records 4 more COVID-19 deaths, increase in hospitalizations in final weekly update

COVID-19 has killed four more New Brunswickers. Hospital admissions because of the virus have decreased, while new lab-confirmed cases and the positivity rate have remained "stable," data released by the province Tuesday shows.

New cases and positivity rate remain stable, as province moves to monthly COVIDWatch reports until fall

A nurse gowns up in a hospital.
The province says 11 people have been admitted to hospital because of COVID-19 in the past week, while the regional health networks say they have 41 people hospitalized either for or with the virus. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

COVID-19 has killed four more New Brunswickers, hospital admissions because of the virus have decreased, while new lab-confirmed cases and the positivity rate have remained "stable," data released by the province Tuesday shows.

It's the final weekly COVIDWatch report before the province switches to monthly updates "to ensure consistency in [its] reporting on respiratory illnesses," Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, has said.

Horizon Health Network plans to continue to update its COVID-19 dashboard every week for now, according to spokesperson Kris McDavid. He did not respond by the end of the day to a request for a comment on the reasoning.

Vitalité Health Network has not yet made a decision about its weekly COVID updates, according to an unidentified media spokesperson. It's "studying the issue."

XBB.1.16 confirmed

The new Omicron subvariant that has caused a surge in India and has been detected in at least 33 countries, has now spread to New Brunswick, the Department of Health confirmed to CBC.

To date, two cases of XBB.1.16 have been confirmed in the province, said spokesperson Sean Hatchard. Public Health was notified of the first case on April 20 and the second on April 27, he said.

"If this, or another variant, presented new risks for citizens, Public Health would take action to inform the public, and to make recommendations on how they can reduce their risks," Hatchard said in an emailed statement.

On April 17 the World Health Organization (WHO) elevated XBB.1.16 to a "variant of interest" from a "variant under monitoring."

A lab scientist wearing full protective gear holds a device over a sample tube.
Two cases of the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.16, which is quickly spreading around the world, have now been confirmed in New Brunswick, according to the Department of Health. (Leah Hennel/Alberta Precision Laboratories)

Last week, Hatchard initially declined to provide any information on XBB.1.16, saying the province isn't regularly releasing detailed breakdowns of subvariants. When pressed on whether he was refusing to confirm whether it had been detected in the province, spokesperson Adam Bowie replied on the morning of April 20, saying no cases had been confirmed, but reiterated the department will not confirm every subvariant. "It takes time and resources away from staff's other duties to pull this data," Bowie had said.

COVIDWatch provides a breakdown of the "major" variants detected through sequencing, such as XBB, BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5, but not the subvariants contained within.

No province in Atlantic Canada is regularly releasing detailed breakdowns, Hatchard said Tuesday, noting more than 100 genetic sequences of COVID-19 have been detected in the province since the beginning of the pandemic.

"The breakdowns provided are meant to inform the public about the most commonly spreading strains of the virus at any given time," he said.

Of the 33 random positive PCR samples sent for genetic sequencing between April 14 and April 23, 79 per cent were Omicron XBB, the COVIDWatch report shows. Omicron BA.5 represented 12 per cent of samples and Omicron BA.2, nine per cent.

Pandemic death toll reaches 883

One of the people who died was aged 50 to 69 and the other three were aged 70 or older, a comparison of data in the latest COVIDWatch report to last week's report reveals.

They did not die during the reporting week, April 23 to April 29. Two died earlier in April, one in March and one in February, a graphic in the report indicates.

Deaths are subject to an average two-month lag in reporting from date of death to the registration of death, the report says.

COVID has now claimed the lives of 883 New Brunswickers since the beginning of the pandemic.

Positivity rate increases to 11%

Eleven people were admitted to the hospital because of COVID in the past week, up from seven, according to the province. None require intensive care, down from one.

The two regional health authorities say that as of Saturday, they had 41 people hospitalized who were either admitted because of COVID or initially admitted for another reason and later tested positive for the virus. None require intensive care. A week ago, Horizon and Vitalité reported having 42 hospitalized COVID patients, including five in intensive care.

A total of 78 new cases of COVID have been confirmed through 708 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, for a positivity rate of 11 per cent.

Last week the positivity rate — an indicator of community transmission  — was 9.8 per cent. Eighty new cases were confirmed through 818 PCR tests.

An additional 39 people self-reported testing positive on a rapid test, down from 50, according to figures from the Department of Health.

Vaccination rates remain stalled

COVID-19 vaccination rates remain stalled again after only 259 vaccine doses were administered in the past week, including 158 second boosters. The rates include:

  • First dose — 91.1 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers.
  • Second dose — 85.9 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers.
  • First booster — 54.8 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers.
  • Second booster — 30.5 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers.
A nurse wearing a blue medical mask and latex gloves administers a vaccine to the right arm of a woman with grey hair, wearing a hat.
People most at risk for severe illness, including seniors and the immunocompromised, are encouraged to get a spring COVID-19 vaccine booster if at least five months have passed since their last dose or infection. New Brunswickers aged five and older who received a booster in the fall are considered up to date and not currently eligible for an additional dose. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

CBC requested an interview with Dr. Russell, but did not receive a response.

The next COVIDWatch report is scheduled to be released on May 30. Biweekly reports will begin in mid-September, with the start of the next respiratory season, and weekly reports are expected to resume in October.

If Public Health determines there would be a benefit to the public by reverting to weekly reporting, it will make that change.- Sean Hatchard, Department of Health spokesperson

In announcing the reporting switch last week, the Department of Health said Public Health will continue to monitor the data closely, "and if the situation changes, it can always adjust the reporting cycle as required." Asked Tuesday what might trigger a return to weekly reports, the spokesperson did not respond directly.

"If Public Health determines there would be a benefit to the public by reverting to weekly reporting, it will make that change," Hatchard said.

"It should be noted that the number of deaths, hospitalizations and positive cases have been relatively stable or declining since January," he added.

Horizon and Vitalité breakdowns

Horizon has 24 of the hospitalized COVID patients as of Saturday, down from 30, according to its weekly COVID-19 dashboard. None are in intensive care, down from four a week ago.

Half of them are in the Fredericton region, Zone 3. The Saint John region, Zone 2, has seven, while the Moncton region, Zone 1, has the other five.

Vitalité has the other 17 COVID patients, up from 12, its weekly COVID update shows. No one requires intensive care, down from one.

The majority of the patients, 12, are at the Chaleur Regional Hospital in the Bathurst region, Zone 6. The Edmundston Regional Hospital in the Edmundston region, Zone 4, and the Campbellton Regional Hospital in the Campbellton region, Zone 5, each have two patients, and the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in the Moncton region, Zone 1, has one.

There are more health-care workers off the job across the province after testing positive for COVID-19 this week, at 51, compared to 32.

Horizon has 21 of the infected employees, up from 15, while Vitalité has 15, down from 17.

Horizon has COVID-19 outbreaks on four hospital units, the same number as a week ago. Two are in the Saint John region, while the Moncton region and Fredericton region each have one. No other details are provided.

Vitalité has not updated its outbreak page. It's still listing two outbreaks at Chaleur Regional Hospital, as of April 24, on the medical unit (2 West), and on the extended care unit (4 West).