FREDERICTON - If current trends continue, New Brunswick could report 5,500 people testing positive each day for COVID-19 by the end of the month, the province's chief epidemiologist said Tuesday.

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. New Brunswick's chief epidemiologist says if current trends continue, the province could see 5,500 people testing positive each day for COVID-19 by the end of the month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. New Brunswick's chief epidemiologist says if current trends continue, the province could see 5,500 people testing positive each day for COVID-19 by the end of the month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

FREDERICTON - If current trends continue, New Brunswick could report 5,500 people testing positive each day for COVID-19 by the end of the month, the province's chief epidemiologist said Tuesday.

"If these trends hold, we expect to reach our peak towards the end of January or early February," Mathieu Chalifoux told a news conference in Fredericton. "This would represent close to 5,500 cases daily and nearly 220 active hospitalizations."

There are currently a record 88 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the province, including 14 in intensive care and 11 on a ventilator. Chalifoux said he expected the province will return to current levels in five to six weeks' time.

John Dornan, interim president of the Horizon Health Network, said Tuesday, "We are at the start of a very high tidal wave. It's creeping up now, but in the next two to three weeks, it's going to crash over us like no one's business."

"We are near the two-year mark, but the worst is yet to come and it's not going to come over the next six months, it's going to come over the next few weeks," he told reporters.

Officials reported one COVID-19-related death Tuesday — a person in their 90s in the Moncton region. There have been 173 deaths in the province since the start of the pandemic.

The Edmundston Regional Hospital and the Saint John Regional Hospital are closing units and reallocating staff in an effort to deal with outbreaks in the hospitals. There are currently 377 health-care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are isolating, and officials say they expect the impact on front-line staff will increase in the coming weeks.

Chalifoux said as many as 55,000 people could be isolating at any given time over the next few weeks. "This will impact not only our health-care system but also other critical services such as fire departments, police departments, power services and so on. It will also impact large and smaller businesses as workers either require sick time or isolation time."

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said New Brunswickers can help flatten the curve by further limiting their contacts. "We can all help and bring our expected peak down if we all reduce our contacts by seeing fewer people, distance appropriately, and wear properly fitted masks when inside," Russell said.

New Brunswickers, Russell added, are encouraged to be prepared by having a plan for isolation and keeping supplies like food and medication on hand and watching for symptoms of COVID-19.

Russell said it's hoped the public will do their part by reducing their contacts, rather than the province having to impose further public health restrictions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2022.