A COVID-19 researcher says the pandemic outlook in Newfoundland and Labrador remains severe following the emergence of a new subvariant of the virus.
Tara Moriarty, who leads the advocacy group COVID-19 Resources Canada, estimates 1 in 49 people in the province — more than 10,000 people — are currently battling a coronavirus infection.
Moriarty says the strain, dubbed XBB.1.5, may have been around for a while and only just detected last week.
"The situation across Canada, in multiple provinces, is severe," she said Monday. Newfoundland and Labrador's outlook, although slightly better than the country as a whole, has been most recently influenced by a surge in infections over the holidays.
It's not clear what caused that bump in cases.
"If the variant … has already been detected in Newfoundland and Labrador, the question is has it already spread widely and our sequencing is just late in detecting it? Or is there going to be a much bigger wave to come?
"That's what we don't know at this point."
The province no longer tracks total infections, but Moriarty says she uses wastewater data, as well as hospitalizations and deaths, to get a snapshot of the virus regionally.
Hospitalizations have been on the rise across the eastern U.S. — a possible sign of things to come in the north Atlantic.
"They were increasing very fast. So we need to take precautions right now and be aware that it's possible we see big surges like this in every province," she said.
Masking indoors and keeping up to date on vaccine booster shots can help keep a handle on the virus's spread, she said.
The province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, said last week the province's health-care system is prepared to deal with any extra pressure from the new, more transmissible variant of COVID-19.
According to year-end statistics, 94 per cent of the 295 COVID-19 deaths so far in Newfoundland and Labrador occurred in 2022.