N.B. records 3 COVID-19 deaths, new cases increase after 2-month decline

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The number of hospital admissions for COVID-19 and current hospitalizations because of the virus both decreased in the past week, according to New Brunswick's COVIDWatch report. (Mario Tama/Getty Images - image credit)
The number of hospital admissions for COVID-19 and current hospitalizations because of the virus both decreased in the past week, according to New Brunswick's COVIDWatch report. (Mario Tama/Getty Images - image credit)

COVID-19 claimed three more lives in New Brunswick in the past week, hospitalizations because of the virus continue to decrease, while the number of new lab-confirmed cases is on the rise after a two-month decline, according to Tuesday's COVIDWatch report, which includes data on the types of variants in the province for the first time.

A total of 1,025 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the past week, up from 828 in the previous report.

Omicron subvariant BA.2 remains the dominant strain, representing 55 per cent of the most recent random samples sequenced for COVID-19, while the original Omicron variant BA.1 is no longer being detected, the report shows. But Omicron BA.4 and Omicron BA.5 are quickly gaining ground, accounting for 27 per cent and 18 per cent of samples, respectively, or 45 per cent combined.

Modelling experts CBC News has spoken to estimate the proportion of BA.4 and BA.5 cases across Canada could be as high as 50 per cent — with one of them likely to become dominant in the coming weeks.

"We're not seeing a huge difference in severity. It's really about transmissibility," said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health.

Each strain that takes over seems to be more transmissible than the one before, she said.

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

"We know that at the national level, they're looking at the risk of a [new] wave in the early fall or mid-fall. And so all the people who haven't had second doses or third doses or fourth doses who are eligible should really be getting those."

People aged 60 to 79, are at the highest risk of hospitalization, so it's "most important" for those people to get their fourth doses, Russell said.

The timing of people's next doses could be more important than ever, with the highly contagious subvariants on the rise and waning immunity from previous vaccination and infection. "The longer you wait to get the vaccine, the more recent it is and the more powerful it is when the next wave happens," Sarah Otto, an expert in modelling and evolutionary biology at the University of British Columbia, has said.

Asked for her thoughts about holding off during the summer when the risks of transmission tend to be lower because people are outside more and distanced, Russell said if people vaccinate too early, then there could be some waning. But if people vaccinate too late, then "you won't catch the peak … in terms of trying to decrease hospital admissions."

Each province will have to make its own decision based on its situation, she said.

"We are going to monitor very, very closely our situation here in New Brunswick. And we're very, again, concerned about … trying to make sure that we time it as best as we can with the knowledge that we have today."

A total of 52.8 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have now received their COVID-19 booster dose, up from 52.7 per cent in last week's report, 88.2 per cent have received two doses, up from 88.1 per cent, and 93.3 per cent have received one dose, unchanged.

Cases up, but testing down

Of the 1,025 new cases of COVID-19 reported between between June 19 and June 25, 484 were confirmed through PCR lab tests (up from 425) and 541 were self-reported by people who tested positive on rapid tests (up from 403).

The increase in PCR-confirmed cases follows a decrease over an eight-week period, according to the report.

It's too soon to say if this is a trend, said Russell.

"It could be a blip. We won't know until you see consecutive weeks in a row," she said. "We're watching it really closely."

The number of PCR tests conducted during that period, meanwhile, dropped to 3,755 from 4,004, Tuesday's report shows.

That puts the positivity rate at 12.9 per cent, up from 10.6 per cent for June 12-18.

There are now 657 active PCR-confirmed cases across the province, compared to 618 a week ago.

The province limits PCR tests to certain people who are considered higher risk, including those with symptoms who are over 50 or under two, those who live or work in a hospital or long-term care facility, those who are "precariously housed," those who are immunocompromised, and those who are pregnant.

People must book an appointment at an assessment centre and it can take up to four days to receive their results, according to the province's COVID-19 website.

Alexandre Silberman/CBC News
Alexandre Silberman/CBC News

The number of appointments booked to pick up rapid test kits has dropped by 56 per cent in the past month within the Horizon Health Network, according to figures provided by spokesperson Kris McDavid.

A total of 4,063 appointments have been booked as of June 24, he said. That's down from 9,278 in May.

The number has dropped even more dramatically from April and March, when roughly 25,000 appointments were booked each month (24,765 and 25,061).

Earlier in the year, the number stood at 17,394 (February) and 24,170 (January).

Access to rapid tests is also limited to people with symptoms and they must book an appointment online to pick up a free rapid test kit at one of the Horizon or Vitalité assessment centres.

Deaths review underway

The latest New Brunswick COVID-19 deaths include one person in their 70s and two people in their 90s.

No New Brunswickers died from COVID-19 during the previous reporting period, June 12-18, marking the first time in more than seven months no new COVID deaths were recorded. The last Sunday-to-Saturday period with no deaths reported was Nov. 7-13, 2021.

New Brunswick has now recorded 425 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

The province is reviewing all death certificates during that period and the number of deaths attributed to COVID could change, Russell has said. No update was available as of Tuesday, she said.

31 COVID patients in hospital

The number of people newly admitted to hospital for COVID-19 decreased to six between June 19 and June 25, compared to 17 the previous week, the weekly figures show. They include three people in their 60s, two in their 70s, and one in their 80s.

The number of active hospitalizations also decreased to 15 from 25, including one in intensive care, down from three, according to the province.

Horizon and Vitalité health networks also report a decrease but say they have 31 COVID patients as of Saturday, including one who requires intensive care. That's down from 46 and three respectively last week.

Unlike the province, which only includes patients who are admitted for COVID, Horizon and Vitalité also include those who were initially admitted for another reason and later test positive for the virus in their weekly COVID dashboard updates.

Government of New Brunswick
Government of New Brunswick

Horizon Health Network has 24 active COVID-19 admissions, including one in intensive care, as of Saturday. That's down from 35 and two respectively a week ago.

The distribution of the cases include:

  • Moncton region, Zone 1 — four.

  • Saint John region, Zone 2 — 10.

  • Fredericton region, Zone 3 —  eight.

  • Miramichi region, Zone 7 — two.

No details about which hospitals are provided in the dashboard report.

Vitalité has seven COVID-19 patients hospitalized and none of them are in intensive care. Last week's dashboard showed 11 patients, including one in intensive care.

The Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst and Tracadie Hospital each have one patient, while the Edmundston Regional Hospital and Campbellton Regional Hospital each have two, the dashboard shows.

Staffing, outbreaks, occupancy

The number of health-care workers off the job after either testing positive for COVID-19 or coming into contact with a positive case continues to rise, at 118. That's up from 94 a week ago and 84 the previous week.

Horizon has 57 staff absences, up from 48, and Vitalité has 61, compared to 46 last week.

Horizon still has COVID-19 outbreaks on four hospital units — one in the Moncton region, Zone 1, and three in the Saint John region, Zone 2.

Vitalité has no units with COVID outbreaks, according to its dashboard.

Two Horizon hospitals are now at 100 per cent capacity, said McDavid — Saint John Regional Hospital and Miramichi Regional Hospital.

Upper River Valley Hospital in Waterville has 98 per cent bed occupancy, Moncton Hospital (96 per cent) and Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton (93 per cent).

Vitalité has five hospitals listed as being at or over capacity:

  • Stella-Maris-de-Kent Hospital in Sainte-Anne-de-Kent — 120 per cent.

  • Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Joseph de Saint-Quentin — 117 per cent.

  • Tracadie Hospital — 102 per cent.

  • Enfant-Jésus RHSJ Hospital in Caraquet — 100 per cent.

  • Lamèque Hospital — 100 per cent.

The bed occupancy of Vitalité's other hospitals include:

  • Chaleur Regional Hospital  in Bathurst — 98 per cent.

  • Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton — 95 per cent.

  • Grand Falls General Hospital — 90 per cent.

  • Campbellton Regional Hospital — 85 per cent.

  • Edmundston Regional Hospital — 84 per cent.

New Brunswick has had 67,725 confirmed cases of COVID since the beginning of the pandemic, with 66,643 cases considered resolved so far.

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