Four more New Brunswickers have died from COVID-19 in the past week, hospitalizations because of the virus have increased, and the number of new positive cases has nearly doubled, figures released by the province Tuesday show.
More increases are likely, including the possibility of a new wave, said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health.
"I think over the course of the next week, we will be able to determine here if that's the case." The province does not have any modelling, she said.
"In the meantime, the messaging really is about whatever dose you're eligible for, get it."
Asked whether New Brunswick is considering making COVID-19 shots widely available in the fall, given the recommendations from the federal advisory body last week, Russell could not say.
"I don't have the information on what's coming in terms of that plan, but we're definitely having discussions about — all provinces are having discussions about what should be happening now and what should be happening in the fall."
People at high risk of severe disease from COVID-19 infection, including those aged 65 and older, should be offered a booster shot this fall, regardless of how many boosters they've previously received, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) said. Everyone else — age 12 to 64 — "may be offered" the additional doses in the fall, NACI said.
The latest deaths include four people in their 80s — two from the Moncton region, Zone 1, one from the Saint John region, Zone 2, and one from the Campbellton region, Zone 5, according to the COVIDWatch report.
New Brunswick has now recorded 429 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
The number of people newly admitted to hospital for COVID-19 jumped to 22 between June 26 and July 2, compared to six the previous week.
A child under 10 is among the new admissions. The others include one person in their 40s, four people in their 50s, three in their 60s, four in their 70s, eight in their 80s and one in their 90s.
50 people with COVID in hospital
The number of people currently in hospital because of COVID increased to 19 from 15, including one who requires intensive care, according to the province.
Horizon and Vitalité health networks, meanwhile, also reported an increase in the number of active hospitalizations, saying they had 50 COVID patients as of Saturday, four of whom required intensive care, compared to 31 and one respectively a week earlier.
Unlike the province, which only includes patients who are admitted for COVID, Horizon and Vitalité also include those who were initially admitted for another reason and later test positive for the virus in their weekly COVID dashboard updates.
Horizon had 36 active COVID-19 admissions, including three in intensive care, as of Saturday, compared to 24 and one in last week's report.
The distribution of the cases include:
Moncton region, Zone 1 — five.
Saint John region, Zone 2 — 17.
Fredericton region, Zone 3 — 12.
Miramichi region, Zone 7 — two.
The dashboard provides no details about which hospitals have patients.
Vitalité had 14 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Saturday, twice as many as a week ago, including one who required intensive care.
Tracadie Hospital has five of the patients, three are at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, including the one in intensive care, while the Edmundston Regional Hospital, Campbellton Regional Hospital and Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst each have two.
Vaccination rates unchanged
The highest portion of hospitalizations for COVID-19 continues to be among people aged 60 to 79, according to the province.
"Individuals that are unprotected by vaccine continue to have the highest rate of hospitalization for COVID-19 and death," the report states.
The number of eligible New Brunswickers who rolled up their sleeves to get their first, second or booster dose in the past week — 80, 160, and 375 respectively — was too small to budge the vaccination rates.
A total of 93.3 per cent have received one dose, 88.2 per cent have received two doses, and 52.8 per cent have received a booster dose.
But fourth doses did rise, said Russell.
"We're seeing some good increases, like up by 2.6 per cent in the aged 50-plus group and up by 5.1 per cent in the 70-plus group. So a total of 15,000 people got [their fourth dose] in the last week. That's great. We'd love to see more."
Any progress on vaccination rates contributes to not only individual protection, "but also population-level protection and protecting the hospital system," she said.
"We know at this time of year it's a planned slowdown at the hospital level for people to be able to take vacation, et cetera."
New Brunswick has nearly 6,000 vaccine doses set to expire by the end of next month, including 5,930 doses of Moderna (Aug. 18) and 50 doses of the protein-based vaccine Nuvaxovid (Aug. 31).
"It is important to get vaccinated so that we can use up those doses before they expire," said Russell.
The province will throw out any expired doses and order more doses from the federal government, she said.
Nearly 28,000 pediatric vaccine doses are set to expire at the end of September.
"As much as we can encourage people to get vaccinated with whatever doses they're eligible for, that's what we need to do."
The province's vaccine supply also includes 81,378 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech,which are set to expire on Nov. 30, and 500 doses of Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccine Janssen, with an expiry date of Sept. 30, 2023.
1,915 new cases, 40% in Saint John region
A total of 1,915 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the past week, up from 1,025.
The majority of the new cases — 769 — are in the Saint John region, Zone 2, which hosted the Memorial Cup major-junior hockey championship last week. culminating with a celebratory parade and thousands of fans lining the streets of uptown Saint John.
The 12-day event, which began June 16, also included the Bash on the Bay music festival at the new waterfront container village, a speakers series in Market Square, ball hockey tournaments, an a bike rodeo.
"It's a big jump in Zone 2 for sure," said Russell.
"But we are seeing increases elsewhere. You know, I don't think there's anybody that doesn't know somebody with COVID right now."
Asked whether she believes the Zone 2 increase is linked to the hockey tournament and events, Russell replied, "Those are things that do increase risks, but I don't know how many of those people were wearing masks or not, et cetera.. So there's many factors to consider. But in terms of what we're seeing, we're seeing the numbers quite high in Zone 2."
Big Tide Brewing Company, which congratulated the Saint John Sea Dogs organization in a social media post for an "amazing Memorial Cup event topped off with the big W," announced Monday night it had to temporarily reduce its hours because of a staff shortage due to COVID.
"We made it 28 months without a major outbreak amongst our team! But here we are now with several staff members home with COVID!" the uptown Saint John brew pub and restaurant posted on Instagram.
"We are temporarily changing our hours for the next few days because of this."
Of the new cases, 768 were confirmed through PCR lab tests (up from 484 ) and 1,147 were self-reported by people who tested positive on rapid tests (up from 541).
There were 3,793 PCR tests conducted during the reporting period, compared to 3,755 in the last report.
There are now 966 active PCR-confirmed cases across the province, up from 657.
Omicron subvariant BA.2 remains the dominant strain in the province, representing 53 per cent of the most recent random samples sent for sequencing, the report shows, but Omicron subvariant BA.5 continues to gain ground, representing 33 per cent, while Omicron subvariant BA.4 accounted for 14 per cent of the samples.
Outbreaks, staffing, occupancy
Horizon has COVID-19 outbreaks on eight hospital units, up from four a week ago — two in the Moncton region, Zone 1, five in the Saint John region, Zone 2 and one in the Fredericton region, Zone 3. The outbreaks include:
The Moncton Hospital's medical surgical intensive care unit and adult psychiatry unit 3200.
Saint John Regional Hospital's family medicine unit 5CS, surgical intensive care unit, and rehab unit 4CS.
Sussex Health Centre's family medicine unit south wing.
St. Joseph's Hospital's geriatric assessment unit, geriatric emergency management, 5th floor.
Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital's rehab unit 3NE.
Vitalité has no units with COVID outbreaks, according to its dashboard.
The number of health-care workers off the job after either testing positive for COVID-19 or coming into contact with a positive case continues to rise, at 182, up from 118.
Horizon has 100 of the absences, its dashboard shows.
Vitalité has 82 workers off. The Moncton region, Zone 1, has the largest share, at 34, followed by the Bathurst region, Zone 6, with 29, Campbellton region, Zone 5, with 11, and Edmundston region, Zone 4, with eight.
Horizon has one hospital over capacity, according to figures provided by spokesperson Kris McDavid. Upper River Valley Hospital in Waterville has a bed occupancy of 108 per cent.
Vitalité has five hospitals listed at or over capacity, two of which have COVID patients.
The Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton is at 106 per cent capacity with three COVID patients and the Tracadie Hospital is at 105 per cent with five COVID patients.
Enfant-Jésus RHSJ Hospital in Caraquet has the highest bed occupancy at 150 per cent with no COVID patients.
New Brunswick has had 68,493 confirmed cases of COVID since the beginning of the pandemic, with 67,098 cases considered resolved so far.