As New Brunswick continues to struggle with 84 active COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care homes, with 866 people infected, the rollout of second boosters for nursing home residents has begun.
But the Department of Social Development is still working on a plan for other long-term care residents, said spokesperson Rebecca Howland, citing a lack of nursing staff.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended on April 5 the "rapid deployment" of second COVID-19 booster shots for people aged 80 or older and those living in long-term care and other congregate settings.
Three days later, the province announced it was expanding eligibility to include all New Brunswickers aged 50 and older, provided at least five months have passed since their last dose.
The shots have been available at pharmacies for those who meet the criteria since April 19.
Social Development and the Department of Health collaborated to establish a process of ordering COVID-19 vaccine by nursing homes, said Howland, noting all licensed nursing homes have a vaccine-certified fridge to store all vaccines.
Nursing home operators and their clinical teams are "following the established processes as well as immunization guidelines to implement the roll out of second boosters as residents become eligible," she said in an emailed statement.
The vaccination data from nursing homes is reported to Public Health by the nursing home clinical teams. This ensures that nursing homes are able to provide eligible residents with their vaccinations "on an ongoing basis independently," said Howland.
"Since not all adult residential facilities have nursing staff, the department is working on a plan for the second booster," she said.
"However, the process has already begun with the completion of consent forms for eligible residents in preparation for the roll out."
Active COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities Facility type Number of Outbreaks Positive residents Positive staff Deaths (wave 5) Total facilities Total residents Nursing homes 21 222 142 35 71 4,581 Community residences 4 31 18 0 88 603 Memory care home 3 8 2 4 33 332 Special care homes 52 339 102 27 349 5,565 Generalist care home 2 8 5 1 11 160 Shelters/Transition House 2 10 9 0 25
Of the 84 COVID outbreaks, nearly 62 per cent of them — 52 — are at special care homes, with 339 infected residents and 102 infected staff.
Nursing homes account for a quarter of the outbreaks, at 21, with 222 residents and 142 staff who have tested positive for the virus.
Sixty-seven people have died during the Omicron-fuelled fifth wave, which began in early January, according to figures provided by Howland.
She did not provide any dates, but as of April 8, there were 59 deaths, which means eight more people have died in just over two weeks — four at special care homes and three at nursing homes, and one at a generalist care home.
At least 15 active cases at Tucker Hall in Saint John
One of the nursing home outbreaks is at Shannex's Tucker Hall, a 90-bed home in Saint John's north end, which was hard hit by outbreaks early in the pandemic, including several deaths.
There are 14 active cases among residents, the same as last week, and one employee is still positive, down from three, said spokesperson Isabelle Landry.
A weekly update sent to Tucker Hall family members on April 19 and obtained by CBC News said, "There are currently 27 active cases of COVID-19 amongst residents and 11 have recovered. There are also some active cases amongst employees at Tucker Hall."
Our team is well-prepared to manage this situation and they are working hard to control the spread of the virus. - Isabelle Landry, Shannex spokesperson
Landry did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on the 13-case discrepancy.
"Our team is well-prepared to manage this situation and they are working hard to control the spread of the virus with support from Public Health and our organizational infection prevention and control specialist," she said in an emailed statement.
"Residents who are positive are isolating in their suite and they have support from our team to keep them comfortable and engaged," she said.
General visitation has been temporarily suspended, but fully vaccinated designated support persons can continue visiting loved ones who have not tested positive or who have recovered from COVID-19, Landry said.
The April 19 letter to families said: "Designated support persons (DSPs) can still visit, however, if your loved one has tested positive for COVID-19, you will be required to wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) during your visit."
Again, Landry did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.
Designated support persons must pass screening and perform hand hygiene upon entry and when exiting the building, she said. They must also wear a mask at all times during their visit.
"Our fully vaccinated team members also continue to follow our infection and prevention control measures, including wearing a medical mask, performing hand hygiene, and remaining physically distanced during their shift."
"We understand this is an unsettling time for residents and families of Tucker Hall. We are assessing the situation daily and keeping families updated when there is new information to share," Landry added.
The update to families says the residents "show great resilience in these challenging times and continue to inspire" the staff.