N.B. reports 4 more COVID-19 deaths, rise in hospital admissions, active hospitalizations

·8 min read
The province reports 33 people people hospitalized because of COVID-19, while Horizon and Vitalité report 99 people in hospital either for or with COVID. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The province reports 33 people people hospitalized because of COVID-19, while Horizon and Vitalité report 99 people in hospital either for or with COVID. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)

COVID-19 has claimed four more New Brunswickers in the past week, and hospital admissions for COVID-19 and active hospitalizations because of the virus have both increased, the province's latest figures show.

The latest deaths include a person in their 60s, a person in their 70s, a person in their 80s and a person 90 or older, according to Tuesday's COVIDWatch report.

Their deaths raise the province's pandemic death toll to 466.

Thirty-one people were admitted to hospital for COVID-19 between Aug. 21 and Aug. 27. That's up from 22 in the previous week's report.

There are 33 people currently hospitalized because of the virus, up from 21, according to the province. Four people require intensive care, up from one.

The increase in hospitalizations, following several weeks of decreases, comes as "a bit of a surprise," said acting Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Yves Léger.

"So we are working with the [regional health authorities] to try and better understand what are some of the drivers that are happening there," he said. "So we'll be trying to dig deeper into those numbers this week."

Government of New Brunswick
Government of New Brunswick

Meanwhile the regional health authorities, which include in their weekly reports people admitted to hospital because of COVID-19, as well as those initially admitted for another reason and later test positive for the virus, say there are 99 New Brunswickers hospitalized either for or with COVID-19, five of whom require intensive care, a slight decrease from last week.

Horizon Health Network reports 71 active COVID-19 hospital admissions, including three patients in intensive care, as of Saturday. That's down from 95 and six respectively in last Tuesday's report.

Vitalité Health Network reports 28 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, compared to 18 a week ago — a 55 per cent increase. Two people are in intensive care, up from one, the weekly COVID dashboard shows.

Among those admitted to hospital are a child under 10 and a child between 10 and 19, according to the provincial report.

Those admitted to ICU include a person in their 50s, two in their 60s, and one in their 70s.

Pascal Raiche-Nogue/Radio-Canada
Pascal Raiche-Nogue/Radio-Canada

"The highest portion of hospitalizations for COVID-19 is among individuals aged 70-89," the report states.

"Individuals that are unprotected by vaccine continue to have the highest rate of hospitalization for COVID-19 and ICU admissions."

Asked whether people returning from out-of-province vacations could be a factor in the increased hospitalizations, Léger said if that were the case, he would expect to see an increase in new cases of COVID as well.

"It's a bit of a mixed bag that we have this week, where case numbers have gone down but yet our hospitalizations have gone up so again, we'll have to really go back and work with the RHAs to explore that further," he said.

1,398 new cases

A total of 1,398 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the past week, down from 1,513 in the previous report. That includes 712 cases confirmed through a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab test, down from 797, and 686 people who self-reported testing positive on a rapid test, down from 716.

The Moncton region, Zone 1, has a third of the cases, at 464, followed by the Fredericton region, Zone 3, with 386, the Bathurst region, Zone 6, with 185, the Saint John region, Zone 2, with 167, the Edmundston region, Zone 4, with 95, the Miramichi region, Zone 7, with 53, and the Campbellton region, Zone 5, with 48.

Government of New Brunswick
Government of New Brunswick

Fewer PCR tests were conducted in the past week — 4,798, down from 5,059 the previous week, putting the positivity rate at roughly 15 per cent.

There are now 1,072 active cases of COVID in the province, based on PCR tests alone.

Of the most recent random samples sent for sequencing, 82 per cent were the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant BA.5 and the other 18 per cent were the Omicron subvariant BA.4.

Fall increase difficult to predict

It's difficult to predict case counts for the fall, said Léger.

"The increases that we've seen this summer were a bit earlier than what we were thinking would occur. So COVID will still, you know, play tricks on us at times."

He's unaware of any fall COVID-19 modelling, he said, but an increase in COVID activity is likely with the change in seasons and start of school.

"When that will happen or how much is yet to be seen," he said.

Masking in schools 'encouraged'

The Department of Education has said there will be no mask or distancing mandates when school resumes on Sept. 6, while some universities have opted to maintain mandatory masking.

Asked what Public Health's recommendation was on masking in schools, Léger did not directly answer the question.

"The school year will look very much the way it did last year with, you know, individuals being able to choose whether or not they wish to utilize the measures that we've all learned to use in the last 2½ years," he said.

Among them, he listed masking indoors, keeping social contacts low, and socializing outdoors when possible.

"Public Health continues to strongly encourage individuals to consider utilizing those measures to protect themselves from COVID."

Pressed further on what Public Health's recommendation on masking was, Léger repeated, "We are continuing to encourage individuals to make decisions for themselves."

Vaccination rates

Among children aged five to 11, the first-dose vaccination rate is 56 per cent and the two-dose rate is 40 per cent, as of Tuesday, said Department of Health spokesperson Adam Bowie.

He did not immediately respond to a request to provide the vaccination rates for youth aged 12 to 19, or children under five.

A total of 93.7 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have now received their first dose, 88.4 per cent have received their second dose, 53.5 per cent have received their third dose, and 20 per cent have received their fourth dose, said Bowie.

Just over 1,100 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered in the past week, including 258 first doses, 132 second doses, 430 third doses and 292 fourth doses, he said.

New Brunswick has had 75,152 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with 73,614 cases now considered resolved.

Paxlovid eligibility expansion 'likely'

The province will "likely" make the antiviral COVID-19 treatment drug Paxlovid more widely available, Léger confirmed.

"The eligibility criteria [is] being reviewed with a potential for increasing eligibility," he said.

Paxlovid is currently available only to "people who are at high risk of serious illness," according to the province's COVID-19 website.

That includes people aged 80 or older and others who are "moderately to severely immunocompromised."

Cory Herperger/Radio-Canada
Cory Herperger/Radio-Canada

Earlier this week, CBC News reported a Saint John family was told by a Department of Health official last week that access to the drug would be broadened.

The department is consulting with various partners on eligibility, said Léger.

The criteria "will likely be expanded from what we currently have now," he said. "But again, what that looks like is, you know, is yet to be seen."

Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 per cent in non-hospitalized high-risk adults with COVID-19, compared to a placebo during its clinical trial, according to Pfizer.

The drug must be taken within five days of the onset of symptoms.

A full course of treatment consists of 30 pills over five days.

Hospital outbreaks, sick staff

The majority of the 71 Horizon hospitalizations, 45, are in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, according to the dashboard. The Moncton region, Zone 1, has 13, the Saint John region, Zone 2, has eight, and the Miramichi region, Zone 7, has five.

Of the 28 Vitalité hospitalizations, 16 are at the Edmundston Regional Hospital, in Zone 4, six are at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, Zone 1, three are at the Campbellton Regional Hospital in Zone 5, two are at the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst and one is at Tracadie Hospital, both in Zone 6.

There are COVID-19 outbreaks on 17 Horizon hospital units, down from 22 last week. Six are in the Moncton region, Zone 1, three in the Saint John region, Zone 2, six in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, and two in the Miramichi region, Zone 7. No other details are provided.

Vitalité has outbreaks on five units at two hospitals — three at Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre (geriatric unit 3A, medicine and step-down unit 4C and nephrology 4F) and two at the Edmundston Regional Hospital (extended care unit and medical unit).

Horizon has 54 staff off work after testing positive for COVID-19, down from 99 the previous week.

Vitalité has 155 staff off work because of COVID-19, up from 138 in last week's report.

Overall capacity at Vitalité is listed at 99 per cent, down from 100 per cent the previous week. Enfant-Jésus RHSJ Hospital in Caraquet has the highest bed occupancy at 142 per cent, with no COVID patients. The highest bed occupancy at a hospital with COVID patients is Tracadie Hospital at 117 per cent with one COVID patient.

Horizon's dashboard does not include bed occupancy.