N.B. chief medical officer says virus variant putting pressure on health network

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FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health says she's concerned by the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the province, which is putting pressure on the hospital network.

Dr. Jennifer Russell said all the new cases reported in the hard-hit Edmundston area, in the northwest of the province, involve the mutation of the novel coronavirus first identified in the U.K.

"This is the worst that things have been in the pandemic since it began and it is all the result of the U.K. variant," Russell said in an interview Monday.

New Brunswick reported 10 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, including three in the Edmundston region, which has 135 of the 168 active reported cases in the province. That region borders Quebec and Maine and is under a red COVID-19 alert level.

"The U.K. variant brings with it a higher transmission rate, but it also brings a higher risk of mortality and morbidity and a higher risk of hospitalizations and ICU admissions," Russell said.

Fourteen patients are hospitalized with the disease, including eight in intensive care.

Over the weekend, the president of the Vitalite Health Network, which includes the Edmundston hospital, said COVID-19-related hospitalizations are threatening to overwhelm the health system. Dr. France Desrosiers said some patients at the Edmundston hospital may have to be transferred.

"The Edmundston Regional Hospital will soon reach its maximum capacity in terms of patients requiring acute care," Desrosiers said in a statement. "We will have depleted all available resources to provide safe health care during an emergency situation. The transfer of patients to other facilities is imminent."

Russell said so far, one non-COVID-19 patient has been transferred to another hospital, adding that local authorities met Sunday with Ambulance New Brunswick and the Health Department to discuss a plan in the event more patients need to be moved.

Officials said the three new cases in the Edmundston area involve contacts of a previously reported infection. In Moncton, the seven new cases are under investigation, officials said Monday.

"My preliminary information from my staff is they are all connected," Russell said about the Moncton cases.

Russell said while vaccines are a vital part of the plan to end the pandemic, New Brunswickers must continue to follow health orders.

"Until we receive enough vaccines to allow the majority of New Brunswickers to be vaccinated, it remains critical for everyone to remain vigilant and follow public health guidelines," she said.

The province has reported a total of 1,662 COVID-19 cases and 30 deaths linked to the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 5, 2021.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press