8 more COVID-19 deaths in N.B., decrease in hospital admissions, 12 new cases of XBB.1.5

Eight more New Brunswickers have died from COVID-19 and 12 people have been admitted to hospital because of the virus, including three people under 20, the youngest age group provided in province's the weekly COVIDWatch report. (Shutterstock - image credit)
Eight more New Brunswickers have died from COVID-19 and 12 people have been admitted to hospital because of the virus, including three people under 20, the youngest age group provided in province's the weekly COVIDWatch report. (Shutterstock - image credit)

New Brunswick is reporting eight more deaths from COVID-19, a decrease in hospital admissions because of the virus and a decrease in new lab-confirmed cases in Tuesday's weekly update.

The proportion of cases identified as XBB, an offshoot of the Omicron BA.2 subvariant, has jumped to 10 per cent, as of the week ending Jan. 28, from three per cent the previous week.

The COVIDWatch report does not indicate how many of them are the subvariant XBB.1.5, which the World Health Organization has described as "the most transmissible" subvariant yet.

But Department of Health spokesperson Adam Bowie confirmed to CBC there were 12.

That brings the total confirmed to date to 19.

XBB.1.5 was first detected in the province earlier this month, when two cases were announced. One more case was confirmed on Jan. 17, and four cases were sequenced between Jan. 15 and Jan. 21, said Bowie.

Ages of deceased, hospital admissions

One of the people who died was aged 50 to 69 and the other seven were 70 or older, a comparison of the latest COVIDWatch report with last week's report shows.

One of the deaths occurred in October, one in late December and six in early January. None occurred during the Jan. 22 to Jan. 28 reporting period in question. "Deaths are subject to a lag in reporting," the report says.

The latest deaths raise the province's pandemic death toll to 781.

Twelve people have been newly admitted to the hospital for COVID, down from 17 in  the previous week. One of them requires intensive care, down from four.

Three of the people admitted are under 20 — the youngest age group provided as part of recent reporting changes. One is 20 to 59, one is 60 to 69 and the others are 70 or older.

Since Aug. 28, the start of the respiratory season, the rate of hospitalizations is highest among those aged 70 years and older, according to the report.

The Fredericton region, Zone 3, and Edmundston region, Zone 4, each have three of the newly admitted patients, the Miramichi region, Zone 7, has two, while the four other regions each have one patient.

The province no longer provides the number of people currently hospitalized because of COVID.

The two regional health authorities say there are 63 New Brunswickers hospitalized for or with COVID as of Saturday, down from 94 the previous week, a nearly 33 per cent decrease. Nine people require intensive care, up from six, a 50 per cent increase.

Ivanoh Demers/CBC
Ivanoh Demers/CBC

A total of 265 new cases of COVID have been confirmed through a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab test, 58 fewer than the 321 confirmed in the previous report.

There were also 1,336 fewer tests conducted — 2,188 compared to 3,524.

That puts the positivity rate at about 12 per cent, up from about nine per cent a week ago.

An additional 145 people self-reported testing positive for COVID on a rapid test, down from 161.

The Moncton region, Zone 1, has the majority of the PCR-confirmed cases at 67, followed closely by the Saint John region, Zone 2, with 63, and the Fredericton region, Zone 3, with 62.

The regional breakdown of the remainder of the cases includes:

  • Edmundston region, Zone 4 — 13.

  • Campbellton region, Zone 5 — 12.

  • Bathurst region, Zone 6 — 32.

  • Miramichi region, Zone 7 — 14.

Of the 131 most recent random samples sent for genetic sequencing, 87 per cent were the Omicron subvariant BA.5, 10 per cent were XBB,  and three per cent were BA.2.

Remains a global health emergency

On Monday, the World Health Organization's director general said coronavirus remains a global health emergency.

While progress has been made, the coronavirus has taken the lives of at least 170,000 people in the past two months, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"We remain hopeful that in the coming year, the world will transition to a new phase in which we reduce hospitalizations and deaths to the lowest possible level," he said, after WHO's emergency committee on the pandemic found the pandemic may be nearing an "inflection point" where higher levels of immunity can lower virus-related deaths.

He called for at-risk groups to be fully vaccinated, an increase in testing and early use of antivirals, as well as a fight against "misinformation" about the pandemic.

Top doctor back from extended medical leave

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, was not available for an interview Tuesday, said the Department of Health spokesperson Bowie.

She is, however, "back on duty, having returned earlier this week," following extended medical leave, he said.

In late September, Russell was dealing with a "recently diagnosed medical issue" that required some treatment, then recuperation. She was originally expected to be back at work in November.

No other details have been released. The department does not typically comment on "human resources matters," Bowie has said.

About 3% of kids 5-11 get bivalent booster

Roughly 3.1 per cent of children aged five to 11 have now received a Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent COVID-19 vaccine booster, according to the Department of Health spokesperson.

"The numbers are small so far," said Bowie. "It should be noted we just opened booster eligibility for this age group on Jan. 5," he said in an emailed statement.

Health Canada approved Pfizer's bivalent, which targets the most prevalent Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, for children aged five to 11, on Dec. 9. It's the only bivalent approved for this age group in Canada. The child-sized dose is about a third of the dose approved for people over the age of 12.

Kate Bueckert/CBC
Kate Bueckert/CBC

About 37.8 per cent of children aged five  to 11 years have received at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, said Bowie.

The Department of Health reports 854 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the past week, including 601 second boosters.

A total of 29.6 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have now received their second booster.

The other vaccination rates all remain unchanged from last week's report:

  • First dose — 90.9 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers.

  • Second dose — 85.8 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers.

  • First booster — 54.6 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers.

Vaccine scheduling site undergoing maintenance

The province's website used to book appointments for COVID-19 vaccines, as well as flu shots, mpox vaccines and to pick up COVID-19 rapid tests is currently undergoing maintenance. No bookings or changes are possible between Jan. 29 and Feb. 1, the site advises.

The maintenance is related to the planned changes to make it easier to book an appointment, Bowie confirmed.

Earlier this month, Bowie told CBC there will be one booking link that will show both Public Health and pharmacy appointments. It will make booking "seamless," he said, because people won't have to switch between sites to secure an appointment for their next shot.

The revamped system is expected to be available by Feb. 2, Bowie said Tuesday.

He did not respond to a request for comment about what impact the changes are expected to have on vaccination rates.


"Public Health would like to remind all New Brunswickers that the COVID-19 vaccines, which are available for free to all citizens, can help reduce their risks for severe outcomes from an infection," he said.

"The department recommends that anyone who is eligible for a booster, and who hasn't had a vaccine or infection within the past five months or longer, should consider rolling up their sleeves."

The province advised through social media posts that the online scheduler would be out of service and urged people looking to book a new appointment, or make changes to an existing appointment, to do so prior to Jan. 29 or after Feb 1.

"Tele-Services 1-833-437-1424 is available to assist with any questions, including rapid test pickup, during the scheduled maintenance," the notice states.

Horizon and Vitalité updates

Horizon Health Network has 57 active COVID-19 patients as of Saturday, down from 79 a week ago — a nearly 28 per cent drop, its COVID dashboard, updated Tuesday, shows.

Six people require intensive care, up from four a week ago — a 50 per cent increase. Only one person was in ICU  the previous week.

The Fredericton region, Zone 3, has the largest share of Horizon's COVID patients at 23, followed closely by the Saint John region, Zone 2, with 18. The Moncton region, Zone 1, has 13 patients, while the Miramichi region, Zone 7, has three.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Vitalité Health Network has six hospitalized COVID patients as of Saturday, down from 15, according to its weekly COVID update — a 60 per cent decrease.

Three people require intensive care, up from two in the previous report — a 50 per cent increase. No one was in ICU the week prior.

Three of the patients are at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont hospital in Moncton, Zone 1, including two in intensive care, one is in intensive care at the Edmundston Regional Hospital in Zone 4, one is at the Campbellton Regional Hospital in Zone 5, and one is at the Tracadie Hospital in Zone 6.

Horizon has 42 health-care workers off the job after testing positive for COVID-19, down from 43, while Vitalité has 21 staff absences, up from 18.

There are COVID-19 outbreaks on nine Horizon hospital units, down from 10 in the previous report — four in the Moncton region, three in the Saint John region and two in the Fredericton region. No other details are provided.

Vitalité has one outbreak at the Restigouche Hospital Centre's community transition unit (B-2).