New Brunswick

N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Person in their 20s one of 5 new deaths, 152 hospitalizations

New Brunswick recorded five more COVID-related deaths Monday, including a person in their 20s, and hospitalizations dropped to 152 after reaching a weekend high of 164.

Hospitalizations reached 164 on Sunday after top doctor projected peak of about 150 in mid-February

The number of COVID hospitalizations decreased by 12 Monday, but the number of people in intensive care increased by three and the number of people on ventilators by two. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

New Brunswick recorded five more COVID-related deaths Monday, including a person in their 20s, and hospitalizations dropped to 152 after reaching a weekend high of 164.

The five deaths include a person in their 80s in the Moncton region, Zone 1, a person in their 20s in the Saint John region, Zone 2, a person in their 80s in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, a person in their 70s in the Edmundston region, Zone 4, and a person in their 70s in the Bathurst region, Zone 6, according to the COVID dashboard.

Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said he had no other information about the youngest person, including their exact age, whether they had any underlying health conditions, their vaccination status, or what type of COVID variant they had.

"All I have is that an individual between 20-29 passed away," he said in an email.

Last April, a person in their their 20s from the Moncton region, Zone 1, died, becoming the youngest person in the province to die from the disease since the pandemic began.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, declined to say at the time whether the person had any underlying medical conditions, citing privacy. But she did say she believed the person had the variant first reported in the U.K. and that the case was travel-related.

The latest deaths raise the pandemic death toll to 238.

Dr. Jennifer Russell has called new hospital admissions 'an important indicator' of COVID's spread in the province, especially now that it's impossible to get an accurate count of new cases. (Government of New Brunswick)

Of the 152 people in hospital, 68 of them are hospitalized for COVID and the other 84 with COVID, meaning they were already admitted for something else when they tested positive for the virus.

Sixteen people are in intensive care, an increase of three. Seven of them are on ventilators, up two.

Last Thursday, during a COVID briefing, Russell said officials expected hospitalizations to peak at "about 150" in mid-February.

This was part of explanation for the province's return to the less restrictive Level 2 of the COVID-19 winter plan two days earlier than expected. Previous projections showed hospitalizations were expected to reach nearly 220.

Several factors contributed to the increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the weekend, according to Macfarlane, "including, but not limited to, the weather creating difficult situations for the discharge of COVID-19 positive patients who may have been eligible for discharge otherwise and outbreaks leading to faster than usual spread."

Much of the province was hit with a storm Saturday that dumped nearly 40 centimetres of snow and knocked out power to about 3,500 home and businesses with hazardous wind gusts. He did not elaborate on what outbreaks he was referring to.

"In addition, as shared by Dr. Russell last week, our modelling data is regularly updated as we learn more, and we anticipated as of last week to peak somewhere between 150-165," said Macfarlane.

"That said, the range could change as newer information is incorporated into the model."

He did not say whether officials expect it might increase or decrease.

The seven-day average of hospitalizations jumped to 147, from 144, while the seven-day average of ICU admissions remained stable at 12, the dashboard shows.

The hospitalization number the province uses to decide whether to change levels is not the total hospitalizations, or the seven-day average of the number of people in hospital, but rather the seven-day average of new admissions, which is not available on the dashboard.

The dashboard does not indicate the ages of those hospitalized either. Public Health used to indicate in a news releases how many of the cases were 19 or under and how many were 60 or over, but it has stopped providing the releases, just as students resume in-person learning.

Asked about this lack of data, Macfarlane noted the dashboard does provide the total number of positive and negative tests by age group, as well as the number of new cases by region and age group.

"Additional changes reflecting those specific age categories is being reviewed and should be available on the dashboard in due course," he said.

The occupancy rate of the province's hospitals is listed at 86 per cent and ICU capacity is at 77 per cent.

Across the province, 402 health-care workers who have tested positive for COVID are isolating, including 170 from the Horizon Health Network, 139 from the Vitalité Health Network and 93 from Extra-Mural/Ambulance New Brunswick.

There were 169 new cases of COVID-19 reported, based on PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab tests, putting the total active case count at 4,841.

An additional 517 people self-reported testing positive at home with rapid tests.

A total of 688,492 PCR tests have been conducted to date, including 631 on Sunday.

Some COVID-19 data from the province's dashboard Monday. Public Health has stopped issuing daily news releases. (CBC)

The regional breakdown of the 169 PCR-confirmed cases includes:

Moncton region,  Zone 1

  •  36 cases

Saint John region, Zone 2

  • 39 cases

Fredericton region, Zone 3

  • 41 cases

Edmundston region, Zone 4

  • 22 cases

Campbellton region, Zone 5

  • Five cases

Bathurst region, Zone 5

  • 19 cases

Miramichi region, Zone 7

  • Seven cases

A total of 44 per cent of eligible New Brunswick have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose, up from 43.3 per cent, 84.5 per cent have received two doses of a vaccine, up from 84.4 per cent, and 92.1 per cent have received one dose, unchanged.

New Brunswick has had 28,885 cases of COVID since the beginning of the pandemic with 23,804 recoveries so far.

Students resume in-person classes

All New Brunswick public school students returned to in-person learning Monday for the first time since before the holiday break.

The return to classes coincides with the province's return Friday at 11:59 p.m. to the less restrictive Level 2 of the COVID-19 winter plan.

"School is the best place for kids physically and mentally," Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said during a recent COVID briefing.

"There are risks in the return to school, but I'm confident those risks are manageable," she said.

All students must wear a mask both indoors and outdoors, except K-8 students if they are outdoors and within their class grouping. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Among some of the measures in place:

  • Classrooms bubbles for students in kindergarten to Grade 8
  • Universal indoor masking, except when eating or drinking, for staff, students at all grade levels
  • Outdoors, K-8 students not required to wear a mask if they're within their bubble
  • Limited use of wind instruments and singing
  • Vaccination requirements for those 12 or older for extracurricular activities, sports and clubs
  • KN95-grade masks or higher will be provided for teachers and staff
  • Well-fitting, three-layer masks are recommended for students
  • Families are responsible for notifying schools if their child tests positive 

Most students have been learning online at home since Jan. 11, which was initially expected to continue until Jan. 21.

When the province moved to Level 3, the most restrictive level, of the winter plan, amid soaring COVID cases and hospitalizations, students' return to schools was pushed back until Monday.

Some students with special needs attended school in-person in recent weeks, however, due to their need for extra supports.

As of Dec. 22, the latest provincial figures available from the Department of Education, 897 cases of COVID had been confirmed in 193 schools since Sept. 7.

Although Public Health used to notify schools of positive cases, conduct contact tracing and notify close contacts, while schools or school districts used to notify families of positive cases, each school district now has its own COVID dashboard, where they list schools that have at least one reported COVID case daily. It's up to families to check the lists.

No sign of new subvariant

There's no sign the new Omicron subvariant BA.2 is in the province yet, according to the Department of Health, but officials are monitoring the situation "very closely."

BA.2 is now spreading in more than 50 countries around the world, including Canada.

"To date, this strain has not yet been identified in New Brunswick," department spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane told CBC News Monday.

"Although there is currently limited data available around BA.2, and no evidence indicating that it is more virulent than previous variants, we know that BA.2 is more transmissible and we expect more cases and the same amount of hospitalizations," he said.

"However, New Brunswick and our federal colleagues are monitoring the situation very closely as new evidence and data emerges."

Last Friday, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief medical health officer, said more than 100 cases of BA.2 have been detected in Canada since November, with about 77 of those identifications coming from the National Microbiology Laboratory, and the rest from provinces and territories.

Although Tam said the country's overall Omicron wave appears to be peaking, there's "always a possibility" this wave could wind up extended.

Danish scientists recently reported there's no difference in hospitalizations when compared with BA.1, and vaccines are expected to continue offering protection against severe illness — though early data does show that BA.2 may be more than 1.5 times more transmissible.

The U.K. Health Security Agency said Friday BA.2 has a doubling time of roughly four days and scientists believe it will become the country's dominant strain within the next month.

Asked whether provincial officials believe the subvariant is present even though it hasn't been detected yet, Macfarlane replied: "Current laboratory surveillance does not indicate that BA.2 is currently in New Brunswick."

"With limited information available around BA.2, we are collaborating with our federal colleagues to understand the national picture and will continue to sequence cases within New Brunswick with the hopes of detecting the presence of the variant early."

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