New Brunswick reported five new COVID-19 deaths this week, the same number as last week.
At the same time, hospitalizations and cases are down. But fewer people are taking COVID-19 tests, and the province only reports patients hospitalized for COVID-19, not patients who contract the virus at the hospital or go to the hospital for another issue and have COVID-19.
Twenty-seven people are hospitalized for COVID-19, according to the figures released in the province's regular Tuesday update. This is a decrease from 35 last week, and provincial figures show two people are in the ICU.
Dr. Yves Léger, acting deputy chief medical officer of health, said decreased hospitalizations and cases represent a trend over the past few weeks.
"When we look at that and look at the trends in the last, at least, three weeks we certainly see a trend that indicates we're on that down slope of that fifth wave in New Brunswick."
There were 768 new PCR confirmed cases over the past week, down from 1,004 the week before. There were 5,025 PCR tests performed, and 642 positive cases were self-reported by people who used rapid tests.
Last week, provincial figures showing decreases contrasted with reports from regional health authorities, which showed patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were increasing. But this week, Horizon Health Network and Vitalité are both showing decreases as well.
Together, the health networks show 96 COVID-19 related hospitalizations, down from 121 last week.
Horizon has 75 active admissions, including nine ICU cases. That's a decrease from 93 admissions last week, its weekly update shows.
Those numbers include 11 in the Moncton region, 43 in the Saint John area, 15 in the Fredericton and Upper River Valley area, and six in the Miramichi area.
Vitalité has 21 COVID-related hospitalizations, down from 28, including three in intensive care, which is an increase from one, its weekly report shows.
Eleven are in the Moncton region, four are in the Edmundston region, two are in the Campbellton region, and four are in the Bathurst region.
Downward trend could eventually plateau
Léger said he's hopeful the downward trend in hospitalizations and deaths will continue, though the reality is that living with COVID-19 means expecting increases and decreases in hospitalizations.
"Certainly, I expect that at some point that's going to plateau off. I don't expect we'll reach zero anytime soon. We're very likely looking at a situation where we're going to be living with waves of COVID activity that will come and go, so increases and decreases."
He said cases in New Brunswick are still predominantly the Omicron variant BA.2, and he's not aware of any reports of the new Omicron subvariant XE, which is a combination of BA.2 and BA.1.
Improvement needed on vaccine front, Léger says
There hasn't been any movement this week on first and second vaccination doses — both remain at their current levels of 93.2 per cent fully vaccinated and 88 per cent partially vaccinated.
Booster shots increased slightly to 52.3 per cent from 52.2 per cent. Second booster shots are open to New Brunswickers over 50 who haven't had a dose in at least five months, and Léger said those numbers seem to be increasing well.
"Certainly, there is a very slow, slow increase in the uptake of booster doses in general, especially the first booster dose," he said.
Last week, Leger told CBC News the province was looking at ways to increase uptake on booster shots.
"That work is still ongoing at this time," he said.
He said opening up second doses to younger age groups will depend on recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
Occupancy rates fall slightly at Horizon
While five Vitalité hospitals are at capacity or over it, no Horizon hospitals have crossed the threshold yet, according to data provided by the network.
Some Horizon hospitals do remain near overcapacity, but occupancy has fallen slightly across the board compared to last week.
Moncton Hospital — 94 per cent
Saint John Regional Hospital — 89 per cent
Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital — 89 per cent
Upper River Valley Hospital — 92 per cent
Miramichi Regional Hospital — 92 per cent
The Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, which still has the highest number of COVID patients, has a bed occupancy rate of 98 per cent, a decrease from last week.
The Edmundston Regional Hospital, which has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the Vitalite network at four, has a bed occupancy rate of 82 per cent.
Other Vitalité hospitals with COVID patients are: Campbellton Regional Hospital (two patients, 73 per cent occupancy); the Tracadie Hospital (three patients, 109 per cent occupancy); and the Chaleur Regional Hospital (one patient, 91 per cent occupancy).
According to the province, most hospitalizations fall among individuals aged 60 to 79. Individuals unprotected by the vaccine continue to have the highest rate of hospitalization for COVID-19 and death
The number of isolating health-care workers across both networks has dropped from 165 to 143, representing a 13 per cent decrease.