Hospitals under too much strain; spectators allowed at school sporting events

NEW BRUNSWICK – In a live press briefing from Fredericton on Friday, Oct. 22, Dorothy Shephard, minister of health, France Desrosiers, president and CEO of the Vitalite Health Network, and Dr. John Dornan, interim president and CEO of the Horizon Health Network provided an update on the health care system in the province.

Shephard began by saying on the heels of the government’s announcement on Oct. 5 that all public sector employees must be fully vaccinated by Friday, Nov. 19 or will be sent home without pay, there was a “significant improvement in the number of employees who have gotten fully vaccinated”.

She said of the 59,500 full and part-time, casual, and term employees, 52,000, or 87 per cent are now fully vaccinated. She added she was “troubled” by the 7,000, or 12 per cent of public sector employees remain unvaccinated. Public Health attributes approximately 1 per cent unable to be vaccinated.

“We simply cannot afford to have unvaccinated people working in New Brunswick’s public service,” said Shephard, adding the risks are too high.

“After today (Friday), those who have not had at least one dose of the vaccine will not have enough time to get their second dose before the Nov. 19 deadline,” she said, “as 28 days must pass between doses. This means they will spend at least some time home from work without pay.”

Shephard said she urged all public employees to book their appointments and hence reduce their time unpaid. She urged those with one dose on board already to book the appointment for their second dose, asking them to “weigh the consequences and do the right thing”.

Shephard also said the province has been working with the Government of Canada and the other provinces and territories to create a standardized proof of vaccine that will be used for international and national travel, that the province has met all its required milestones in the process, and by mid-November a QR code will be accessible for download on all devices and printable.

Halloween guidance

She said trick-or-treaters in non-circuit breaker regions can go out with their household bubble and their “steady 20”. Those in circuit breakers regions must stay within their household bubble. Shephard also said a “touchless treat delivery” system should be employed by all those giving out treats.

Sports and extracurriculars

In regards to school sporting events and extracurricular activities, Shephard said Public Health recognizes the importance of these activities for students physical, social, and emotional well-being, so students will be permitted to travel in and out of circuit breaker regions providing they adhere to all relevant Public Health protocols while doing so.

Spectators can attend outdoor events providing they show proof of vaccination, wear masks, and maintain physical distancing as much as possible. Shephard also announced as of Friday, Oct. 29, spectators will be allowed to attend sporting and extracurricular events inside schools again providing they follow the same Public Health protocols, with the caveat being there must be enough volunteers assisting with the event for it to go forward.

Desrosiers said the Vitalite hospitals are seeing a high occupation rate of an average of almost 100 per cent, due to the intensity of the fourth wave of the pandemic in the province.

She said as a result, appointments and services like physiotherapy, nutritionists, and MRI’s have been suspended. As an example, it means some 2,000 MRI appointments have been moved and all non-urgent surgeries have been cancelled.

All hospitals in the province are currently operating at the Red alert level, and Desrosiers said she anticipates remaining there for at the very least another week. She said 37 employees in one facility tested positive for COVID-19, and that can “paralyze a facility”. She said as of Oct. 11, 82 per cent of Vitalite employees are fully vaccinated, and she would like to see the number climb “over and above” 90 per cent.

Dornan said vaccination is the “last line of defence” against COVID-19, and the Horizon Health Network in also under “immense strain”.

He said the fourth wave has resulted in a “rapid rise in hospitalization, ICU admissions, and people presenting to the ER’s”.

He said outbreaks in the oncology and surgical departments of the Moncton Hospital impacted 14 patients and 11 staff, and reduced access to both surgeries and chemotherapy appointments.

He said the hospitals and ICU’s are seeing approximately 80 per cent of admissions as unvaccinated, and the remaining fully vaccinated 20 per cent who are hospitalized have “existing, concurrent diseases”.

Dornan said the ideal occupancy rate for hospitals is 85 per cent, but currently all sit over 90 per cent, which results in the “levels of care being challenged”, as Horizon redirects non-urgent care, and cancels 113 non-urgent surgeries. He said the Saint John hospitals are also postponing services to move staff to other departments as needed.

Dornan said access to hospitals has been limited as the virus can come inside via a visitor like a “Trojan horse”, and hospitals cannot take additional strain at this time.

He said while health networks and resources can continue to function at the Red alert level for some time, it is far from the “optimal environment”, and ultimately the current operating model cannot continue indefinitely.

As of Monday, Oct. 26, the province has seen 111 deaths due to COVID-19, and there are currently 589 active cases.

Currently, there are 39 people in hospital with the virus. Twenty are unvaccinated, three are partially vaccinated, and 16 are fully vaccinated. Of the 14 people in ICU, 11 are unvaccinated, two are partially vaccinated, and 1 is fully vaccinated.

Upcoming vaccination clinics:

Saturday, Oct. 30; St. Stephen, Garcelon Civic Centre, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (12 years and older – Pfizer-BioNTech/Moderna Walk-ins from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m

Thursday, Nov. 4; St. Stephen, Garcelon Civic Centre, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (12 years and older – Pfizer-BioNTech/Moderna Walk-ins from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 8; Pennfield, Pennfield Lions Club, noon to 7 p.m. (12 years and older – Pfizer-BioNTech/Moderna) Walk-ins from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

For up-to-date information, go to our website,