Delta variant at root of rapid case rise in province; majority of new cases are not fully vaccinated

NEW BRUNSWICK – In a live technical briefing from Fredericton on Friday, Sept. 24, Dr. Gordon Dow, infectious disease specialist of Horizon Health Network; Mathieu Chalifoux, lead COVID-19 epidemiologist with Public Health; Dr. John Dornan, interim president and chief executive officer of Horizon Health Network; and Dr. France Desrosiers, president and chief executive officer of Vitalité Health Network, provided an update on COVID-19 in New Brunswick.

“For the past two weeks, we’ve observed the number of COVID-19 cases in our province grow at a rapid pace,” said Chalifoux.

“In fact, at this time, each recorded case is now generating another 1.5 new cases on average.” For comparison, the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 had a reproductive rate between 1.4 and 2.8, according to an article published in BMC Medicine.

“While we’ve seen this level of growth before, we’ve never seen it in such a sustained manner throughout the entire province.”

Chalifoux went on to say the “vast majority” of the cases are primarily unvaccinated.

Monday, Sept. 27, saw the addition of 86 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of active cases in the province to 650. Of those new cases, 78 per cent (67 cases) are not fully vaccinated. There are also now 41 people in hospital, and 16 are in an ICU unit.

Chalifoux said residents must remember the virus travels from your home to “the events you attend”. One person can take the virus from their home to their job, to school, and to the community.

“It is with us and it has no intention of leaving,” Chalifoux added.

Dow explained the dominant variant now in New Brunswick is the Delta variant, which Dow said “is not the same virus that was circulating around the globe one year ago”.

The Delta variant is currently in 200 countries, and according to the World Health Organization is the most infectious and fastest spreading of the known variants.

Dow said the Delta variant brings with it some negative factors.

Delta is two times more infectious as the original strain found in China in December, 2019 Dow said.

He said in an unvaccinated population, one person with the original strain of COVID-19 would infect an average of 27 people over the course of four weeks. With the Delta variant, the same unvaccinated person within the same time frame can lead to 216 infections.

The party trick of the Delta variant is its ability to bind itself to cells more efficiently, said Dow; some 1000 times greater than the original strain.

Delta also infects its host in a shorter time frame. While the original strain took six days to infect a person, the Delta variant can do the same job in four.

Why this matters is the time frame contact tracers have to locate those who came into contact with a person confirmed to have the Delta variant becomes shorter, meaning an individual has greater opportunity to spread the virus prior to being contacted and required to self-isolate.

Dow said one dose of a vaccine offers no protection against the Delta variant and finally, Delta is more likely to end in hospitalization and death, particularly in unvaccinated people.

Dow said there is good news as well. Being fully vaccinated is an excellent defence against the Delta variant, with 90 per cent of those fully vaccinated avoiding hospitalization or death.

Dow said unvaccinated people are 12 times more likely to get infected with the Delta variant, and 36 times more likely to be hospitalized.

Dow called vaccination a “suit of armour” against the virus, and the Public Health protocols of washing your hands, wearing a mask, and remaining physically distanced as much as possible the shield.

Dornan said staff is growing concerned as ICU beds are filling with COVID-19 patients, making them unavailable for those with other conditions which might require a stay in an ICU such as heart patients. He said due to an existing staff shortage, made worse by 152 health care staff in self-isolation due to contacts with COVID-19 cases, departments in hospitals are having to close entirely to shift staff to other areas, a move Dornan referred to as “reappointing resources”. An example is the temporary closure of the Labour and Birth Unit of the Upper River Valley Hospital from Friday, Sept. 24 until 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 28.

Dornan said those who are hospitalized must realize it creates a “far reaching impact” inside the health care system and delivery of services.

Chalifoux said the rise is cases is was not unexpected, but the rapidity of the spread is “overwhelming”, saying “the hospital system can’t deal with the surge as happening”. He said shifting to Green on July 30 was “based on the data at that time”, and the situation has now changed.

Dow said the shift to Green on July 30 was “not the right decision, but that’s with the benefit of retrospect.” He said Alberta, Saskatchewan, the U.S. and the U.K. all made the same decision, and all realized after the fact it was a mistake, but that New Brunswick had one of the most aggressive responses, and we simply have to pivot to bring the virus back under control.

For details on COVID-19 in the province, go to www.gnb.ca/coronavirus

To watch the briefing from Friday, you can find it on the GNB YouTube page.

editor@stcroixcourier.ca