New Brunswick

N.B. COVID-19 roundup: 2 more deaths and 113 people hospitalized, including 16 in ICU

New Brunswick recorded two more COVID-related deaths Monday, and 113 people are hospitalized with the virus, including 16 in intensive care.

Booster dose urged, with 75% of those in ICU unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or past 6 months

Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, says it's 'vital' for New Brunswickers to be fully vaccinated and boosted as the Omicron variant surges. (GNB/YouTube)

Latest

  • Some schools to stop notifying families of positive cases
  • Wage top-up for workers who serve vulnerable residents
  • COVID antiviral pill approved
  • Expand small business grant, say Liberals

New Brunswick recorded two more COVID-related deaths Monday, and 113 people are hospitalized with the virus, including 16 in intensive care.

"Two people who had COVID-19 have died," Public Health said in a news release — a person 80 to 89 in the Campbellton region,  Zone 5, and a person 90 or over in the Bathurst region, Zone 6.

Normally, Public Health phrases its releases that someone has died "as a result of COVID-19."

Their deaths mark 15 in the past five days and raise the COVID-related pandemic death toll to 189, the dashboard shows.

The number of hospitalizations decreased by two since Sunday, but the number in ICU increased by two.

Five people are on ventilators, an increase of one.

Public Health is urging everyone eligible for a COVID-19 booster dose to book an appointment, as the number of hospitalizations "remains high" and "hundreds" of health-care workers are off the job because of the virus.

"It has never been more important than now for those eligible to get fully vaccinated, including a booster dose," Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said in a statement.

"As the Omicron variant continues to dominate our province, it is vital for New Brunswickers to have as much protection as possible to help prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death."

Hospitalizations were projected to peak at around 220 by the end of the month, but the province moved to Level 3 of the COVID-19 winter plan Friday at 11:59 p.m. to help slow the spread and allow time for more people to get vaccinated and boosted.

Booster doses are available to everyone 18 and older, as long as five months have passed since their second dose.

People 30 or older will be given the Moderna vaccine for their booster, regardless of which vaccine they received for previous doses, Public Health has said. The limited national supply of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be reserved for those aged 12 to 29. (Robert Short/CBC)

Of the 16 people in ICU, 75 per cent are either unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or it has been more than six months since their second dose, Public Health said.

There are 322 health-care workers off isolating because they tested positive for the virus. It's unclear how many others are off isolating, awaiting test results or because they've been identified as close contacts of positive cases.

Of the people hospitalized with COVID-19, 58 tested positive after they were admitted for other reasons.

Eighty-seven of those hospitalized are over 60, and one is 19 or under.

The seven-day average for hospitalizations is 104.3, while the seven-day average for ICU admissions is 12.3, according to the dashboard. 

There were 405 new COVID cases confirmed through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing, putting the active caseload at 4,914. That figure doesn't include people testing positive on rapid tests.

An additional 881 people tested positive on rapid tests and registered their results online.

The regional breakdown of the 405 new PCR-confirmed cases reported includes:

  • Moncton region, Zone 1 — 88 cases
  • Saint John region, Zone 2 — 89 cases
  • Fredericton region, Zone 3 — 91 cases
  • Edmundston region Zone 4 — 34 cases
  • Campbellton region, Zone 5 — 16 cases
  • Bathurst region, Zone 6 — 66 cases
  • Miramichi region, Zone 7 — 21 cases

A total of 655,924 PCR tests have been conducted to date, including 1,952 on Sunday. That puts the positivity rate at 20.7 per cent.

Updated vaccination rates are not available Monday because of a technical upgrade to the provincial immunization registry over the weekend. Although updated figures were expected Monday, they will now be available Tuesday, according to Public Health.

As of Saturday, 30.9 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers had received a booster dose, 83.4 per cent had received two doses, and 91.1 per cent had received one dose.

The Horizon and Vitalité health networks have more than 19,000 appointments available between now and Jan. 31, Public Health said.

In addition, participating pharmacies have nearly 44,000 doses for their COVID-19 clinics.

Since Jan. 10, more than 37,600 appointments for an mRNA booster dose have been booked through the regional health authorities.

People who are unable to book an appointment online, or who need assistance, can call 1-833-437-1424.

Appointments can also be made by contacting a participating pharmacy directly.

A central booking system, similar to the regional system, will be available for appointments at some pharmacies, "very shortly," according to Jake Reid, executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association.

New Brunswick has had 23,173 PCR-confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with 18,068 recoveries so far.

Some schools to stop notifying families of positive cases

Some New Brunswick schools will no longer be notifying families about positive COVID-19 cases, according to a message sent by the Anglophone East School District on Monday.

Instead, Anglophone East will post any results it receives on its website daily, and it is now the responsibility of families and staff to check the site for reported cases at their schools.

The Anglophone West School District is doing the same thing, effective Monday, according to a notice sent to parents Friday.

It's not immediately clear whether all the anglophone and francophone school districts in the province will follow suit. Department of Education officials could not say.

"With the increasing number of COVID cases, we are following the Public Health assumption that COVID is now present throughout our communities," Anglophone East acting superintendent Pamela Wilson said in the message to families. "This also means that it will be present in our schools."

New Brunswick students are scheduled to continue learning from home until Jan. 31, under Level 3 of the province's COVID-19 winter plan. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

All public schools have extended at-home learning for students until Jan. 31 under Level 3 of the province's winter plan, which took effect Friday at 11:59 p.m. for 16 days because of rising COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases.

As of Dec. 22, the latest figures available, 897 cases of COVID had been confirmed in 193 schools since the school year started.

Public Health officials won't be confirming positive cases as they did in the past, nor will they be doing contact tracing for school-related cases, she said.

"As a result, schools will no longer be sending notification messages home to families with each self-reported case."

We will share any notifications we receive, to the best of our ability.​​​​​- Pamela Wilson, Anglophone East acting superintendent

If a student or staff member tests positive with a rapid test, they are now asked to notify their school principal.

"We will share any notifications we receive, to the best of our ability," Wilson stressed in bolded text, "so that they are included in a list of schools, found on the Anglophone East website."

The list will be updated each weekday at around 4 p.m.

Wilson urges families to "continually" monitor for COVID symptoms and to continue to follow Public Health's directions.

"Thank you for your continued co-operation and support," she wrote.

At Anglophone West, if a student or staff member tests positive with either a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab test or point-of-care rapid test at home, they are asked to notify their school principal "immediately."

The district will then post all notifications on a new COVID-19 dashboard available on its website.

The dashboard identifies the case exposure site (school or office), the date of notice and the last known date(s) of exposure.

Twenty schools with "one or more cases" were added Monday.

"Again, the schools and district will no longer use School Messenger emails, phone messages, and text messages to notify families of new cases," advised superintendent David McTimoney. "If you would like to be informed of cases that get reported to schools, please use our website for notifications. We encourage you to check it daily, each evening."

The dashboard, which will be updated weekdays between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., also offers positive case guidelines and exposure guidelines.

Families will be required to report cases to their school as part of notifying their close contacts, which is in line with Public Health's updated testing and isolation measures, Department of Education spokesperson Danielle Elliott confirmed in an email Monday evening.

When a case is self-reported, the school will notify the district, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and families within the school community that a positive case at the school was reported, she said.

"For information on how districts choose to communicate cases that are reported to them by families, we suggest you reach out to school districts directly."

The department will continue to regularly update the statistics on COVID-19 in schools on its website, Elliott said. "However, this data will be based on the self-reporting of families," she added.

COVID antiviral pill approved

Health Canada has approved the first COVID-19 antiviral therapy in a pill form for home use, and roughly 600 treatment courses are expected to arrive in New Brunswick later this week.

But the Department of Health did not respond to questions about who exactly will get Pfizer's Paxlovid or how it might help alleviate the strain on the province's hospitals and health-care system.

Paxlovid is designed to treat adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk of progressing to serious disease, including hospitalization or death, according to Health Canada.

The product has been hailed as a pandemic "game changer" by some doctors.

It could relieve some of the pressure on the health-care system and change the trajectory of the pandemic, experts say.

Until now, authorized medications for COVID-19 have had to be taken in a hospital or health-care setting.

Paxlovid is intended for use as soon as possible after diagnosis of COVID-19 and within five days of the start of symptoms, Health Canada said in a release Monday.

The treatment consists of two tablets of nirmatrelvir and one tablet of ritonavir taken together by mouth twice per day for five days, it said.

This image provided by Pfizer shows the company's COVID-19 Paxlovid pills. (Pfizer/The Associated Press)

Health Canada has authorized Paxlovid for "mild to moderate COVID-19 cases in adults who do not require hospitalization but who are at risk of progressing towards serious illness," Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said in an emailed statement late Monday afternoon.

"The Government of Canada has procured an initial quantity of one million treatment courses in the first year to be distributed to the provinces and territories," he said.

"An initial shipment of a very limited amount is anticipated to arrive in New Brunswick later this week, followed by larger quantities later this year."

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said 30,000 treatment courses have already arrived in Canada and will be distributed to the provinces and territories on a per-capita basis.

Another 120,000 treatments will arrive between now and the end of March. The federal government is working with Pfizer to bring "additional treatment courses to Canada as quickly as possible," Duclos said.

Pfizer submitted clinical data to Health Canada on Dec. 1, and the regulatory body conducted "an expedited review."

The company reported in November that Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 per cent compared to a placebo in non-hospitalized high-risk adults with COVID-19.

Wage top-up for workers who serve vulnerable residents

More than 8,000 New Brunswickers who provide services to vulnerable residents will earn an extra $3 per hour for the next two and a half months, the provincial government confirmed Monday.

The province is offering the wage top-up for certain workers who earn less than $18 per hour.

Those eligible for the emergency essential work wage top-up, which took effect Saturday in conjunction with the province's move to Level 3 of the COVID-19 winter plan, include:

  • Home support workers providing direct in-person care to seniors, adults and children
  • Personnel in group homes, community residences, special care homes, homeless shelters and transition houses
  • Domestic violence intervention workers
  • Food bank and soup kitchen workers

"We highly value the important contribution of these workers, particularly since the beginning of the pandemic," Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch said in a statement.

"We are implementing this emergency wage top-up to support them, particularly during this challenging time."

Home support workers are among those who qualify for the $3 per hour wage top- up. (Shutterstock / Lighthunter)

Earlier this month, during an interview with CBC News, Jan Seely, president of the New Brunswick Special Care Home Association, revealed the pending top-up.

Care workers have long-called for top-up to help solve a shortage of workers.

It will be available until March 14, according to a news release.

It's expected to cost $8 million.

The program, its criteria and application process, are similar to the initiative put in place during the first months of the pandemic in 2020.

The Department of Social Development will work with partner agencies to assist them in implementing the program, the release said.

"It is important for our government to express the appreciation we have for staff in these organizations and for the essential work they continue to provide," said Fitch.

Expand small business grant, say Liberals

The Liberals are calling on the Higgs government to expand the criteria of the recently extended small business recovery grant to ensure all independent and self-employed small businesses owners are eligible for financial support during Level 3 of the COVID-19 winter plan.

"While the government has made financial support available, the criteria exclude self-employed business owners like hairdressers, and businesses with less than two staff members," Gilles LePage, the Official Opposition's critic for small business, said in a statement.

"This is unacceptable."

Last Thursday, when the move to Level 3 was announced, Premier Blaine Higgs also announced the province was extending the grant program until the end of February and increasing the amount eligible businesses can apply for to up to $10,000, which is double the previous amount.

Small businesses have "persevered" through changing restrictions throughout the pandemic, but some have been forced to close again because of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, and feel "abandoned," said LePage.

Self-employed business owners, such as hairdressers, and businesses with fewer than two staff members, should also qualify for the small business recovery grant, the Liberals say. (Jessica Davis Photography)

Compared to other provinces, he contends New Brunswick has provided "very little" financial support to businesses, forcing them to depend on federal government programs and "fend for themselves" to make ends meet.

"Not only do New Brunswick entrepreneurs deserve more from their government, having such a reputation can hinder our ability to attract new business."

Liberal finance critic Rob McKee thinks the province should use some of its surplus to support small businesses, noting the economy depends on their survival.

"We can't let any fall through the cracks."

The province is projecting an $89.1 million surplus this year.

Restaurants — excluding quick-service restaurants with drive-thrus — caterers, and drinking establishments, retail businesses, gyms and fitness facilities, hair salons and spas, and entertainment centres are eligible for the grant program.

Businesses need to prove they employ between two and 99 full-time equivalent staff and have experienced a decline in revenues of 20 per cent or more from the same month in 2019 or 2020, or 10 per cent or more compared to previous year if they started operation after Dec. 1, 2020.

They must also have been impacted by increased Public Health measures.

The grant will cover effects experienced by businesses between Dec. 13, 2021, and Feb. 28, 2022.

Applications will be accepted between Jan. 24 and Feb. 28.

Businesses are also eligible for a one-time subsidy of $300 to cover any accounting or bookkeeping fees required for the application process.

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