New Brunswick

N.B. moves to monthly COVID-19 reports, as province records 2 more deaths

New Brunswick is cutting back its COVID-19 updates to monthly instead of weekly, effective May 2, until October, when "regular reporting" will resume.

Weekly reports will resume in October, according to notice at top of COVIDWatch report

A close up of a person's arm, in a yellow sleeve with a blue latex glove, touching the chest of someone lying on a hospital bed.
New Brunswick has added two more deaths to its COVID-19 death toll, a person aged 50 to 69 and a person aged 70 or older. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

New Brunswick is cutting back its COVID-19 updates to monthly instead of weekly, effective May 2, until October, when "regular reporting" will resume.

The Department of Health announced the change through a notice at the top of Tuesday's COVIDWatch report.

Reports will be released on May 2, May 30, June 27, July 25, and Aug. 29, it says.

"For the next respiratory illness season, which will begin in early September, we will release bi-weekly reports on September 12th and September 26th and then move to weekly reporting afterwards."

The change came as the province announced two more deaths from COVID-19, a decrease in new admissions to hospital because of the virus, and a decrease in new lab-confirmed cases.

CBC News requested an interview with Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health.

Health Department spokesperson Adam Bowie replied: "As we have indicated before, the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health holds media availabilities when there is new and important information to convey to New Brunswickers."

When pressed on the move to monthly reporting being "new and important information," and for an explanation of what reasoning went into the decision, Bowie provided an emailed statement from Russell.

A portrait of a woman with long, dark hair, seated in what appears to be an office, wearing a navy blazer and navy and white striped shirt.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Public Health will continue to monitor COVID-19 data closely. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

"Public Health is transitioning its respiratory illness reporting to a monthly cycle — a standard practice that occurs annually here in the province and at the national level for the federal government's national influenza report, FluWatch. 

"These changes are being made as influenza activity often dips between April and September as we move past the traditional respiratory illness season," Russell said.

"To ensure consistency in our reporting on respiratory illnesses, Public Health will also be transitioning its COVID-19 reporting to a monthly cycle, effective May 2, to align with both the province's and the federal government's national influenza reporting schedule.

While COVID-19 activity continues to be an ongoing concern, the province's case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths have been relatively stable since January.- Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health

"Throughout the pandemic, New Brunswick has adapted its COVID-19 reporting to match the situation at hand, and to align with evolving evidence and practices. 

"While COVID-19 activity continues to be an ongoing concern, the province's case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths have been relatively stable since January.

"Still, Public Health will be monitoring the data closely, and if the situation changes, it can always adjust the reporting cycle as required."

Staff members work at an ICU in an Alberta hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic.
All seven of the people newly admitted to hospital because of COVID-19 in the past week were at least 70 years old, according to the COVIDWatch report. (Submitted by AHS)

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

They died in late March, not during the reporting week — April 16 to April 22, according to a graphic in the report.

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

Their deaths raise the province's pandemic death toll to 879.

Seven people were admitted to the hospital because of COVID in the past week, down from 12 the previous week, according to the province. One person required intensive care, the same number as a week ago.

The two regional health authorities say that as of Saturday, they had 42 people hospitalized who were either admitted because of COVID or initially admitted for another reason and later tested positive for the virus. That's a 20 per cent increase from the 35 COVID patients a week ago.

Five people require intensive care, up from none.

There were 80 new cases of COVID confirmed through 818 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests. That's a positivity rate of 9.8 per cent.

The positivity rate — an indicator of community transmission  — was 11 per cent a week ago.

An additional 50 people self-reported testing positive on a rapid test, down from 55, according to figures from the Department of Health.

No XBB.1.16 detected yet

Of the 40 random positive PCR samples sent for genetic sequencing, 92 per cent were Omicron XBB. COVIDWatch does not provide a further breakdown of sublineages.

As of April 20, no cases of the new subvariant XBB.1.16 have been detected in New Brunswick, the department spokesperson confirmed.

"However, as we've previously stated, we're not going to confirm every subvariant. There have been more than 100 different subtypes sequenced since the beginning of the pandemic," Bowie said in an emailed statement. "It takes time and resources away from staff's other duties to pull this data.

"If Public Health determines there's a public interest in sharing data about a new subvariant, it will share that information."

The World Health Organization (WHO) elevated XBB.1.16 to a "variant of interest" last week, from a "variant under monitoring."

First identified in January, XBB.1.6 has now been reported in 33 countries, including India, where it has caused a surge in infections, become the dominant strain, and prompted a return to mandatory masking in some regions. In Canada, XBB.1.16 accounts for about 2.6 per cent of cases, as of April 17.

A woman with long black hear who is wearing a mask holds a syringe.
Only about 13 per cent of New Brunswickers aged five or older have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose in the past five months, according to recent figures from the Department of Health. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

WHO says XBB.1.16 could become the dominant variant globally. It appears to be spreading faster than previous variants and escapes immunity, even in people who have recently had the XBB.1.5 strain.

It does not, however, appear to be causing more severe illness. "Taken together, available information does not suggest that XBB.1.16 has additional public health risk relative to XBB.1.5 and the other currently circulating Omicron descendent lineages," WHO has said.

Still, WHO has recommended countries share information about the new variant, conduct immunity tests, and track severity indicators.

The Omicron subvariant BA. 2 represented five per cent of the province's sequenced cases, and Omicron BA.5, three per cent, the COVIDWatch report shows.

A total of 311 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered across the province in the past week, leaving vaccination rates unchanged again. They 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.

Horizon and Vitalité breakdowns

Horizon Health Network has 30 of the hospitalized COVID patients, including four in intensive care, its weekly COVID-19 dashboard shows. That's up from 22 and none, respectively, a week ago.

The majority of the patients are split between the Moncton region, Zone 1, with 14, and the Saint John region, Zone 2, with 12. The other four are in the Fredericton region, Zone 3.

Vitalité Health Network has the other 12 COVID patients, down from 13, according to its weekly COVID update. One person requires intensive care, up from none.

Eight of the patients are at the Chaleur Regional Hospital in the Bathurst region, Zone 6, three are at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in the Moncton region, Zone 1, and the one in intensive care is at the Campbellton Regional Hospital in the Campbellton region, Zone 5.

The number of health-care workers off the job after testing positive for COVID has dropped to 32 from 50 in the past week — 15 at Horizon and 17 at Vitalité.

There are COVID-19 outbreaks on four Horizon hospital units — two in the Moncton region and two in the Saint John region. No other details are provided. A week ago, Horizon had two hospital COVID outbreaks.

Vitalité now has two COVID outbreaks at Chaleur Regional Hospital, including a new one on the medical unit (2 West), as of Monday. The outbreak on the extended care unit (4 West) continues, according to the website.