NS COVID-19 Update for March 30

Community Spread

Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang announced on Monday that, having been unable to trace a case of COVID-19 to travel or a known source, they have concluded that transmission has occurred within the community or “community spread.”

Strang has been warning for days this was coming, so it’s not like the sky opened up and a thunderbolt hit the desk where he and Premier Stephen McNeil were sitting (six feet apart) but it is serious and, as “the good doctor” said, all the more reason to be vigilant about staying home as much as possible, limiting essential gatherings to no more than five people, maintaining a physical distance of at least six feet from others when you do go out and washing your hands frequently.

NS Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, 30 March 2020

NS Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, 30 March 2020

Strang announced five new cases of COVID-19 and said that there are now four cases connected to the Magnolia residential care home in Enfield where a worker had previously tested positive — now it is two workers and two residents.

He also noted that EMT can now do mobile testing.

Premier Stephen McNeil announced a number of new measures related to education, beginning with a decision to keep the province’s public schools and licensed daycare provided closed until “at least May 1,” at which time the situation will be reassessed.

During the public school closure:

  • all Grade primary to 9 students will receive at-home learning packages distributed bi-weekly by SaltWire Network (these are for students with and without internet)
  • students in grades 10 to 12 who require at-home learning packages will work with their individual teachers to address their specific needs; additional information on distribution will be forwarded to schools
  • learning will be assignment- and project-focused
  • a dedicated learning website for families is available at https://curriculum.novascotia.ca/learning-home
  • all school trips planned for May and June are cancelled
  • Provincial Assessments, Nova Scotia Exams and final exams in all courses are cancelled
  • Diplôme d’Études en Langue Française (DELF) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams are cancelled
  • students in grades 9 to 12 will receive additional access to the Homework Hub, a free online resource and tutoring for math
  • teachers will connect directly with students and families to help support learning

Grade 12 students will still graduate and those needing “preliminary paper-based” transcripts for bursaries, scholarships or university entrance will receive one by contacting their Regional Centre for Education or Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP).

Students who were on track to proceed to their next grade will move to their next grade on time and will be given extra preparation and review.

 

Numbers, please

Here are the states presented on Monday:

Total new cases: 5

Total cases: 127

Total hospitalized: 4

Total recovered: 10

Total positive and negative tests: 5,181

Age range of patients: under 10 to mid-’70s

 

Rent deferral

During the question period, the premier was asked about the rent-deferral program for small business that is really a rent guarantee program for landlords. Stewart McKelvey has been quick of the mark, explaining the program to…landlords:

Landlords are being asked (but not compelled) to sign rent deferral agreements where the provincial government may guarantee up to $5,000/month if that business tenant must shut its doors. Landlords are being encouraged to defer rent payments from their commercial tenants for the next three (3) months (being April, May, and June), and to spread the deferred amount over the remainder of the lease term.

Why this is not simply a program to pay small businesses’ rent for three months baffles me: especially given that the premier’s stated intent with this program is to preserve “jobs.” Surely paying a small business’ rent for three months would do more to help it stay afloat and retain its employees than allowing it to defer rent payments for three months? And landlords win either way.

I do not understand why the focus should be on making landlords whole rather than helping businesses stay afloat, and my bafflement was not eased during today’s presser.

A number of small business owners, apparently equally baffled, have signed a petition asking the premier to rethink this one:

How are small businesses expected to re-pay three months, or four or five month’s rent without matching revenue? This deferral plan is just a plan to help the small business borrow money from the landlord — to reapy with what money? Why would we borrow money to be closed? What if this extends to six months[‘] closure, where are we left? And this plan doesn’t even address our ongoing utility costs.

You can view the full petition here and sign by emailing nssmallbusiness@gmail.com.

As I write, the total number of signatories has surpassed 200 including a few of local businesses — The Bobbin Tree, Painted Solutions, All Dolled Up Hair & Beauty and My Fair Ladies Ethical Emporium.

 

Possible contact

The Nova Scotia Health Authority warned of a potential public exposure to COVID-19 on March 23 and March 24 at Rob Bitar’s Ristorante, 689 Highway 2, Elmsdale.

Such are the times in which we live, Dr. Strang had to explain that this is no reflection on the restaurant, which was following the take-out only rules and should not become a “target” for COVID-19 vigilantes. (Strang did not mention COVID-19 vigilantes, I added that bit).

Public Health has been contacting anyone known to have come in contact with the individual involved, but there could be “some restaurant patrons” the department is not aware of.

The advice to anyone who was at the Elmsdale restaurant that day is to watch for symptoms, which would be expected to develop up to and including April 6, and to follow the drill if symptoms do present:

  • Take the COVID-19 online self-assessment questionnaire to determine if you need to call 811.
  • If needed, call 811 for assessment. Please self-isolate until you receive 811 advice on next steps.
  • Do not go directly to a COVID-19 assessment centre without being directed to do so by 811.

 

Meanwhile, in the CBRM…

I have not focused enough on Cape Breton Regional Municipality-specific COVID-19 measures so I will attempt to cover that ground now:

Contacts

The first place to go for information is the CBRM website. The municipality is instructing residents with COVID-19 related questions or issues to contact the following numbers or emails:

IssueContact
I am feeling unwell, have had contact with a probable or confirmed COVID-19 case, have traveled and become sickCall 811
I want to know about CBRM's services during COVID-19 state of emergencyemail: coronavirus@cbrm.ns.ca
or call 902-563-CBRM (2276) Mon-Fri 8:30 am - 4:30 pm
I want to know more about Coronavirus and have questions about symptoms, the disease, how it passes from person to personGovernment of Canada
COVID-19 Information Service
1-833-784-4397
I have a report to make to Police about a person/persons not following social distancing rules or self-isolatingPolice non-emergency line:
902-563-5151
*for police reports only*

If you have an emergency you should, as always, call 911.

 

 

Transit

Cape Breton Transit has made changes to its schedule, which you will find here and is:

…limiting the number of patrons on regular as well as handi-trans to meet social distancing requirements.

Patrons are to practice social distancing and keep approximately 2 meters from transit drivers at all times without exception.

Handi-trans continues to be available through the regular booking service, operating by appointment.

 

Recreation

All provincial and CBRM municipal parks are closed and travel into them is “strictly prohibited.” (I saw people walking in the Open Hearth Park on Sunday, which I’m now realizing is not permitted.)

The Coxheath Hills and Baille Ard Trails are closed.

CBRM walking tracks are open and maintained for “walkers in winter” (not to be confused with the “White Walkers” who are not CBRM residents but an ancient race of formerly human ice creatures from the television series Game of Thrones):

Central:
Atlantic Street Track
Wentworth Park Walking Paths
Neville Park (Whitney Pier) Walking Track
Louisa Gardens Waling Track
Vince Muise Ball Field (Sydney River) Walking Track
Patnic Avenue Track
Brookshaven (Dutch Brook) Walking Track
Westmount Family Park Walking Track
Cantley Village Walking Track
Coxheath Recreation Park Walking Track
Floral Heights Walking Track

North:
Carmen Young Walking Track
Pitt Street Walking Track

East (New Waterford):
Colliery Lands Park Walking Paths
MacKinnon Walking Track
Sharon Anne (River Ryan) Walking Track

East (Glace Bay):
Renwick Brook Park Walking Trails
John Bernard Croak Dam Walking Track
Black Diamond (Hub / No.2) Walking Track
Holy Cross Walking Track
Port Morien Walking Track

 

 

Solid Waste

Heavy garbage has been postponed! You will have to live with your old barbecue and that broken vacuum cleaner for a few more weeks.

Curbside collection continues as regularly scheduled (although they failed to pick mine up this Saturday, but I think that’s because my clear bags are hard to see in the snow and my green bin — which usually serves as a signal that there is garbage to be collected — has been so thoroughly buried by the sidewalk plow I haven’t been able to access it in months). “As well, collectors will be making allowances for any extra bags that may be placed curbside.”

All solid waste management sites have been closed to the general public since March 24 and may be accessed only by vehicles carrying out curbside collections and IC&I (Institutional, Commercial and Industrial) users.

There is a Solid Waste Hotline for all inquiries: 902-567-1337.

Business

If you are a business operator, the  Cape Breton Partnership has a COVID-19 Resources page.

 

Technical difficulties

Chuck Porter, the provincial minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, ordered Nova Scotia municipalities to discontinue holding their meetings in person as of 2 p.m. on March 22.

Porter’s directive (issued under Section 14 of the Emergency Management Act) allowed councils to meet virtually, by video or telephone but added:

Those virtual meetings must be recorded, and the minutes posted on a public website within 24 hours of the meeting.

A CBC headline — “Municipal councils grapple with ways to be transparent during COVID-19” — reminded me of that old joke about the guy about to have surgery on his hand who asks the surgeon, “Doc, will I be able to play the piano after this operation?” Reassured by the surgeon that yes, absolutely, he will, the guy says “Great — because I never could before!”

We have a mayor who has presided over so many in camera council meetings I’ve joked the civic motto should be “Not in front of the citizens.” Our council has been busted for failing to tell us it was meeting in camera and for discussing its own compensation in camera, so if I’m a little skeptical about the mayor’s devotion to transparency, I think you’ll forgive me.

And in fact, the council’s first attempt at a virtual meeting (on Friday, March 27) was not an unalloyed success. CBC reporter Tom Ayers noted on Twitter that the audio quality had deteriorated before disappearing completely over the course of the meeting and there is no audio or video record available online.

You can, though, view the meeting agenda packages on the CBRM website. as well as the draft minutes from the session, at which all councilors were (virtually) present except District 6 Councilor Ray Paruch who remains on sick leave, and District 11 Councilor Kendra Coombes who has resigned, having recently been elected MLA for Cape Breton Centre.

During the meeting, CBRM council agreed to defer tax sales and water disconnections for non-payment for 90 days. (I have asked the water utility how often people are disconnected for non-payment and if they disconnect occupied houses and will let you know what I find out.)

I will do a more in-depth run through of the issues discussed (wastewater treatment — my favorite!) in the regular Wednesday edition of the Spectator.

 

Tomorrow’s Distraction:

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is streaming performances via the Lincoln Center at Home portal. From Monday, March 30 to Thursday, April 2 at 7:00 p.m. ET you can watch Alvin Ailey’s Revelations:

Using African-American spirituals, song-sermons, gospel songs and holy blues, Alvin Ailey’s Revelations explores the places of deepest grief and holiest joy in the soul. This film from Live from Lincoln Center features an introduction from Artistic Director Robert Battle as well as commentary from some of the dancers.

Teachers can access interactive learning guides for teachers and students.

Revelations, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater