COVID-19 has killed 18 more New Brunswickers, sent 54 people to hospital over the past two weeks and infected more than 1,000, the latest figures from the province show.
Among those who died, one person was aged 50 to 69 and 14 were aged 70 or older, according to the COVIDWatch report, which covers Dec. 18 to Dec. 31 and was released on Wednesday, instead of Tuesday, because of the holidays.
No information about the other three people is available. They died prior to Aug. 28, which is as far back as data in the newly formatted reports goes — the start of the current respiratory virus season.
Of the other 15 deaths, only one actually occurred during the two-week reporting period in question, a chart on page six reveals.
The others occurred between Sept. 17 and Dec. 16. These are deaths confirmed and reported to Public Health since its previous report.
"Deaths that are reported weekly do not typically reflect the deaths that have occurred during the reporting period," the Department of Health recently announced.
Lag in death reporting
"Deaths are subject to a lag in reporting, with an average of two months between the date of death and receiving the registration of death form at the Vital Statistics branch," said a news release.
But previous COVIDWatch reports have suggested the deaths did occur during the reporting week. The highlights of the Dec. 13 report, for example, stated: "The number of deaths has increased this week (7) compared to last week (6)."
The mid-December report used this wording, despite the fact that death counts have been one of the main metrics people have used to assess personal risk.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, is still on medical leave, and Dr. Yves Léger, the acting chief medical officer of health, was unavailable Wednesday for an interview, said Department of Health spokesperson Adam Bowie.
"As indicated in our Death Reconciliation report [on Oct. 14], Public Health New Brunswick has established a process with Service New Brunswick's Vital Statistics branch to receive registration of death records, which Public Health New Brunswick is using to classify a death as COVID-19 related," Bowie said in an emailed statement.
Bowie pointed to the first page of the October report, which said the process typically takes two months.
"Due to the inherent lag in the data, the deaths reported weekly do not typically reflect the deaths that have occurred during the reporting period," Bowie said.
"In the spirit of transparency, and to better reflect the ongoing situation to New Brunswickers, the new report clearly lays out the date of death for those deaths reported that week," he said, referring to a chart on page six.
"COVID-19 deaths remained stable," the report states.
The latest deaths raise the pandemic death toll to 740.
2 youths admitted to hospital, 4 people admitted to ICU
"COVID-19 hospitalizations decreased [Dec. 18-24], which was followed by an increase [Dec. 25-31]," according to the report highlights.
Of the 54 people newly admitted to hospital because of COVID, four of them require intensive care, the reports shows.
Two of the people admitted were under 20, a comparison of Wednesday's report and the previous report Dec. 20 reveals. This is now the youngest age category listed under the new format.
Five people were between 20 and 59, five were between 60 and 69, and 42 were 70 or older.
The regional breakdown of the new hospital admissions includes:
Moncton region, Zone 1 — 10.
Saint John region, Zone 2 — 12.
Fredericton region, Zone 3 — 13, including two in intensive care.
Edmundston region, Zone 4 — seven, including two in intensive care.
Campbellton region, Zone 5 — two.
Bathurst region, Zone 6 — six.
Miramichi region, Zone 7 — four.
The number of people currently hospitalized because of COVID is no longer provided under the province's new format.
Horizon and Vitalité health networks have not updated their COVID dashboards. Their weekly updates will resume next Tuesday.
As of Dec. 20, they reported having 140 people hospitalized either for or with COVID, including six in intensive care.
Regional breakdown of cases
There were 1,006 new cases of COVID confirmed through a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab test in the past two weeks.
A total of 8,415 tests were conducted and "Percent positivity remains stable," according to the COVIDWatch report.
PCR tests are restricted in New Brunswick to people over 50 and under two, people who are immunocompromised or pregnant, and people who live or work in a hospital, Extra Mural and Ambulance New Brunswick (EM/ANB), long-term care facility, correctional facility, shelter or are "precariously housed," and those who require a test for international travel.
An additional 543 people self-reported testing positive on a rapid test, although these are no longer officially included in the COVIDWatch reports because they are "an inaccurate indicator of how many people may be positive," the province has said.
Self-reported rapid tests are still available on the COVIDWatch landing page, however, because they are "an indicator of virus spread and potential impact."
The regional breakdown of the PCR-confirmed cases includes:
Moncton region, Zone 1 — 283.
Saint John region, Zone 2 — 312.
Fredericton region, Zone 3 — 182.
Edmundston region, Zone 4 — 88.
Campbellton region, Zone 5 — 15.
Bathurst region, Zone 6 — 90.
Miramichi region, Zone 7 — 36.
The total number of active cases across the province is no longer provided.
Of the 171 most recent random samples sent for genetic sequencing, 98 per cent were the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant BA.5, one per cent were the Omicron subvariant BA.4, and one per cent were the Omicron subvariant BA.2.
Update on bivalent boosters for kids coming
Only 529 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered during the two weeks in question, including 53 first doses, 47 second doses, 79 first booster doses, and 350 second booster doses, according to the Department of Health.
The one-dose and two-dose vaccination rates remain unchanged at 90.8 per cent and 85.7 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers, respectively.
The first-booster rate has inched up to 54.5 per cent, from 54.4 per cent, while the second-booster rate has increased to 28.8 per cent, from 28.4 per cent.
On Tuesday, Nova Scotia announced children aged five to 11 can now receive Pfizer-BioNTech's bivalent COVID-19 booster shot.
In New Brunswick, bivalents are currently only available to those aged 12 and older.
Asked about the province's rollout plans for the younger age group, the Department of Health spokesperson said he expects to have more information to share "very soon."
Since Aug. 28, the crude death rate among the unvaccinated is 14.6 per 100,000, and 5.1 per 100,00 among those who have completed a primary series. Completing a primary series is defined as: cases whose infection occurred 14 days or more after second dose in a two-dose series, or 14 days or more after one dose of a one-dose vaccine series, or less than 14 days after a first additional dose.
The crude death rate among those who have completed a primary series plus one additional dose is 19.5 per 100,000, and 22.6 per cent among those who have completed a primary series plus two or more additional doses.
Partially vaccinated cases are not included "due to small number of events," the report says.
The report also provides age-adjusted rates. "In some situations, only adjusting for the size of the group [crude death rate] is not sufficient, because the underlying characteristics of each group is different. For example, if you compare number of hip replacements in a school compared to a nursing home, the rate itself wouldn't be a fair comparison because the age distribution is very different," it says.
"An age-adjusted rate accounts for the differences in age between the groups and presents the rates had the ages been similar."
The age-adjusted rates are:
Unvaccinated: 231.7 per 100,000.
Primary series: 21.4 per 100,000.
Primary series plus one: 22.3 per 100,000.
Primary series plus two or more: 9.0 per 100,000.
The hospitalization rates by vaccination status include:
Unprotected: crude rate, 97.1 per 100,000; age-adjusted rate, 763.7 per 100,000 person-years.
Primary series: crude rate, 31.2 per 100,000; age-adjusted rate, 105.3 per 100,000 person-years.
Primary series plus one: crude rate, 73.0 per 100,000; age-adjusted rate, 78.5 per 100,000 person-years.
Primary series plus two or more: crude rate, 86.8 per 100,000; age-adjusted rate, 34.1 per 100,000 person-years.