New Brunswick hospitals are treating 192 patients with COVID-19, including 21 who require intensive care, according to the two regional health authorities.
That's 113 and 15 more respectively than reported by the provincial government on Tuesday.
Unlike the province's new COVIDWatch website, which includes only people hospitalized for COVID, not people who were initially admitted to hospital for another reason and later tested positive for the virus, Horizon and Vitalité include both on their new COVID dashboards.
Horizon has 121 COVID patients, as of Monday, up from 119 last week, the dashboard shows. Seventeen of them are in intensive care, up from 10.
Vitalité has 71 COVID-related hospitalizations, including four in ICU, as of Tuesday, according to its dashboard. Last week, it had 73 COVID patients, including 10 in ICU.
The regional health authorities are reporting both numbers because it "presents the burden [they] are dealing with in relation to COVID," said Dr. Yves Léger, the province's acting deputy medical officer of health.
"There certainly are strains on the system," he said. And the RHAs "have to maintain certain measures within their facilities to continue to manage that situation."
Patients hospitalized with COVID instead of for COVID still require extra precautions, such as isolation and personal protective equipment, for example.
The province, however, counts only patients admitted for COVID now because it's "more in line" with how it reports other infectious diseases, said Léger. "It's also a better representation of the risk of individuals," he added.
Hospital outbreaks increase
In its weekly community update, Vitalité said, "The consistently high number of COVID-19 cases is forcing the network to maintain its preventive stance and remain at the red alert level."
Patients and support persons must be screened for COVID and wear a mask. General visits remain suspended.
All Horizon hospitals also continue to follow red alert protocols.
There are active COVID-19 outbreaks on 32 hospital units across the province, up from 30 last week.
Twenty-two of them are at Horizon hospitals, while the other 10 are at Vitalité hospitals.
Numbers as expected, says acting deputy health officer
New Brunswick also recorded 10 more COVID-related deaths last week and 5,645 new cases of the virus either confirmed through PCR lab tests or self-reported through rapid tests, down from 7,734 the previous week, according to Tuesday's COVIDWatch.
The province's acting deputy medical officer of health says the hospitalizations and cases are following predicted trends.
"We expected that in followup to the removal of the mandatory order [last month] and the measures that we would see an increase in cases and hospitalizations and that we would likely peak around mid-April," Léger said. "And so what we're seeing this week, again, continues to support that."
When asked for any information to support Léger's statement that COVID numbers were expected to peak by mid-April, Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane instead sent a link to Tuesday's COVIDWatch report.
When CBC pointed out current data is not the same as modelling or projections, Macfarlane did not immediately respond.
The only April projections the department has provided was a graph a former spokesperson sent last month. It showed the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations would peak around 190 between late February and early March before decreasing to zero or near zero by April 16.
But that graph, entitled Predicted peaks in hospitalizations, was actually the same graph the province presented on Feb. 9, entitled Level 1 hospitalizations, showing projections if the province loosened restrictions on Feb. 11 versus Feb. 18.
Those projections "were not meant to calculate impacts following the removal of population level controls at a later date," Macfarlane has previously said.
When the province lifted all restrictions on March 14, there were about half as many people hospitalized — 103, including 14 in intensive care.
At that time, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell told CBC News that government modelling shows there is always a "bump" in hospitalizations and cases "right after" the removal of restrictions.
"But we're not expecting to see a very large bump," she had said.
The Level 3 lockdown the government implemented in January "really broke the back of the Omicron wave" and gave the province time to boost vaccination rates, she said. "We've passed the peak of Omicron at this time."
Léger said the numbers this week "suggest some stabilization in our trends and that we're likely at the peak of our current wave."
Some provinces, such as Ontario, are "well into" the sixth wave of infections, but New Brunswick is still in the fifth wave, which started in January, he said.
"We implemented measures that were really meant to try and flatten the curve to reduce that peak, that pressure on our our hospital system. And in doing that, we recognized that it would stretch out the wave a little bit more. So the peak wouldn't be as high, but it would be a little bit longer."
Although the number of people currently in hospital for COVID remains stable at 79, the number of new hospital admissions more than doubled to 102, from 41 the previous week, according to COVIDWatch.
Both provide important information, said Léger, but "it's a bit complicated to try and explain."
"It could be that there are a number of people that were discharged who had been there for some time. It could also mean that, you know, the people who are being admitted now are staying for shorter periods."
Russell has previously said new admissions are "an important indicator" of COVID's spread in the province, especially now that it's impossible to get an accurate case count, given the limited use of PCR tests and reliance on people self-reporting positive rapid test results.
Léger acknowledged the number of reported new cases is "certainly an underrepresentation of the actual number of cases" and must be taken "with a grain of salt."
The fact that four children under 10 are among those hospitalized is "certainly worrisome," he said. But it's "quite rare" for children to be admitted, and even more rare for them to require intensive care.
Spike from Easter gatherings not projected
Asked whether there could be a spike in cases following Easter gatherings, as there has been following other holidays, Léger said it's possible there may be a "slight increase." But the province expects to see numbers "start to trend downward in the coming weeks."
"I'm hopeful that after two years of living with COVID, of having learned the different tools in our toolbox and having had ample opportunity to practise them, that people are now better equipped to protect themselves against COVID."
Asked whether the province has discussed reinstating masks in schools, Léger did not answer directly.
"Certainly there has been a lot of discussion and concern shared around masking in schools. But again, we continue to encourage those in schools as well as … in our communities to strongly consider using masks as well as other tools in their toolbox."
The three other Atlantic provinces all extended masking in schools, but "most" provinces are moving away from mandatory orders or requirements, he said.
New Brunswick's child and youth advocate will make recommendations this week on the government's removal of COVID-19 restrictions in schools last month, when provincial restrictions were lifted.
At least 424 health-care workers off
At least 424 health-care workers are off the job because of COVID, 115 fewer than last week.
Horizon has 180 health-care workers off after testing positive for COVID, compared to 205 last Tuesday. The number of workers off isolating because of a close contact with a positive case is not provided.
Vitalité has 172 infected workers off, plus 72 others who have been "removed from work" due to a contact with a positive case, according to the dashboard. That puts their total absences at 244, down from 334 last week.
Five Vitalité hospitals are listed as being at or over capacity, but only two them have COVID patients.
The Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, Zone 1, is at 100 per cent capacity with 15 COVID patients, and the Tracadie Hospital in the Bathurst region, Zone 6, is at 103 capacity, with five COVID patients.
The other Vitalité hospitals that have exceeded their capacity include Lamèque Hospital and Community Health Centre (117 per cent), and Enfant-Jésus RHSJ Hospital (142 per cent), both in the Bathurst region, Zone 6, and Stella-Maris-de-Kent Hospital (160 per cent) in the Moncton region, Zone 1.
Horizon does not currently have any hospitals over capacity. Occupancy ranges from a low of 85 per cent at the Miramichi Regional Hospital to a high of 98 per cent at the Moncton Hospital.