The New Brunswick government has issued an "urgent" call for paid and unpaid volunteers to help with the clinical and non-clinical pandemic response as the province recorded three more COVID-related deaths and 113 hospitalizations from the virus Tuesday.
"As predicted, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is causing increased hospitalizations and staff absences, which is putting pressure on all aspects of our health-care system," Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said in a statement.
A total of 347 health-care workers who have tested positive are off, isolating.
"We need your help," said Shephard.
The clinical work includes administering vaccinations and COVID-19 testing, patient services and personal support work, according to a news release.
Among those the province is hoping with "pitch in" are:
Regulated health professionals, such as dentists, paramedics and physiotherapists
Licensed practical nurses
Personal support workers
Youth care workers
Students registered in a health-care professional training program
Internationally educated health professionals
The non-clinical work includes clerical support, office administration, logistical support, data entry, customer service, and food preparation and delivery.
"Whether you are retired, non-practising or unlicensed — if you have experience that can help, please reach out to us," said Shephard.
Training, including health and safety measures and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), will be provided.
People who are interested are asked to complete an online form. "Each volunteer will be contacted but priority will be given to people who can fill areas of highest need," the release said.
18 deaths in 6 days
Three people who had COVID-19 have died — a person 50 to 59 and two people 90 or over, all in the Bathurst region, Zone 6, Public Health said.
Their deaths mark 18 in the past six days and raise the COVID-related pandemic death toll to 192, the dashboard shows.
Of the 113 people hospitalized, 15 are in intensive care, a decrease of one. Four of them are on ventilators, also down one.
Fifty-nine of the people hospitalized were already admitted for other reasons when they tested positive for COVID-19.
Eighty-five of the hospitalized patients are over 60 and two are 19 or under.
Of those in ICU, 67 per cent are either unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or it has been more than six months since their second dose.
The seven-day average for hospitalizations is 107.9, up from 104.3, while the seven-day average for ICU admissions is 12.4, up from 12.3, according to the dashboard.
There were 330 new COVID cases confirmed through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing, putting the active caseload at 4,568. That figure doesn't include people testing positive on rapid tests.
An additional 1,623 people tested positive on rapid tests and registered their results online, nearly double Monday's 881.
The regional breakdown of the 330 new PCR-confirmed cases reported includes:
Moncton region, Zone 1 — 110 cases
Saint John region, Zone 2 — 67 cases
Fredericton region, Zone 3 — 29 cases
Edmundston region Zone 4 — 26 cases
Campbellton region, Zone 5 — 34 cases
Bathurst region, Zone 6 — 47 cases
Miramichi region, Zone 7 — 17 cases
A total of 659,205 PCR tests have been conducted to date, including 3,281 on Monday, which puts the positivity rate at 10.1 per cent.
On Saturday, the positivity rate jumped to 47.9 per cent, when 409 cases were detected through 853 tests.
As of Tuesday, 32.7 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have received a booster dose, up from 30.9 per cent on Saturday when the figures were last updated, 83.4 per cent have received two doses, unchanged, and 91.3 per cent have received one dose, up from 91.1 per cent.
The province continues to urge those eligible for a booster or vaccine to book an appointment.
The regional health authorities have more than 25,700 appointments available at their clinics between now and Jan. 31, Public Health said. In addition, pharmacies have received nearly 44,000 doses for their clinics.
Since Jan. 10, when eligibility for boosters expanded to include everyone 18 and older, as long as five months have passed since their second dose, more than 37,600 appointments have been booked through the regional health authorities.
New Brunswick has had 23,503 PCR-confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with 18,741 recoveries so far.
Cosmetologists seek lift of lockdown for industry — or financial aid
The head of the cosmetology association for the province says hair salons and spas are being unfairly targeted for shutdown.
Gaye Cail, executive director of the Cosmetology Association of New Brunswick, says salons and spas follow strict hygiene protocols, making them safer spaces than retail outlets.
"You know, you can still go to a retail store that has 50 per cent capacity, but there could be 500 people in that store at a mall," she said.
"They don't require the person coming in to be double vaccinated. … You could try on a pair of pants that three other people have tried on. So it just doesn't seem fair that we follow all of these safety protocols constantly, not just from the Public Health, but also from the cosmetology association, and we still are not allowed to remain open."
The association has started an online petition addressed to Premier Blaine Higgs, calling for cosmetologists to be allowed to reopen or receive "adequate and accessible financial support" so they can "feed [their] families and keep [their] businesses afloat."
"Don't brush us off," it states. As of early Tuesday afternoon, the petition has garnered nearly 7,800 signatures.
Many of the association's 8,000 members are self-employed and don't qualify for provincial financial aid.
The small business recovery grant program has been extended until the end of February and the amount eligible businesses can apply for has increased to $10,000, which is double the previous amount. But to qualify, businesses must employ between two and 99 full-time equivalent staff.
The Liberals have called on the government to expand the criteria to ensure all self-employed small businesses owners, and those with fewer than two staff members, are eligible.
There is federal support available, offering $300 a week, said Cail.
"But you know, when you're trying to run a business, you have your own business bills, but you also have your personal bills. Three hundred dollars a week is is not enough to survive."
If adjustments to current programming are required to support businesses throughout this difficult time, we will listen and respond accordingly. - Arlene Dunn, minister responsible for Opportunities New Brunswick
The provincial government is aware of the concerns brought forward by businesses that have fewer than two employees, said Arlene Dunn, the minister responsible for Opportunities New Brunswick.
"ONB is actively exploring options to support self-employed individuals who have been subject to lockdown, but who currently do not meet the employment eligibility thresholds as defined in the small business recovery grant program," she said in an emailed statement.
Dunn has asked ONB staff to finalize this analysis and bring forward options for consideration.
"As we have throughout the pandemic, if adjustments to current programming are required to support businesses throughout this difficult time, we will listen and respond accordingly," she said.
Businesses with concerns or questions are encouraged to contact a business navigator for help, at email@example.com, or 1-833-799-7966, she added.
Horizon seeks cleaning staff
The Horizon Health Network is seeking cleaning staff for its facilities across the province, with the "most immediate need" in the Saint John area.
As of last week, the Saint John Regional Hospital had COVID outbreaks on six units.
"We're at a point now where we're not able to contain all of our affected and close-contact patients in one or two areas," Dr. John Dornan, interim president and CEO of the Horizon Health Network, had said.
"The EVS [environmental services] team works behind the scenes, around the clock, cleaning and disinfecting Horizon facilities to create a clean and safe health care environment for patients, staff and visitors," Horizon said in a statement.
"During this fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, their role is more important than ever."
Anyone who's looking for a job and interested in "contributing to the health and safety of staff, patients and families" is urged to apply "now."