New Brunswick reported 13 more deaths from COVID-19 Tuesday, but says hospitalizations and new cases have decreased in the past week.
None of the deaths occurred during the reporting week in question, Jan. 8 to Jan. 14, the COVIDWatch report shows.
Six occurred in December, two in November, two in October, one in September and two some time prior to Aug. 28, which is as far back as data in the report goes, the start of the respiratory virus season.
"Deaths are subject to a lag in reporting," the report says. There is an average two-month lag from date of death to registration of death, it says.
The deaths include a person aged 50 to 69 and 10 people aged 70 or older, a comparison of the latest COVIDWatch report with last week's report shows. No ages for the two people who died prior to Aug. 28 are provided.
Since the start of the pandemic, 762 New Brunswickers have died from COVID.
Person under 20 among hospital admissions
Fourteen people were newly admitted to hospital because of the virus, two of whom required intensive care, according to the province. That's down from 22 and up from one respectively a week ago.
Among the new admissions was one person under 20 — the youngest age category listed in the recently reformatted report.
The others included two people aged 20 to 59, two aged 60 to 69 and nine aged 70 or older.
The number of people currently hospitalized because of COVID is no longer provided by the province.
But the two regional health authorities say there are 107 New Brunswickers hospitalized, as of Saturday, including one who requires intensive care, down from 119 and eight respectively a week ago.
That includes people admitted to hospital because of COVID-19, as well as those initially admitted for another reason who later test positive for the virus.
Indoor masking recommended
Dr. Yves Léger, acting chief medical officer of health, was unavailable for an interview Tuesday, department spokesperson Adam Bowie said.
On Monday, Léger recommended people mask in indoor public places.
"I think especially when people are indoors in public areas where there's a lot of crowding or poor ventilation, that's especially important," he told CBC's Information Morning Fredericton.
People should also continue to protect themselves and others by keeping up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations and staying home when sick, he said.
Léger has no plans to do regular public news conferences or media briefings in response to calls for more frequent updates and clearer information about the evolving situation.
He said he has spoken to his Atlantic colleagues and none of them are doing that.
"But certainly I've told New Brunswickers many times that I would speak to them when there is something important to say."
The department continues to provide weekly updates through the COVIDWatch reports, and continues to review the reports to try and improve upon them, noted Léger.
"We want to make sure that we're providing relevant information to the public."
In addition, his office responds to questions from the media on a daily basis, he said.
'Other' subvariant, 1 new XBB.1.5 detected
There were 555 new cases of COVID-19 reported, including 433 confirmed through a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab test, down roughly 17 per cent from the 521 PCR-confirmed cases a week ago.
About five per cent fewer PCR tests were conducted — 4,161, compared to 4,365.
An additional 122 people self-reported testing positive on a rapid test, down from 208.
Of the 169 most recent random samples sent for genetic sequencing, one per cent were "other," according to a new category in the weekly chart.
This represents a confirmed case of "a subvariant that would fall outside the most commonly spreading strains of the COVID-19 virus in New Brunswick," according to Bowie, the Department of Health spokesperson.
He did not reveal which subvariant it was.
"Public Health does not include information about every sequenced strain of COVID-19 identified in the province in its weekly report, given that each one is not considered statistically relevant," he said in an emailed statement.
"As you know, more than 100 different genetic sequences of COVID-19, including both Variants of Concern and Variants of Interest, and, in some cases, their sublineages, have been detected in New Brunswick since the pandemic began."
Three per cent of the cases sequenced were Omicron subvariant XBB, the report shows.
Of those, one case was the sublineage XBB.1.5, Bowie said, which brings the total confirmed cases in the province so far to three.
While your risk of being infected might be higher with these variants, the vaccine still provides seemingly very good protection against some of the more severe outcomes. - Yves Léger, acting chief medical officer of health
XBB.1.5 is "the most transmissible" subvariant detected to date, according to the World Health Organization. It now accounts for about a quarter of U.S. COVID cases and could become the dominant strain in Europe within a few months, experts have said.
On Monday, Léger reiterated there isn't any evidence yet to suggest XBB.1.5 is more severe than previous strains.
Vaccines are still effective against XBB.1.5, Léger noted.
"While your risk of being infected might be higher with these variants, the vaccine still provides seemingly very good protection against some of the more severe outcomes."
The breakdown of the rest of the samples sequenced shows 93 per cent were the Omicron subvariant BA.5, two per cent were the Omicron subvariant BA.2, and one per cent were the Omicron subvariant BA.4, the report says.
Breakdown of current hospitalizations
Horizon Health Network has 95 active COVID-19 patients, including one in intensive care, as of Saturday, its COVID dashboard, updated Tuesday, shows. That's down from 99 and six respectively.
The Saint John region, Zone 2, has the largest share of the patients, at 40, followed by the Fredericton region, Zone 3, with 35. The Moncton region, Zone 1, has 14 patients, while the Miramichi region, Zone 7, has six.
Vitalité Health Network has 12 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, as of Saturday, down from 20, according to its updated COVID dashboard. None are in intensive care, down from two.
The Moncton region, Zone 1, and Bathurst region, Zone 6, are tied for the most patients, each with four.
These include four patients at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont hospital in Moncton, three at the Tracadie Hospital and one at the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst.
The remaining patients include three at the Edmundston Regional Hospital (Zone 4), and one at the Campbellton Regional Hospital (Zone 5).
Infected health-care workers, hospital outbreaks
The number of health-care workers off the job after testing positive for COVID-19 has dropped by about 25 per cent in the past week.
Horizon has 62 infected employees, down from 86, while Vitalité has 36 employees absent, down from 45.
Horizon has COVID-19 outbreaks on 12 hospital units — four in the Moncton region, seven in the Saint John region and one in the Fredericton region. No other details are provided.
Vitalité has not yet updated its COVID-19 hospital unit outbreaks. The site still lists three, as of Jan. 10: the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre's coronary intensive care unit, and Tracadie Hospital's medical unit (2nd north) and palliative care general medicine unit.
Making it easier to book vaccine appointments online
Some changes are coming to the online provincial scheduler, which will make it easier to book an appointment, according to the department spokesperson.
"There will be one booking link that will show you both Public Health and pharmacy appointments, and make booking seamless so people aren't required to switch between sites to secure an appointment for their next shot," Bowie said.
Right now, if people visit the province's COVID-19 vaccines page, there's information about where vaccines are available. If they click on the pharmacy link, there's information explaining what each pharmacy offers, if they're on the provincial scheduler tool, or whether people need to call to book an appointment.
There were 2,209 more COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the past week, a nearly 228 per cent increase from the 674 shots received last week.
More than three-quarters of them, 1,719 doses, were second boosters, according to the Department of Health.
A total of 29.4 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have now received their second booster, up from 28.8 per cent.
The breakdown of the doses and the updated vaccination rates include:
1st dose: 123 doses, 90.9 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers (unchanged).
2nd dose: 106 doses, 85.7 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers (unchanged).
1st booster: 261 doses. 54.5 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers (unchanged).