New Brunswick

N.B. records 3 more COVID-19 deaths as virus activity remains 'moderate'

New Brunswick reported three more deaths from COVID-19 in its weekly update Tuesday, while hospitalizations, outbreaks and new cases all remained about the same.

All indicators remained 'stable' Oct. 22 to 28, according to Respiratory Watch report

a doctor wearing a mask walks through a hospital wearing a mask and pushing a cart.
At least 21 New Brunswickers have died from COVID-19 since the respiratory season began on Aug. 27, while 492 have been hospitalized, 26 of whom required intensive care, according to Tuesday's Respiratory Watch report. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

New Brunswick reported three more deaths from COVID-19 in its weekly update Tuesday, while hospitalizations, outbreaks and new cases all remained about the same.

"COVID-19 activity remains moderate," according to the Respiratory Watch report. "All indicators remained stable throughout the current reporting period," Oct. 22 to Oct. 28, it says.

The three people who died were all age 65 or older, the report shows.

Only confirmed cases who die in hospital are counted as COVID deaths, after the province changed its definition in September.

The latest deaths raise the pandemic death toll to at least 956.

57 hospitalizations, 1 in ICU

Fifty-seven people were hospitalized for or with the virus during the reporting week, down from 58 in the previous report. One person required intensive care, unchanged.

Among those hospitalized are two people aged 20 to 44, nine people aged 45 to 64, and 46 aged 65 or older. The person in ICU is aged 45 to 64.

There are 12 lab-confirmed outbreaks — two at nursing homes and 10 at "other facilities," which could include adult residential homes and correctional centres. That's down from the 14 outbreaks declared Oct. 15 to Oct. 21.

A total of 128 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab tests, compared to 137 in the previous report.

The test positivity rate is 14 per cent, down from 15 per cent. The positivity rate is the percentage of the total PCR lab tests performed that produced a positive result.

A health-care worker wearing personal protective equipment, including a face shield and mask, administers a vaccine into the arm of an elderly man.
A total of 60,379 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered since Oct. 4, and 93,703 flu shots, according to figures from the Department of Health. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The regional breakdown of positive cases includes:

  • Moncton region, Zone 1 — 43.
  • Saint John region, Zone 2 — 31.
  • Fredericton region, Zone 3 — 27.
  • Edmundston region, Zone 4 — 10.
  • Campbellton region, Zone 5 — one.
  • Bathurst region, Zone 6 — three.
  • Miramichi region, Zone 7 — 13.

There have been 60,379 COVID-19 vaccines administered since Oct. 4, according to the Department of Health. The updated XBB.1.5 vaccines have only been available to most New Brunswickers since Oct. 16, but some were made available to people in long-term care settings as soon as stock began arriving in the province, department spokesperson Adam Bowie has said.

When there is something new or noteworthy to share with the public, or if its advice or guidance for the public were to change, Public Health ensures staff are available to provide information to the media.- Sean Hatchard, Department of Health spokesperson

CBC has requested an interview with outgoing Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell or another Public Health official.

Instead, Department of Health spokesperson Sean Hatchard sent an email, essentially repeating what Russell told a legislative committee last week about Public Health's approach to informing the public.

"When there is something new or noteworthy to share with the public, or if its advice or guidance for the public were to change, Public Health ensures staff are available to provide information to the media," Hatchford said. "That may include an interview or a statement, depending on the individual situation."

He said New Brunswickers are being advised to assess their own situation and to reduce their risks of transmission and infection.

"These precautions include staying home when you're feeling ill, covering your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, washing your hands regularly, and wearing a mask when in crowded, public places."

Horizon plans to 'audit' masking compliance

About one week after Horizon Health Network tightened its masking rules again, the regional lead for infection prevention and hospitals will be "auditing compliance" in higher-risk areas.

Merita MacMillan made the statement when asked about an apparent lack of enforcement of the more stringent rules in some areas of some hospitals.

"Unlike earlier in the pandemic, resources to monitor and enforce compliance have been scaled back, meaning that we have had to direct our limited resources to higher risk areas such as emergency department waiting rooms," she said in an email.  

A close-up of a young man wearing glasses and a blue medical mask.
A medical-grade face mask must be worn at all times in patient and clinical areas, Horizon announced Oct. 26. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Since Oct. 30, all health-care workers, patients, visitors and designated support persons have been required to wear a medical-grade mask in all patient and clinical areas of Horizon centres. 

"We are hopeful that, over time, compliance in our waiting rooms will improve as more people become aware of the masking requirement in these areas."

Anyone with concerns about a Horizon staff member not wearing a mask "while patient-facing" can raise them with the relevant unit or department manager, she said. 

She noted staff are only required to wear masks in patient-facing areas, so a nursing unit station, for example, would be exempt.

Asked why Horizon opted not to require masks in non-clinical areas, such as lobbies, hallways or cafeterias,   where spread could also arguably occur, MacMillan did not respond.

Horizon updated its masking rules "to enhance patient, staff and physician safety," said MacMillan.

"This decision was made in response to increases in COVID-19 activity, as indicated by rising wastewater signals, test positivity rates, hospitalizations and hospital acquired COVID-19 infections, as well as anticipated higher than normal rates of seasonal influenza and RSV."

She did not respond to a request for more information.

Horizon has not had active screening for COVID-19 or other respiratory illness symptoms at the entrances of its facilities since April. All patients, designated support persons and visitors must self-screen.

ERs see high patient volumes, long waits

Meanwhile, Horizon is encouraging people via social media to avoid its emergency departments and consider other options, such as virtual care, citing "high patient volumes" and "long wait times," with respiratory illness season underway.

"As we have stated many times, patients in our [emergency departments] are prioritized and treated based on the severity of their symptoms at triage, and those with less urgent symptoms will experience longer wait times than those with more urgent medical needs," said Steve Savoie, executive regional director and co-leader of emergency care.

He declined to provide any specifics, such as what kind of numbers they're seeing, how long people are waiting, how these compare to previous years, or whether some hospitals are being harder-hit than others.

Wait times can vary widely depending on a variety of factors, Savoie said.

These include patient volumes, staffing, patient flow through the emergency departments and inpatient units, and the severity of medical needs on a given day.

People with non-urgent needs "can often wait several hours for care and would likely be better served in another setting such as through their primary care provider or — if they don't have access to a primary care provider — by visiting their nearest walk-in clinic, consulting with their pharmacist or scheduling a virtual appointment through eVisitNB."

Several hospital unit outbreaks

Horizon Health Network has 97 active COVID-19 hospitalizations, as of Nov. 4, including six in intensive care, according to its COVID-19 dashboard.

It did not update its website last week so a week-over-week comparison is not possible. CBC News has requested the data and is awaiting a response.

Thirty-four Horizon health-care workers are off the job after testing positive for the virus, according to the website.

There are COVID outbreaks on several Horizon hospital units, as of Monday. They include:

  • The Moncton Hospital: cardiology, family practice/stroke unit, oncology, rehabilitation, pediatrics, chronic/geriatric rehabilitation and general surgery.
  • Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital: medical unit.
  • Oromocto Public Hospital: medical unit.
  • Miramichi Regional Hospital: cardiac stepdown/stroke.
  • St. Joseph's Hospital: general surgery, psychiatric unit, obstetrical unit.
  • Ridgewood: Victory unit.
  • Veterans Health Fredericton: the Veterans Health Unit on Priestman Street and the Veterans Health Unit on Regent Street.

Vitalité Health Network has not updated its COVID figures. It's updating its report only monthly, with the next update expected Nov. 27.

It has, however, updated its COVID outbreak page, and reports one outbreak on the Tracadie Hospital's medical unit, as of Monday.

5 lab-confirmed flu cases

Five new cases of the flu were confirmed through lab tests between Oct. 22 and Oct. 28. The latest cases raise the total to 13 since the respiratory season began on Aug. 27.

One influenza-like illness outbreak at a school was reported during the week in question. The number of cases, and the name or location of the school weren't provided. School outbreaks are based on 10 per cent absenteeism in a school because of influenza-like illness symptoms.

A total of 93,703 New Brunswickers have been vaccinated against the flu since Oct. 4, according to figures from the Department of Health.