Rising COVID-19 numbers prompt New Brunswick hospitals to move to Red Alert level

The rising number of COVID-19 patients in New Brunswick has pushed hospitals into Red Alert level, permitting them to postpone non-urgent medical procedures and redeploy staff to maintain emergency operations.

Chief medical health officer Dr. Jennifer Russell reported 109 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, raising the number of active cases in the province to 1,092. There were 63 people hospitalized with the disease, she said, including 27 in intensive care.

"We are seeing a surge in new infections to levels that we have not experienced at any point since the pandemic began," Russell told reporters. Thirty-two of the new cases reported Tuesday involved people who were fully vaccinated, she said.

"If you are unvaccinated, you are 18 times more likely to become severely ill if you contract the COVID-19 virus," she said. "I want every New Brunswicker to stay healthy, but there are now and will continue to be breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among people who have been fully vaccinated."

New Brunswick has reported a total of 75 COVID-19-related deaths.

Hospitals in the Vitalite Health Network moved to the Red Alert level Tuesday, although the Campbellton Regional Hospital imposed emergency measures last week to address an in-hospital outbreak. Under a Red Alert designation, hospitals are able to reduce or temporarily suspend services such as elective surgeries and non-urgent X-rays and scans.

"We must go to Red Alert internally so we can temporarily reduce or suspend non-essential services and thereby redeploy staff to maintain our emergency services and intensive care units and the care of patients with COVID-19 who are hospitalized," Vitalite CEO Dr. France Desrosiers said in a statement last week.

Hospitals in the Horizon Health Network will do the same Wednesday, and the measures will be in place for at least two weeks. Horizon CEO Dr. John Dornan says the protocols allow for the redeployment of staff to maintain emergency and intensive care services.

"While we are prepared to deal with surges and outbreaks, the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has proved to have a major effect on our already stressed health-care system," Dornan said in a statement last week.

Visits are temporarily suspended across all hospitals in the province.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said Tuesday she appreciated the frustration among people whose surgeries have been postponed. "The health networks are taking these steps because they are necessary to get the situation under control as quickly as possible," she told reporters.

Shephard said it's projected there would be a six per cent rise in hospitalizations over the next week, adding that the projections would be much higher had the government not imposed new health orders. Last week, the government introduced what it called "circuit-breaker" restrictions in parts of the province, including Moncton, such as a ban on private indoor gatherings.

Meanwhile, Green MLA Megan Mitton called Tuesday for a formal independent investigation into a COVID-19 outbreak at the Drew Nursing Home in Sackville, N.B. Mitton said there have been eight deaths while 29 residents and 10 staff have tested positive.

Shephard said it has been a difficult time at that nursing home, noting that while she's not sure what answers Mitton is looking for, she's willing to take any questions under advisement. The minister said the government hasn't been shy about investigating every outbreak that has occurred at long-term care facilities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 12, 2021.