Seven more New Brunswickers have died from COVID-19 in the past week, hospitalizations have increased, but the number of new cases has decreased, according to figures released Tuesday.
The Omicron subvariant BA.2 appears to be making a resurgence in the province, representing one per cent of the most recent samples sent for sequencing.
But the Department of Health refused to disclose if or how many of those cases are the new sublineage BA.2.75.2, which has mutations that allow it to better evade immunity from vaccination and prior infection, and is gaining ground across Canada.
"Public Health understands its need to provide useful and relevant information to the public, and would review its current reporting practices if a new variant or sublineage becomes a concern for New Brunswickers," spokesperson Adam Bowie said in an email.
Although Bowie confirmed earlier this month that a single case of BA.2.75.2 was detected in New Brunswick in September, the COVIDWatch report provides a breakdown of only the five "major branches" of the Omicron variant, the "most commonly spreading" ones — BA.1, BA.2, BA.3, BA.4, and BA.5.
Of the most recent random samples sent for sequencing, 94 per cent were the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant BA.5, five per cent were the Omicron subvariant BA.4.
The latest deaths include one person in their 50s, three in their 80s, and three 90 or older. Their deaths raise the pandemic death toll to 592.
Thirty-eight people were newly admitted to the hospital because of COVID between Oct. 23 and Oct. 29, up from 29 the previous week, the province's COVIDWatch report shows.
There are now 43 active hospitalizations due to the virus, up from 33, including two who require intensive care, up one, according to the province.
Meanwhile, the two regional health authorities say there are 167 people with COVID-19 in hospital, as of Saturday, nine of whom require intensive care.
That's a nearly 23 per cent increase from a week ago, when Horizon and Vitalité reported 136 hospitalized COVID patients, including eight in ICU.
Unlike the province, which only reports people admitted to hospital because of COVID-19, Horizon and Vitalité include in their weekly reports people initially admitted for another reason who later test positive for the virus.
Dr. Yves Léger, the province's acting chief medical officer of health, was unavailable for an interview, Department of Health spokesperson Adam Bowie said.
Among the people admitted to hospitals across New Brunswick, three are in their 30s, one is in their 40s, two are in their 50s, four are in their 60s, 15 are in their 70s, eight are in their 80s, and five are 90 or older, according to the province's COVIDWatch report.
People in their 50s represent most new cases
A total of 1,008 new cases have been reported, down from 1,186 the previous week.
Of these, 589 were confirmed through a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab test, down from 692, and the other 419 were people who reported testing positive on a rapid test, down from 494.
Across Canada, case counts have remained "relatively stable … with a slight upward trend over the past several weeks," according to the COVIDWatch report.
In Maine, cases have declined from previous weeks, with a current seven-day average of 211, it says.
Global case counts have "declined slightly after a few weeks of stable case counts."
People in their 50s represent the largest share of New Brunswick's PCR-confirmed cases, at 18.3 per cent, followed by those in their 70s, at 16.3 per cent, those in their 60s, at 15.3 per cent, and those in their 30s, at 13.6 per cent.
People in their 40s and 80s make up the same share of cases, each at 10.5 per cent, followed by those in their 20s, at 8.5 per cent, those 90 or older, at 4.2 per cent, children under 10, at 2.4 per cent, and youth aged 10 to 19, at 0.3 per cent.
The Moncton region, Zone 1, still has the largest share of the PCR-confirmed cases, at 151, down from 192.
COVID-19 levels surged in the greater Moncton area about two weeks prior to the report, then dropped several days later, new wastewater monitoring data shows.
The seven-day average of viral load, expressed as the number of viral gene copies found in a millilitre of raw sewage, jumped to 50 on Oct. 17, up from 43 on Oct. 13, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada's COVID-19 wastewater surveillance dashboard. By Oct. 20, it decreased to 38 copies/ml.
Wastewater results can serve as an early warning of community infection levels for decision-makers and residents. People who are infected shed the virus in their feces in the form of a genetic material called ribonucleic acid, or RNA, which can be found in raw sewage, typically five to seven days before they develop symptoms.
The breakdown of the other PCR-confirmed cases includes:
Saint John region, Zone 2 — 133.
Fredericton region, Zone 3 — 104.
Bathurst region, Zone 6 — 62.
Campbellton region, Zone 5 — 54.
Edmundston region, Zone 4 — 44.
Miramichi region, Zone 7 — 41.
There are 847 active cases across the province, based on PCR-confirmed cases alone.
New Brunswick has had 80,715 confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic, and 79,276 of those are now considered resolved.
Second-booster rate increases
Another 3,613 fourth doses were administered in the past week, putting the second-booster rate at 24.1 per cent, up from 23.4 per cent a week ago.
A total of 53.9 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have received their first booster, which is unchanged from the previous week.
The first- and second-dose rates also remain unchanged at 90.6 and 85.5 per cent, respectively, the COVIDWatch report shows.
The Department of Health does not provide third and fourth booster rates in the report.
Hospital outbreaks, sick health-care workers
Horizon Health Network reports 114 active COVID-19 patients in hospital, as of Saturday — a 46 per cent increase from the 78 it had a week ago. Five are in intensive care, down from six, according to its weekly COVID dashboard.
The majority of the patients, 59, are in the Saint John region, Zone 2. The distribution of the other patients includes:
Zone 1, Moncton region — 17.
Zone 3, Fredericton region — 27.
Zone 7, Miramichi region — 11.
Vitalité has 53 hospitalized COVID patients, down from 58 the previous week, its dashboard shows. Four require intensive care, up from two.
There are COVID outbreaks on 14 Horizon hospital units, up from 13. These include four in the Moncton region, six in the Saint John region, and four in the Fredericton region. No other details are provided.
Vitalité has six units with COVID outbreaks, the same number as the previous week. Three of them are at the Campbellton Regional Hospital: transitional care unit, geriatric unit and veterans' unit.
The Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst has two outbreaks: the general medical unit (4 East) and the psychiatry unit. The Edmundston Regional Hospital has an outbreak on the medicine unit.
Horizon has 69 health-care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are absent, up from 57. Vitalité has 45 infected employees, a nearly 46 per cent drop from the 83 who were off the job a week ago.