Hospital admissions and deaths rose while the number of COVID-19 cases went down last week compared to the previous week, according to the province's latest weekly report.
There were six new deaths — one person in their 50s, four in their 80s and one over 90 — compared to four the previous week. That brings the total number of deaths in New Brunswick to 472 as of Saturday. The vast majority — 81 per cent — are people over the age of 70.
There were 589 new cases last week compared to 712 the week before.
"I think the fact that we're in a stable period is a good thing," said Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health.
She pointed out that deaths have gone up by two, ICU admissions have gone down by two and hospitalizations up by four. Those categories have all been fairly stable over the summer months.
"One thing we noticed is that our peak never ended up being as high as we thought it was going to be and that's a good thing," said Russell.
The highest proportion of hospitalizations for COVID-19 continues to be among individuals aged 70 to 89. Twenty-five per cent of all admissions are for those in their 70s, even though that age group represents only 10 per cent of New Brunswick's population.
The number of hospital admissions for COVID-19 increased last week compared to the previous week from 31 to 35, according to the report released on Wednesday afternoon.
The number of active hospitalizations was also up. There were 37 last week compared to 33 the week before.
The seven-day moving average for hospitalizations was up last week, but the seven-day moving average for cases was down.
The report also stated that individuals unprotected by vaccine continue to have the highest rate of ICU admissions at 58.5 per cent since Dec. 5, 2021, compared to 41.5 per cent for protected.
"Those people who are most at risk are those people who aren't fully up-to-date with their vaccines," said Russell.
Russell said everyone who is eligible for a booster should go ahead and get it.
And not just for COVID-19. She encourages everyone to be up-to-date on all vaccines, including for the flu, since public health officials are predicting a worse-than-usual flu season.
In New Brunswick, children between the ages of five and 11 who received their first shot are now eligible to receive their first booster dose. Like everyone else eligible for a booster, five months must have passed since their last shot or since having COVID-19 infection, whichever is more recent.
"Vaccines have been proven to provide protection against serious illnesses or hospitalization from COVID-19," said Russell.
The province provides online help about booking a vaccination or by phone at 1-833-437-1424.
Pandemic or endemic?
With restrictions lifted in New Brunswick, it may feel to some as if the pandemic is over, but it's not, said Russell.
The sentiment that New Brunswick is now post-COVID or past the pandemic has been repeated several times by government officials recently. Even a cabinet minister and former health minister has gotten it wrong.
In a news release Wednesday about adult residential facilities being provided with iPads, Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard said, "Although we are no longer in a pandemic, the goal to connect everyone is still important."
The government later revised that statement, saying "an oversight" had occurred. The release was changed to say, "Although we are no longer in a pandemic lockdown . ..."
Russell said New Brunswick will take the lead from the World Health Organization and the Public Health Agency of Canada, and neither has declared the pandemic over.
"We do feel like we're going into a period of endemicity," she said.
It means "that COVID is around. It's going to stick around for quite a while. And that transition from pandemic to endemic does not mean that it's over. It means that it's enduring and it's circulating in our population."
Raywat Deonandan, a global-health epidemiologist and an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, said there's no question a pandemic is happening, but the definition of pandemic is "extremely soft."
Deonandan said the official definition contained in the Dictionary of Epidemiology is "an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people."
"That is it," said Deonandan. And it could apply to obesity, depression, or hunger.
He says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention make a clear distinction between "outbreak," "epidemic," and "pandemic."
"An outbreak is just an increase in cases, more than you'd see normally, and that's usually in a defined local region. An epidemic is a big outbreak over a larger, defined region. And a pandemic is an epidemic over many countries," said Deonandan.
The distinctions have nothing to do with the severity of the disease, he stressed. It's about how many people are affected.
"When the WHO defines a pandemic, on the other hand, that's an administrative, bureaucratic definition based on their own internal criteria."
Deonandan said it will likely be the WHO that declares the pandemic over, when the appropriate time comes, and that other organizations around the world will likely follow suit.
But we're not there yet, he said.
"The disease is still affecting a large number of people, compromising our day-to-day activities like going to school and work and travelling, and putting a lot of people in the hospital. So it's way too early to be retreating from that emergency mindset."
Deonandan said people are misusing endemic "to mean that it's gone away."
He said it's not a sliding scale from pandemic to endemic. It simply means there are no waves of the disease.
If COVID were to become endemic at the current rates of infection without any waves, "that would be pretty stark," said Deonandan.
"So the goal is to drive the incidence rate down low and hold it there and let that be our new endemic normal."
He said there are a lot of endemic diseases around, such as measles and chickenpox, for example.
"If we let our foot off the brake, we'd have a lot of suffering caused by measles and chicken pox, but we have a lot of public health pressure applied to controlling that endemicity," said Deonandan.
"Endemic, unfortunately, is being used to be equivalent to 'good.' It's not good, it just means it's the new normal."
Regional health authorities
Meanwhile the province's two regional health authorities, which include in their weekly reports people admitted to hospital because of COVID-19 as well as those initially admitted for another reason and later test positive for the virus, say there are 83 New Brunswickers hospitalized either for or with COVID-19, three of whom required intensive care, a decrease from the previous week.
The Horizon Health Network reported 55 active COVID-19 hospital admissions, but no one in the ICU as of Saturday. That compares to 71 admissions and three patients in intensive care the previous week.
The Vitalité Health Network reported 28 patients hospitalized — the same number as the previous week — with three in intensive care, up one from the previous week, according to the network's COVID dashboard.
Horizon also reported 12 outbreaks in hospital units around the province and 30 staff members off work because of positive COVID tests, while Vitalité reported 89 workers off because of COVID and outbreaks in four units.