N.L. health-care system prepared for XBB.1.5 variant, Fitzgerald says

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald recommends people update their vaccinations to protect against severe disease. (Ted Dillon/CBC - image credit)
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald recommends people update their vaccinations to protect against severe disease. (Ted Dillon/CBC - image credit)
Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health says the province's health-care system is prepared to deal with any extra pressure from the new, more transmissible variant of COVID-19.

On Friday, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said XBB.1.5, a subvariant of Omicron, doesn't appear to cause more severe disease than previous variants.

"We have great immunity here in the province, between previous infections with Omicron as well as vaccinations," she said Friday.

On Thursday, the Department of Health announced the province's first confirmed case of XBB.1.5, which is already spreading in other provinces, including B.C., and is on the rise in the United States.

Fitzgerald said people in Newfoundland and Labrador can protect themselves from severe illness by getting vaccinated against both COVID-19 and the flu.

As with any wave of COVID-19 infections, she said, more people will likely end up in hospital.

"We certainly would encourage people to get their boosters that will reduce the risk of severe disease and reduce the potential impact on the health-care system," she said.

Masking is an individual assessment: Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald said other jurisdictions have seen relatively quick waves of XBB.1.5, and she expects the province's health-care system will be able to handle the added pressure. She said vaccine immunity combined with immunity from previous infections should reduce the impact too.

She said anyone who gets COVID-19 should wear a mask for 10 days after the onset of symptoms but stopped short of recommending more widespread masking.

"We've been recommending that people make an assessment with regard to whether or not they want to wear a mask," she said.

According to the provincial government's COVID-19 data hub, there were 35 new hospitalizations due to the virus during the last two weeks of 2022. CBC News has asked the department for clarification on the department's change in how it reports hospitalizations. Prior to Wednesday's update, the provincial government had been reporting the total number of hospitalizations on the day of the update.

Four people died due to COVID-19 in the province from Dec. 18 to Dec. 31. According to year-end statistics, 94 per cent of the 295 COVID-19 deaths in Newfoundland and Labrador occurred in 2022.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador