The number of COVID-19 deaths decreased slightly in New Brunswick in the past week, while hospitalizations because of the virus and cases requiring intensive care both increased slightly.
New Brunswick also has at least 11 Omicron subvariants now, including its first confirmed case of BA.5.
Two New Brunswickers died from COVID between May 29 and June 4, the COVIDWatch report released by the province Tuesday shows. That's down from three deaths in last week's report.
The latest deaths include a person in their 70s and a person in their 80s from the Fredericton region, Zone 3, and the Miramichi region, Zone 7, a comparison of the two reports reveals.
There are 28 people hospitalized for COVID, up from 25, including three in intensive care, up from two, according to the provincial figures.
The regional health authorities, meanwhile, report having 66 COVID patients, up from 59. That includes people hospitalized both for and with COVID.
A child under 10 is among those hospitalized. The youngest person in ICU is in their 50s.
"There was an increase in the number of hospital admissions for COVID-19 this week (20) compared to last week (14)," the report states.
"It's a stable period of time right now, which is nice to see," said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health.
There are "a few fluctuations here and there, but they're quite minor," she said.
The Omicron subvariant BA.2 remains the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the province, but one case of the Omicron subvariant BA.5 has now been confirmed through sequencing of random samples collected twice a week, said Russell.
She could not say where the case is located.
Fifteen new cases of the Omicron subvariant BA.4 have also been confirmed in the past week, she said. She could not provide the total number of BA.4 cases confirmed since the subvariant was first detected in the province in early May.
"We're monitoring [BA.4 and BA.5] and that information is being collected across the country and we're definitely having discussions on what it means. But as of right now, that analysis is not showing that we need to change anything or do anything differently."
Omicron is considered a variant of concern in Canada, but the subvariants are not, she stressed.
Last month, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control upgraded BA.4 and BA.5 to variants of concern.
It said the growth of BA.4 and BA.5 is "likely due to their ability to evade immune protection induced by prior infection and/or vaccination, particularly if this has waned over time."
There is currently no indication they are more severe than previous Omicron subvariants, it said.
The World Health Organization lists Omicron as a variant of concern, along with BA.1, BA.2, BA.3, BA.4, BA.5, "descendent lineages," and combinations of BA.1 and BA.2 that are circulating, such as XE.
"WHO emphasizes that these descendant lineages should be monitored as distinct lineages by public health authorities and comparative assessments of their virus characteristics should be undertaken," its website states.
New Brunswick's latest sequencing found:
BA.1.1 — one case
BA.2 — 37 cases
BA.2.12.1 — 21 cases
BA.2.3 — nine cases
BA.2.3.1 — four cases
BA.2.3.4 — one case
BA.2.31 — two cases
BA.2.38 — two cases
BA.2.9 — one case
BA.4 — 15 cases
BA.5 — one case
New cases and vaccination rates
A total of 893 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in New Brunswick, including 533 confirmed through 2,864 PCR lab tests, and 360 from people self-reporting their positive rapid test results.
There are now 786 active cases of COVID across the province, based on PCR-confirmed cases alone, down from 865.
A total of 52.6 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have received their booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, up from 52.4 per cent, 88.1 per cent have received two doses of vaccine, up from 88 per cent, and 93.2 per cent have received one dose, unchanged.
"The good news about boosters is that we have seen a 10 per cent jump" in second boosters in the past month, said Russell.
About 13 per cent of those eligible have now received their second booster dose, she said.
"That fourth [vaccine] rollout started in early May. And as of May 9th, three per cent had their second booster. … So that's really great because … vaccines are the best protection, and I encourage everyone who is eligible to get theirs."
Among those aged 50 or older, the second booster rate increased by 5.1 per cent, to 12.8 per cent, while the second booster rate among those aged 70 or older increased by 11.4 per cent, to 27.3 per cent, Russell said.
"So we'd love to see those numbers continue to increase."
New Brunswick has had 67,560 confirmed cases of COVID since the beginning of the pandemic, with 421 deaths and 65,138 cases considered "resolved" so far.
Horizon and Vitalité reports
Horizon Health Network has 46 active COVID hospitalizations, including two in intensive care, as of Saturday, up from 30 in its previous weekly report.
Five are in the Moncton region, Zone 1, 22 are in the Saint John region, Zone 2, 11 are in the Fredericton region, Zone 3 and eight are in the Miramichi region, Zone 7.
Vitalité Health Network has 20 patients hospitalized for or with COVID-19, as of Saturday, down from 29 in the previous report. None require intensive care, according to the regional health authority's dashboard.
The Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton has the largest number of patients, at 12, and has a bed occupancy rate of 93 per cent.
Six Vitalité hospitals are at or over capacity but only one of them has any COVID patients. Tracadie Hospital is listed at 105 per cent, with one COVID patient.
Horizon does not provide occupancy statistics on its COVID-19 dashboard.
Horizon has one COVID-19 outbreak at a hospital in the Saint John region. No other details are provided.
Vitalité has COVID outbreaks on two units at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre (rehabilitation unit 3F and nephrology 4F), one at the Edmundston Regional Hospital (surgical unit 2) and one at the Regional Addictions Services centre in Campbellton.
Thirty-seven Horizon employees are off the job isolating after testing positive for COVID-19.
Vitalité has 57 employees off work because they either tested positive for COVID or were a close contact of a positive case.