New Brunswick has no plans to change its advice about COVID-19, including returning to mandatory masking, the Department of Health said Wednesday.
It comes as the province reported two new COVID-19 deaths in the latest Respiratory Watch report, and 58 hospitalizations — an increase for the third straight week.
It also comes as Green Party health critic Megan Mitton raised concerns about the lack of information from Public Health about plans for the fall and winter, when case counts are expected to rise.
"We know that some provinces are already rolling out plans around COVID vaccinations and flu vaccinations, giving people specific dates. And they're even going to be sending emails and texts as follow-up reminders to folks who've already received a COVID vaccination," Mitton told reporters.
"So these are the types of things that are possible and that are actually happening right now in places like British Columbia. So New Brunswick can do better in order to protect New Brunswickers' health."
CBC requested an interview with Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health. "Unfortunately, an interview is not possible today," department spokesperson Sean Hatchard said in an email.
"Details on the fall respiratory vaccine campaign are being finalized and we expect to have some news to share on those plans very soon," he said.
Since April 4, a total of 28,019 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to New Brunswickers, according to Hatchard.
The department has been monitoring a "slight increase" in COVID-19 activity across the province since the beginning of September, he said.
"COVID-19 activity remains moderate," but is "stable compared to the previous reporting period" of Sept. 3 to Sept. 16, the Respiratory Watch report says.
Horizon mandates masks during outbreaks
On Tuesday, Horizon announced a return to mandatory masking in its hospitals in certain situations, due to an increase in COVID-19 and an expected seasonal increase in other respiratory viruses in its hospitals and the wider community.
Effective today, if a regional hospital has two or more outbreak units and if a community hospital has one or more outbreak units, all staff, physicians, volunteers, patients, social visitors and designated support persons will be required to wear a medical-grade face mask while in inpatient units, emergency departments and ambulatory care/outpatient services, as well as waiting room areas and other clinical settings.
Masking will not be required in public areas, such as lobbies or cafeterias.
Horizon hopes to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses by bringing back mask rules in its hospitals under certain circumstances. (narongpon chaibot/Shutterstock)
Asked whether the province would ever consider a return to mandatory masking and what circumstances might prompt such as decision, Hatchard did not respond directly.
"Public Health continues to recommend that New Brunswickers take steps to assess their own personal situation, and to reduce their risks of transmission and infection. These precautions include staying home when you're feeling ill, covering your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, washing your hands regularly, and wearing a mask when in crowded, public places," he said.
"At this time, Public Health has no plans to suggest any changes to that advice.
2 deaths aged 65 or older
The two COVID deaths occurred between Sept. 17 and Sept. 23, according to the Respiratory Watch report. Both people were aged 65 or older.
Only people with confirmed COVID who die in hospital are counted now. The province changed how it defines a COVID death last month.
Six such deaths have been recorded since the start of the respiratory season, on Aug. 27, the report shows.
The pandemic death toll is no longer provided, but at least 941 New Brunswickers have now died from COVID.
Child under 4 hospitalized
The 58 hospitalizations during the reporting week includes people who were hospitalized because of the virus and those who were admitted for another reason and later tested positive.
Among those hospitalized is a child under four, 11 people aged 45 to 64, and 46 people aged 65 or older.
Two people required intensive care.
During the previous week, there were 51 hospitalizations and three ICU admissions.
102 new cases
A total of 102 new cases of COVID were confirmed through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests across the province Sept. 17 to Sept. 23, compared to 103 the previous week.
The regional breakdown of the PCR-confirmed cases includes:
Moncton region, Zone 1 — 45 cases.
Saint John region, Zone 2 — 21 cases.
Fredericton region, Zone 3 — eight cases.
Edmundston region, Zone 4 — six cases.
Campbellton region, Zone 5 — seven cases.
Bathurst region, Zone 6 — 11 cases.
Miramichi region, Zone 7 — four cases.
15 outbreaks at nursing homes, vulnerable settings
Fifteen lab-confirmed outbreaks were declared, including four at unidentified nursing homes and the rest at "other" vulnerable settings, the report shows. No other details are provided.
An outbreak is defined as two or more positive cases among residents or staff with an epidemiological link within 10 days.
Horizon has 48 patients
Horizon Health Network has 48 active COVID-19 patients, as of Saturday, which includes all patients on isolation precautions because of a COVID-19 infection, whether they were admitted for or with COVID. That's down from 54 a week ago.
Four of the patients require intensive care, up from two.
There are no Horizon hospital units with COVID-19 outbreaks, as of Saturday, according to its COVID dashboard.
Twenty-three Horizon health-care workers have tested positive for COVID either on a PCR test or a rapid test, down from 44 in the previous report.
No reporting, masking changes at Vitalité
Vitalité Health Network has not updated its COVID report since Sept. 26. "We plan to continue updating it on a monthly basis, on the last Tuesday of every month," a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
It has, however, updated its COVID outbreaks page. As of Wednesday, there are outbreaks on two hospital units: the Moncton region's Veterans' Health Centre, Unit 200, and the Restigouche Hospital Centre's forensic psychiatry unit — rehabilitation (D-2), in the Campbellton region.
Vitalité has no plans to update its masking policy, according to the statement. Masks have not been mandatory in most Vitalité direct patient care settings since May, with the exception of oncology units at the Dr. Léon-Richard Oncology Centre and the Auberge Mgr-Henri-Cormier.