COVID-19 and the flu have killed at least 14 New Brunswickers in a week and hospitalized more than 100 people, including five children under four, the latest figures from the Department of Health show.
COVID-19 activity remains "moderate," according to the Respiratory Watch report.
"All indicators remained stable throughout the current reporting period," Dec. 31 to Jan. 6.
Influenza activity remains "elevated," it says.
Eight people died from COVID-19, up from six the previous week. They were all aged 65 or older.
Their deaths raise the pandemic death toll to at least 997. Only confirmed cases who die in hospital are counted.
Forty-eight people were hospitalized for or with the virus, including two children under age four. That's up from 43.
Five of them required intensive care, unchanged from Dec. 24 to Dec. 30.
Among those admitted to ICU were one person aged 20 to 44, one aged 45 to 64 and three aged 65 or older, the report shows.
There were 13 COVID outbreaks confirmed by labs, up from 10. Six of these were in nursing homes, while seven were in "other facilities."
Public Health is stepping up its vaccination campaign messaging on social media to try to encourage more New Brunswickers to get vaccinated, the acting chief medical officer of health has said. (Hau Dinh/The Associated Press)
A total of 142 new cases of COVID were confirmed through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab tests during the reporting week, down slightly from 146.
The positivity rate — the percentage of PCR lab tests performed that produced a positive result — was nine per cent, down from 10.
Nearly 3,500 more New Brunswickers rolled up their sleeves to get the latest COVID-19 XBB.1.5 shot, according to figures from the department. There have been 132,588 vaccines administered since Oct. 4.
Flu deaths rise to 6
The flu claimed six lives between Dec. 31 and Jan. 6, up from four the previous week.
The latest deaths included one person aged 45 to 64, and five people aged 65 or older, the report shows.
Seventy people were hospitalized because of the flu, three of whom required intensive care.
That's down from 76 and 12, respectively.
Among those hospitalized were three children under age four, according to the report. The others included three people aged 20 to 44, 14 aged 45 to 64, one of whom was admitted to intensive care, and 50 aged 65 or older, two of whom required ICU.
The number of lab-confirmed flu outbreaks more than doubled to nine, from four.
Lab-confirmed new cases dropped to 316, from 428, with a positivity rate of 21 per cent, down from 29 per cent.
Of the new cases, 313 were influenza A and three were influenza B.
These raise the seasonal total to date to 1,812.
As of Tuesday, 200,883 New Brunswickers have been vaccinated against the flu since Oct. 4.
Peak flu activity approaching
CBC requested an interview with Dr. Yves Léger, the province's acting chief medical officer of health but received an emailed statement from Department of Health spokesperson Sean Hatchard instead.
"As indicated in the latest Respiratory Watch, COVID-19 and influenza continue to circulate in New Brunswick," Hatchard wrote. "That is expected, as many people gathered for the holidays and as New Brunswickers spend more time indoors over the winter months."
The viruses are expected to continue to circulate in the province throughout the winter, he said, as Léger noted during a media availability last week about the rise in respiratory illnesses and the high number of severe strep bacterial infections, some of them fatal.
"Public Health expects we are approaching the seasonal peak of influenza activity in the province," so it's not too late to get the flu shot, said Hatchard. This season's vaccine has shown effective protection against viruses circulating in the province, he said.
Good ventilation can also help protect people from respiratory infections, along with wearing a well-fitting mask when in crowded places, Hatchard said.
Horizon shows improvements
Horizon Health Network is showing improvements across the board in its weekly COVID-19 update. It had 39 hospitalized COVID patients, including four in intensive care, as of Saturday.
That's a 37 per cent drop from the 62 active patients it had a week before, six of whom required ICU.
There were seven Horizon hospital units with COVID outbreaks, as of Monday, down from 10. They included:
Moncton Hospital — neurology, acute stroke, general surgery.
Saint John Regional Hospital — family medicine, orthopedics and urology surgery.
St. Joseph's Hospital — geriatric assessment.
Charlotte County Hospital — family medicine.
In addition, fewer Horizon health-care workers are off the job after testing positive for COVID with a rapid test or PCR test than last week — nine, compared to 19.
Vitalité Health Network has no COVID outbreaks, as of Tuesday, but it only updates the rest of its COVID data monthly.
In December, 45 people were hospitalized for or with COVID-19, none in ICU, and 72 infected health-care workers were absent, the dashboard shows.
Student absences jump 20% in November
New Brunswick students missed more school in November than October, but fewer classes than they did a year ago, according to the latest data from the Department of Education.
Absenteeism increased in November in both the anglophone and francophone sectors, across all districts and for all age groups, the data shows.
Students missed a combined total of about 180,000 days, or an average of 1.8 days for each of the province's approximately 100,000 public school students.
Anglophone students in grades 9 to 12 had the highest average absenteeism rate in New Brunswick in November at 2.4 days, while francophone students in kindergarten to Grade 8 had the lowest at 1.2 days, data from the Department of Education reveals. (CBC)
That's up about 20 per cent from a combined average of roughly 1.5 days in October, but down from the average of 2.5 days in November 2022.
The data does not identify why a student was absent. "A student could be absent for many reasons, including dental and medical appointments, sickness or personal/family reasons," said department spokesperson Charles Renshaw.
Pre-pandemic, in November 2019, students missed an average of 1.2 days.
December absenteeism rates are not yet available.
Top doctor sends memo to parents
Last week, the province's acting chief medical officer of health sent a memo home to parents and guardians, encouraging people to take steps to protect themselves, others, and the health-care system, including staying home when sick and masking.
"As you may be aware, this is the time of year when respiratory viruses such as influenza, RSV, COVID19, and others are spreading in New Brunswick and elsewhere," Léger wrote in the memo, obtained by CBC News. "In addition to those viruses, we are seeing increased infections from the streptococcus bacteria (Group A Strep).
"All these additional infections also add more strain to the health-care system. Fortunately, we know what we can do to reduce our risk of getting infected and passing on our infections to others."
Dr. Yves Léger, the province's acting deputy chief medical officer of health, sent a memo to parents and guardians on Jan. 12, advising of increased infections and the added strain on the health-care system. (Government of New Brunswick/Zoom)
Public Health says people should stay home if they have a fever or a new or worsening cough, vomiting or diarrhea, or if they have two or more of the following symptoms: difficulty breathing, sore throat, runny nose/congestion, headache, new onset of fatigue or purple markings on the fingers and toes of children.
Public Health also recommends people stay home if they have symptoms of gastrointestinal illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea, until they feel better, are fever-free for at least 24 hours without using fever-reducing medication, and free of vomiting and diarrhea for at least 48 hours.
Masking "remains a personal choice," said Léger. But "given the current situation, consider wearing a mask, particularly when indoors in a crowded public space," he said.
"In addition, consider wearing a mask if you are recovering from an infection and you still have some symptoms but you're returning to your usual activities."
He also recommends staying up to date with vaccinations and frequent hand washing with soap and water, or alcohol-based sanitizer.
"The more measures you take, the more you can reduce your risk of getting infected."