COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 14 more New Brunswickers, raising the pandemic death toll to 897, the province reported Tuesday in its first monthly COVID update.
COVID deaths have remained stable, at an average of 3.5 per week, according to the COVIDWatch report, while hospital admissions because of the virus showed an initial decrease, followed by a slight increase.
New lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases and the positivity rate also remained stable between April 30 and May 27, the report says.
Two of the people who died were aged 50 to 69 and 12 were aged 70 or older.
Five of the deaths occurred in April, six in March, one in January, one in December, and the other in November, according to the Department of Health. Deaths are subject to an average two-month lag in reporting from date of death to the registration of death, the report says.
Thirty-nine people were admitted to the hospital because of the virus during the reporting month, four of whom required intensive care.
That's an average of 9.8 hospitalizations a week. In the previous report, 11 people had been admitted to the hospital because of COVID between April 23 and April 29. None required intensive care.
The two regional health authorities say that as of Saturday, they had 50 people hospitalized who were either admitted because of COVID or initially admitted for another reason and later tested positive for the virus. Three of those patients required intensive care.
A week ago, Horizon and Vitalité reported having 49 COVID patients, with none in ICU.
Among the latest hospitalizations reported by the province, five people were aged 20 to 59, six were 60 to 69 and the other 28 were all 70 or older.
The regional breakdown of the hospitalizations includes:
Moncton region, Zone 1 — nine, including two in ICU.
Saint John region, Zone 2 — one.
Fredericton region, Zone 3 — three.
Edmundston region, Zone 4 — nine, including one in ICU.
Campbellton region, Zone 5 — two.
Bathurst region, Zone 6 — eight.
Miramichi region, Zone 7 — seven, including one in ICU.
A total of 294 new cases of COVID were confirmed through 2,748 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, for an average of 73.5 cases per week, and a positivity rate of 10.7 per cent, according to the report.
There were 78 new cases confirmed through 708 PCR tests in the last weekly report, for a positivity rate of 11 per cent.
An additional 168 people self-reported testing positive on a rapid test in the past month, according to the Department of Health.
Virus is still circulating, says top doctor
CBC requested an interview with Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health. Instead, the Department of Health emailed a statement.
"While we haven't seen any significant increases in [COVID deaths, hospitalizations or cases], Public Health would like to remind New Brunswickers that COVID-19 is still circulating in our communities, and that it's important that people take steps to reduce their risks," she said.
"One thing we'd like you to do is to make sure that you're up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines."
Just over 1,000 New Brunswickers rolled up their sleeves for a COVID-19 vaccine in the past month, including 600 for second boosters, figures from the Department of Health show.
The new vaccination rates include:
First dose — 91.9 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers (up from 91.1 per cent).
Second dose — 85.9 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers (unchanged).
First booster — 54.8 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers (unchanged).
Second booster — 30.6 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers (up from 30.5 per cent).
Public Health continues to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely, said Russell. "If any new trends are noted, we will take steps to notify and inform the public," she said.
XBB represents 98% of cases
Of the 86 random positive PCR samples sent for genetic sequencing between May 3 and May 16, 98 per cent were Omicron XBB, the COVIDWatch report shows.
The report does not provide a further breakdown of sublineages, but Russell told CBC 60 of the cases were XBB.1.5, which has been described as immune evasive and "the most transmissible" subvariant yet.
She did not respond to a request to provide the number of cases of XBB.1.16, which has caused a surge in India and which the World Health Organization has elevated to a "variant of interest." As of May 2, only two cases of XBB.1.16 had been confirmed in the province.
Omicron BA.2 represented the other two per cent of the sequenced cases.
The next COVIDWatch report is scheduled to be released on June 27. Biweekly reports will begin in mid-September, with the start of the next respiratory season, and weekly reports are expected to resume in October.
Horizon, Vitalité move to monthly COVID-19 updates
New Brunswick's two regional health authorities are reducing their COVID-19 updates to monthly, from weekly, reports
Horizon and Vitalité announced their change in reporting schedule on their COVID dashboards Tuesday.
No reasons are provided.
Horizon did not respond to a request for comment by the end of the work day.
In an emailed statement, an unidentified Vitalité spokesperson said they "have decided to mirror the publication rhythm" of the provincial government.
Vitalité's infection prevention and control team "ensures more regular monitoring of the epidemiological situation's evolution," the spokesperson added.
The change comes about a month after the province cut back its COVID updates to monthly, from weekly.
Horizon has 31 people hospitalized for or with COVID as of Saturday, down from 37 a week ago. Two require intensive care, up from none, according to its dashboard.
Nearly half of the patients, 14, are in the Fredericton region, while the Saint John and Miramichi regions each have six patients and the Moncton region has five.
Vitalité has 19 COVID patients, including one in intensive care, its dashboard shows. That's up from 12 COVID patients and none in intensive care a week ago.
Nine of the patients are at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in the Moncton region, Zone 1, eight are at the Edmundston Regional Hospital in the Edmundston region, Zone 4, including the one in ICU, one is at the Campbellton Regional Hospital in the Campbellton region, Zone 5, and one is at the Tracadie Hospital in the Bathurst region, Zone 6.
Nineteen Horizon health-care workers are off the job after testing positive for COVID, down from 27 in the previous report.
Vitalité has 14 infected health-care workers, up from eight.
Horizon has no COVID outbreaks on hospital units, down from three.
Vitalité has not updated its hospital unit COVID outbreak figures. It's still showing two, as of May 24. They include the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre's nephrology unit (4F), and the Edmundston Regional Hospital's extended care unit.