FREDERICTON (GNB) – Public Health has updated how COVID-19 deaths are defined and counted in New Brunswick.

Death numbers have been updated in Public Health’s regular COVIDWATCH report, which was posted today.

“As part of our dedication to transparency, we are sharing the results of a reconciliation exercise,” said Dr. Yves Léger, acting chief medical officer of health. “To our knowledge, New Brunswick is one of the first jurisdictions in Canada to complete a reconciliation of COVID-19 deaths.”

From March 2020 to January 2022, Public Health’s case and contact management and testing strategies required investigation and followup for all confirmed COVID-19 cases.

In March 2022, during the Omicron wave, Public Health updated its definition of a deceased COVID-19 case due to changing epidemiology and management strategies. This change in definition established that deaths are attributed to the virus if there is a clinical indication that COVID-19 was either the primary cause of death or directly contributed to the death.

Following the change of the definition in March, Public Health partnered with the Vital Statistics branch of Service New Brunswick to establish a procedure to improve the sharing of information and to align data.

Public Health then began a retrospective analysis in June to examine the validity of reporting of deceased COVID-19 patients and, as a result, reconciled the data with the updated definition.

Each death registration form was reviewed for cause of death and place of death. This analysis indicated that 125 cases should be added to the deaths total, and that 46 reported deaths that did not meet the case definition should be removed from the total. As of today, the revised number of deaths related to COVID-19 is 572.

“A lot of work has been done to strengthen collaboration and improve communications between partners across the health sector in Canada,” said Léger. “Moving forward, we will continue to work with Vital Statistics and our established reporting streams – i.e. regional health authorities, the long-term care sector, regional public health, etc. – to report COVID-19 deaths that meet our case definition.”

This exercise is separate from Statistics Canada’s provisional excess death analysis report, which was based on an exercise and analysis performed on data submitted to it by New Brunswick Vital Statistics.

Léger said, while the initial provisional numbers from Statistics Canada showed a large number of excess deaths provincially, the analysis was recently revised, showing very few excess deaths in 2020 and 2021. Excess death numbers are expected for 2022 following the Omicron wave, which is consistent with trends across Canada and in other jurisdictions.

Léger said these two exercises are distinct from one another, and the results of the provincial government’s reconciliation do not affect the Statistics Canada analysis.

“While we know that not all jurisdictions report deaths in the same manner, or with the same definition, we are confident in our New Brunswick rate following the reconciliation exercise,” said Léger. “Understanding the differences that may exist between provinces and territories, we nevertheless see that New Brunswick’s death rate remains among the lowest, nationally.”

The new information will be reflected in a future COVIDWATCH report. More information, including a report specifically on the reconciliation of deaths, is available on the COVIDWATCH website.