New Brunswick

N.B. COVID-19 roundup: 3 more deaths, province to review mandatory vaccine policy for employees

Three more New Brunswickers with COVID-19 have died, hospitalizations have dropped to 89, and the province plans to review its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for government employees.

Review will begin 'in the coming weeks,' confirms Treasury Board spokesperson, as hospitalizations drop to 89

As of last month, 484 government employees remained on unpaid leave because they didn't provide proof of vaccination or medical exemption. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

Latest

  • Breakdown of deaths, hospitalizations, cases

Three more New Brunswickers with COVID-19 have died, hospitalizations have dropped to 89, and the province plans to review its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for government employees.

"It will be reviewed in the coming weeks," Treasury Board spokesperson Erika Jutras confirmed Wednesday.

She could not immediately explain what prompted the review.

But it comes as the province prepares to enter Level 1 of the COVID-19 winter plan, the least restrictive level, on Friday at 11:59 p.m.

Premier Blaine Higgs has also said he hopes to lift all COVID restrictions in March.

Jutras could not immediately say what the review will entail or what a decision will be based upon.

Nor could she immediately say how soon any changes might be implemented.

On Oct. 5, Higgs announced that all provincial government employees in the civil service, the education system, the health-care system and Crown corporations, as well as staff in long-term care facilities, schools and licensed early learning and child-care centres must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 19, or have a medical exemption.

Those who didn't meet the deadline, roughly 2,000 of the government's 58,000 employees, were put on unpaid leave. 

As of Jan. 19, the latest figures available, 484 of them remained on indefinite leave without pay, Cheryl Hansen, clerk of the executive council and head of the provincial civil service, told the standing committee on public accounts Wednesday afternoon.

They include:

  • Part 1 (All departments) — 65 employees
  • Part 2 (Education system, including all teachers, bus drivers and school district employees) — 121 employees
  • Part 3 (Health-care employees, including Extra-mural/Ambulance NB) — 256 employees
  • Part 4 (Crown corporation employees) — 42 employees

No one has been terminated for not being vaccinated and those on unpaid leave can still get their shots and return to work, the province has said.

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin asked several questions about the pending review of the vaccine mandate during public accounts Wednesday, including whether employees on unpaid leave would be entitled to back pay if the policy is reversed, and how much money the government has saved by not paying their salaries. (Government of New Brunswick)

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin asked whether, if the policy is reversed, the employees on unpaid leave would get back pay.

"That would be one of the issues that have to be discussed," replied Hansen.

Austin asked how much money has been saved by not paying their salaries. She did not have that information, she said.

The employees are not terminated, said Hansen.

"I would use the word 'furloughed.'"

They do not quality for benefits while on unpaid leave but would still hold what the government calls "a position number," she said.

It's unclear whether being on unpaid leave would affect their seniority.

"I would have to double-check on that," Hansen told Austin.

There is no change to their pension, she said.

Last week, a lawsuit against the province over its vaccination mandate for employees was dismissed.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Thomas Christie said the four applicants were not being forced to do anything, as they had argued.

Breakdown of deaths, hospitalizations, cases

The deaths reported Wednesday include a person in their 70s in the Moncton region, Zone 1, a person in their 80s in the Saint John region, Zone 2, and a person in their 60s in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, according to the COVID-19 dashboard.

Sixty-eight people have died in the 19 days since the province moved to Level 2 of the COVID-19 winter plan from the most restrictive Level 3.

Of the 89 people in hospital, 44 were admitted for COVID-19, and 45 were admitted for something else when they tested positive for the virus.

Nine people are in intensive care, down two, and five of them are on ventilators, also down two.

Eighteen of the people hospitalized are under 60, including six people in their 20s. In ICU, there are three people in their 40s, one in their 50s, one in their 60s and four in their 70s. 

The seven-day average of COVID-related hospitalizations also continues to decrease steadily, now at 116, down from 124. The seven-day average of people requiring intensive care dropped to 13 from 14.

The province does not release the number of new daily hospital admissions, or the seven-day average of new admissions — key data it uses to decide whether to loosen or tighten restriction levels. But the figures are eight and 11 respectively, based on calculations using other dashboard data.

New Brunswick recorded three more COVID-related deaths Wednesday, but hospitalizations are continuing to go down in New Brunswick. (CBC News)

The number of health-care workers off the job after testing positive for COVID jumped to 353, which is 23 more than Tuesday. That includes 167 from the Horizon Health Network, 138 from the Vitalité Health Network and 48 from Extra-Mural/Ambulance New Brunswick.

Hospital occupancy across the province saw a slight decrease, to 89 per cent from 90 per cent, but ICU capacity climbed to 77 per cent, from 71 per cent.

Through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab tests, Public Health has confirmed 305 new cases of COVID, putting the province's active case count at 3,262, an increase of 13.

An additional 710 people self-reported they tested positive on rapid tests.

The regional breakdown of PCR-confirmed cases includes:

Moncton region, Zone 1

  • 78 new cases and 1,094 active cases

Saint John region, Zone 2

  • 63 new cases and 635 active cases

Fredericton region, Zone 3

  • 59 new cases and 610 active cases

Edmundston region, Zone 4

  • 43 new cases and 350 active cases

Campbellton region, Zone 5

  • 15 new cases and 96 active cases

Bathurst region, Zone 6

  • 33 new cases and 313 active cases

Miramichi region, Zone 7

  • 14 new cases and 164 active cases

A total of 713,778 PCR tests have been conducted to date, including 1,494 on Tuesday.

As of Wednesday, 48.3 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have received their booster shot, up from 48.1 per cent Tuesday, 86.2 per cent have received two doses of a vaccine, up from 86.1 per cent, and 92.6 per cent have received one dose, unchanged again.

New Brunswick has had 33,647 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with 30,087 recoveries so far and 296 COVID-related deaths.

With files from Jacques Poitras

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