December 10, 2023

COVID-19 has killed eight more New Brunswickers and 11 people have been admitted to hospital because of the virus, including four people under age 20, the youngest age category provided by the province in its weekly updates.

The number of new lab-confirmed COVID cases and the test positivity rate remained “relatively stable” between Feb. 26 and March 4, according to the COVIDWatch report, while vaccination rates have stalled.

None of the deaths occurred during the latest reporting period, the report shows. Five occurred earlier in February and three in January.

Deaths are subject to an average two-month lag in reporting from date of death to the registration of death, the report says.

One person who died was 50 to 69 years old, the youngest age category provided, and the other seven were aged 70 or older.

Their deaths raise the pandemic death toll to 842.

COVID deaths and hospitalizations “remained stable,” the report says. Nine deaths and 11 hospital admissions were reported between Feb. 19 and Feb. 25.

No one requires intensive care, down from two people the previous week.

The province no longer provides the number of people currently hospitalized, but the two regional health authorities say they have 45 people in hospital either for or with COVID as of Saturday, none in intensive care.

That’s down from 55 and two respectively.

19.8% positivity rate, XBB.1.5 growing

A total of 360 new cases have been confirmed through 1,818 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab tests, for a positivity rate of 19.8 per cent.

The test positivity rate is the percentage of the total PCR lab tests performed that produced a positive result. A high test positivity rate — even when the overall number of tests done is low — indicates a high level of community transmission.

Last week, 363 cases were confirmed through 1,729 PCR tests, for a positivity rate of nearly 21 per cent — the highest it’s been since Aug. 28, which is as far back as the COVIDWatch data dates.

An additional 152 people self-reported testing positive on a rapid test, according to the Department of Health.

A nurse wearing blue gloves handles a COVID-19 test swab.
The test positivity rate has decreased slightly to 19.8 per cent from last week’s nearly 21 per cent, the highest it has been since at least Aug. 28. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The proportion of cases identified as being the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 continues to steadily increase in the province.

The World Health Organization has described XBB.1.5 as “the most transmissible” subvariant yet, and experts say it’s considered immune evasive, but there is no evidence it causes more severe disease.

Of the 174 random samples sent for genetic sequencing, 40 per cent were XBB, an offshoot of the Omicron BA.2 subvariant. The report does not indicate how many of those were cases of XBB.1.5, but department spokesperson Sean Hatchard confirmed to CBC that 65 were.

That’s more than 37 per cent of the sequenced cases, up from 26 per cent last week, when 50 cases out of 190 samples sequenced were XBB.1.5.

The latest cases raise the provincial total to 223 since the subvariant was first detected in New Brunswick in January.

The breakdown of the other sequenced cases includes 58 per cent BA.5, one per cent BA.4 and one per cent BA.2.

Asked whether the province has detected any new concerning subvariants or any concerning growth in other subvariants, Hatchard did not respond directly.

“As previously mentioned, New Brunswick isn’t regularly releasing detailed breakdowns of COVID-19 subvariants, as there have been more than 100 genetic sequences of COVID-19 detected in the province since the beginning of the pandemic,” he said in an emailed statement.

‘Most important’ measure

Only 449 New Brunswickers rolled up their sleeves to get a COVID vaccine in the past week, including 51 first doses, 36 second doses, 74 first boosters and 288 second boosters, according to figures from the Department of Health.

Last week, Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, told CBC vaccination is “the most important” measure people can take to protect themselves from COVID.

“So we would love to see more people getting their third or fourth doses and if they’re eligible for the bivalent one, getting that one,” she said.

“So we’re still really hoping that people hear that message that vaccines are really important and especially if you’re going to be travelling.”

A health-care worker prepares a dose of Pfizer's bivalent COVID-19 vaccine.
A total of 30.2 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have received their second booster, unchanged from a week ago. (Kristopher Radder/The Associated Press)

Vaccination rates for all four doses remain unchanged from a week ago:

  • First dose — 91 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers.
  • Second dose — 85.8 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers.
  • First booster — 54.7 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers.
  • Second booster — 30.2 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers.

CBC News requested an interview with Russell on Tuesday, but the Department of Health spokesperson said she wasn’t available.

Spring booster recommended for those high risk

Canada’s national vaccination advisory body has recommended a spring booster shot for those considered high risk, including seniors and immunocompromised adults, in its latest guidance, issued last Friday.

But the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, or NACI, is not currently recommending an additional spring booster for people in the general population who’ve already received all their previous recommended doses, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam posted on Twitter.

“Anyone who has not yet received a primary series or recommended fall 2022 booster can get it now to reduce their risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” she wrote.

NACI will, however, “continue to monitor the SARS-CoV-2 epidemiology and emerging evidence, including duration of vaccine protection from bivalent booster doses in the coming months to provide recommendations on the timing of subsequent booster doses if warranted,” the committee said in its latest guidance.

People considered at higher risk of severe illness include:

  • Adult residents of long-term care homes and other communal living settings for seniors or those with complex medical care needs.
  • Adults 18 and up who are moderately to severely immunocompromised, either due to a medical treatment or underlying health condition.
  • Adults 65 to 79, particularly if they don’t have a known prior history of SARS-CoV-2 infection, plus anyone 80 and up.

Bivalent, Omicron-containing, mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines are the “preferred” option for booster shots, at least six months after a previous COVID-19 vaccine dose or a SARS-CoV-2 infection, whichever is longer, NACI said.

Horizon and Vitalité hospitalizations

Horizon Health Network has 38 active COVID-19 hospital patients as of Saturday, its COVID dashboard shows, down from 44 the previous week. No one is in intensive care, down from one.

The Fredericton region, Zone 3, is the hotspot with 27 cases. The Moncton region, Zone 1, has the second-highest number of cases, with five, followed by the Saint John region, Zone 2, with four, and the Miramichi region, Zone 7, with two.

Vitalité Health Network has seven COVID-19 hospital patients, none in intensive care, according to its COVID dashboard. That’s down from 11 and one respectively from the previous week.

Three of the patients are at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, Zone 1, two at the Edmundston Regional Hospital in the Edmundston region, Zone 4, one at the Campbellton Regional Hospital, in the Campbellton region, Zone 5, and in the Bathurst region, Zone 6, the Chaleur Regional Hospital and Tracadie Hospital each have one patient.

Decrease in infected workers, outbreaks

The number of health-care workers off the job after testing positive for COVID-19 has decreased to 78 from 92 a week ago.

Forty-three of the infected employees work for Horizon, down from 60, while Vitalité has 35 employees absent, up from 32.

Horizon has COVID-19 outbreaks on two hospital units, down from three. No specifics are provided, but the Moncton and Fredericton regions each have one, the dashboard shows.

Vitalite has not updated its outbreak page. It’s still showing no outbreak units, as of Feb. 27.


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