N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Boosters urged as province records 1 death, increase in hospitalizations

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Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said there are 'lots' of vaccine doses and appointments available for boosters. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)
Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said there are 'lots' of vaccine doses and appointments available for boosters. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)

The province is urging eligible New Brunswickers to get their COVID-19 booster as soon as possible after the virus claimed another life, and hospitalizations and ICU admissions increased.

A person in their 30s in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, has died as a result of COVID-19, Public Health reported Thursday.

No information about the individual, such as their vaccination status or whether they had any underlying health conditions, has been released.

The death raises the province's pandemic death toll to 169.

Sixty-three people are now in hospital with the virus, including 19 in intensive care. That's up from 59 and 16 respectively on Wednesday, and a near-record.

The highest number of hospitalizations recorded was 68 on Oct. 13. Twenty-seven people were in intensive care at that time.

Eleven people are on ventilators, up one.

"Due to Omicron's high transmissibility, getting a booster shot of vaccine is especially important as it gives you an added layer of protection," Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said in a statement.

The province will be expanding booster eligibility to younger age groups "very soon," said Health Minister Dorothy Shephard.

"So it is imperative those who are high-risk who can get their dose now, book an appointment at a regional health authority clinic or reach out to a participating pharmacy."

Russell and Shephard will provide an update Friday at 10 a.m. on the COVID-19 situation in New Brunswick, including vaccines, the spread of the Omicron variant, and the health-care system, according to a media advisory.

"Please note that the province will remain in Level 2 of the COVID-19 Winter Plan at this time," it states.

Rogelio V. Solis/The Associated Press
Rogelio V. Solis/The Associated Press

The following groups can book an appointment for a booster dose if at least five months have passed since their second dose:

  • People 50 or older

  • Members of First Nations communities

  • Residents of nursing homes and adult residential facilities

The following groups are also eligible, along with their immediate household family members aged 18 or older:

  • Health-care personnel, including those working in long-term care facilities

  • School personnel

  • Early childhood education and daycare staff

People who are immunocompromised can also book a booster dose if at least five months have passed since their last mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

To preserve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine supply for those aged 12 to 29, current eligible groups will be offered Moderna at booster clinics, regardless of which vaccine was administered for previous doses, Public Health said.

The risk of myocarditis and pericarditis for this younger age group is lower with the Pfizer vaccine, according to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, and there is a limited national supply until April.

A total of 83 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have had at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, which is unchanged since Wednesday, 90.5 per cent have received their first dose, up from 90.4 per cent, and 22.6 per cent have received a booster dose, up from 21.9 per cent.

Of those in hospital, 46 are over 60 and none are under 19.

"Hundreds" of health-care workers across the province continue to isolate at home because of the virus.

Based on information available from PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab tests, Public Health is reporting 672 new cases of COVID-19.

PCR tests, which are considered the gold-standard diagnostic test, are now reserved for people at the highest risk of being hospitalized because of COVID-19.

The use of rapid tests, which are conducted at home and less accurate, is also being limited. Only people aged two to 49 who have symptoms are eligible, and they must book an appointment to pick up a free kit.

The breakdown of the new PCR-based cases includes:

  • Moncton region, Zone 1 — 135

  • Saint John region, Zone 2 — 323

  • Fredericton region, Zone 3 — 85

  • Edmundston region, Zone 4 — 65

  • Campbellton region, Zone 5 — six

  • Bathurst region, Zone 6 — 43

  • Miramichi region, Zone 7 — 15

Although the province has said a positive rapid test will be treated as a positive result for COVID-19 and is asking people who test positive to register their results online, no rapid test results have been released.

Department of Health officials have not responded to questions about whether the province will provide those numbers daily and if not, why not.

A total of 632,377 PCR tests have been conducted to date, including 1,856 on Wednesday. That puts the positivity rate at 36.2 per cent.

There are now 7,267 active cases across the province, according to the COVID-19 dashboard.

New Brunswick has had 19,017 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 11,579 recoveries so far.

Doctor calls for provincial lockdown

A longtime family physician is making a public plea for the Higgs government to lock down the province to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

In a message posted on Twitter, Dr. Roxanne MacKnight, the head of family medicine for the Horizon Health Network in the Miramichi area, said the virus is "running rampant" and health care is "in crisis."

She cited staff shortages, as well as elective surgeries, lab work and X-rays being postponed.

MacKnight said she's frustrated seeing health-care workers being pushed to the limit.

"My thought is that [a lockdown] will help the situation," she told CBC News. "It surely will help mitigate the spread as rapidly as it's spreading right now."

CBC News
CBC News

"I think any kind of decrease in social activities in the community will help prevent some of that spread and also give us a chance to get more boosters available for people."

MacKnight said she'd like to see an approach similar to what was taken in Ontario, with restaurants closed to indoor dining along with the closure of public gatherings in places such as gyms and other indoor facilities.

Government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Miramichi Regional Hospital is already at capacity, and the ICU is full, according to MacKnight.

Horizon Health Network officials could not immediately be reached for comment, but as of Dec. 22, the date of its last status report, the Miramichi hospital was listed at 98 per cent capacity. At that time, the hospital had four patients in the COVID-19 unit and four COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

The Miramichi hospital has about 150 beds and eight ICU beds.

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