The province reported 2,548 new cases and two more deaths because of COVID-19 on Monday.
Two people in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, have died, one of them in their 60s and the other in their 70s, Public Health said in a news release late Monday.
The new case numbers, which encompass the weekend's case counts, reflect three consecutive days of record numbers, including 797 new cases on Saturday, 829 on Sunday and 922 today.
There are more than 500 regional health authority employees off work and isolating because of COVID-19, including 461 Horizon Health Network employees and 69 Vitalité Health Network employees.
Fifty-one people with the virus are in hospital. Of these, 17 are in intensive care, 33 are over the age of 60 and 12 are on ventilators. No one under 19 is hospitalized. Public Health reported 435 recoveries since Friday, bringing the province's active case count to 5,442.
Breakdown of new cases
The new cases reported since Friday break down this way:
Moncton region, Zone 1
Saint John region, Zone 2
Fredericton region, Zone 3
Edmundston region, Zone 4
Campbellton region, Zone 5
Bathurst region, Zone 5
Miramichi region, Zone 7
Moderna will only be offered to those over 30
New Brunswick's vaccination clinics will exclusively offer the Moderna vaccine to individuals over the age of 30.
Due to a limited national supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine until April, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is recommending that Pfizer be reserved for individuals 12 to 29 years of age, citing evidence that the risk of myocarditis/pericarditis for this age group is decreased with the Pfizer vaccine.
This risk is lower with Moderna in the over-30 population, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said in a news release late Monday.
"Moderna is a safe and effective vaccine, and as the number of COVID-19 cases rise due to the Omicron variant, it becomes ever more important for people to get their third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine," Russell said.
As well, Russell said, mixed doses of Moderna and Pfizer "are now considered to be acceptable" for most international travel, including to the United States.
Red Cross bolsters rapid test kit supplies
The Canadian Red Cross is stepping up to meet surging demand for rapid test kits in New Brunswick and across Canada.
Climbing case counts and changes to PCR test access have seen New Brunswickers lining up to get their hands on rapid test kits in recent weeks. But the lineups have been long, and supplies have often come up short.
In an interview with Shift New Brunswick on Monday, Bill Lawlor, provincial director of Red Cross Canada for New Brunswick, said the agency is providing rapid test kits to community organizations for distribution via a federal Stop the Spread campaign.
The agency has already handed out kits to 11 New Brunswick workplaces that have been approved for the Stop the Spread initiative, with another 37 organizations' applications under review or in progress, Lawlor said.
"We are expecting a bit of a shift in demand, right across the country and here in New Brunswick," where Public Health has announced changes to PCR testing, Lawlor said.
As of Tuesday at 11:59 p.m., the province will start reserving PCR tests for people who are at the highest risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19. This includes symptomatic people over the age of 50 and under the age of two, those who are immunocompromised or pregnant, and people who are identified as a priority by Public Health.
The Red Cross is already seeing a spike in demand for tests, and will be able to meet it, Lawlor said.
"We've built up a surge, we're ready for the influx," he said, adding that the kits are being supplied by the federal government. "There is no issue of us running out anytime soon."
Shifting to 'living with' COVID-19
A shortened isolation period for those infected with COVID-19 in New Brunswick signals a larger shift toward a policy of "living with" the disease, says an Atlantic Canada virologist.
Last Friday, the New Brunswick government announced that vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19 now only have to isolate for five days, while unvaccinated individuals must isolate for 10 days.
Shortened isolation periods were also introduced in other provinces including Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, as well as the United States.
The move appears to signal a broader shift toward living with COVID-19 as the disease potentially becomes endemic, said Rod Russell, a professor of virology and immunology at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
The latest wave of the pandemic has brought record high case counts across Canada, largely driven by the new Omicron variant.
With the risk of getting infected at an all-time high, Russell said it seems the shortened isolation time was borne out of necessity.
"If everyone stays home for 10 days, there's not going to be anybody to work, right? And that really makes a difference to the frontline," said Russell, speaking Monday on Information Morning Fredericton.
"So if nurses and doctors and all health-care individuals, you know, have to stay home for 10 days, or have to isolate because they were exposed to somebody who was infected, you know, we're going to end up with nobody around to take care of the people who actually need help."
Last week, Horizon Health Network announced 95 employees at the Saint John Regional Hospital had to isolate after exposures in three departments.
"So we've been talking for a year now about learning to live with the virus, and we, you know, at least in Atlantic Canada, we haven't really had to because cases have been low in most parts of Atlantic Canada for most of the time," Russell said.
"But I think this situation, you know, you can't hide from this now."
In announcing a shortened isolation period last Thursday, Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said "90 per cent of your viral risk of transmission is already transpired by five days."
Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw also justified her province shortening the isolation time by saying it's "based on the evidence that those who are fully immunized shed virus for a shorter amount of time if they have a breakthrough infection."
Bad start to the new year for small business
The post-holiday season is typically a difficult time for many businesses.
But, with new restrictions on capacity limits in stores and restaurants, many small business owners are going into the new year feeling discouraged, said Louis-Philippe Gauthier of the Canadian Federation for Independent Business.
"For some it's, it's discouraging," said Gauthier, speaking on Information Morning Fredericton.
"I had a district manager tell me just before the Christmas time, they said 'Philip, you know, the members aren't smiling anymore.' So, you know, when you hear that, it's not fun. It's definitely not a pleasant moment to have to deal with all these things."
As of Dec. 27, 2021, all zones in the province were moved to Level 2 of New Brunswick's COVID-19 winter plan.
That means most establishments, including restaurants, retail stores, gyms, spas and salons must operate at 50 per cent capacity.
Gauthier said restaurants, the entertainment and events industries remain the hardest hit.
In addition to capacity limits, he said the existing shortage of workers has been made worse by the sheer number of cases, which has led to more employees having to take sick days.
"And the added reality is that many consumers unfortunately have started spending their disposable dollars towards the big box stores... and that's something that doesn't make it easy for small and medium-sized businesses across New Brunswick in our communities," he said.