NS COVID-19 Update for 1 April 2020

Daily briefing

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, announced 26 new cases of COVID-19 in the province as of Wednesday, bringing the total to 173.

The province is declaring just one confirmed case of community spread, but Strang said some cases remain under investigation and that number is sure to rise. Strang said he “didn’t sleep well last night” thinking about the growing number of cases and stressed that these next few weeks will be “critical” to keeping the spread of COVID-19 under control. He said Nova Scotians must, more than ever, adhere to Public Health’s instructions — stay home as much as you can; if you must go out, maintain a six-foot distance from other people; wash your hands well and regularly; keep essential gatherings to under five people.

Dr. Robert Strang

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, COVID-19 Update, 1 April 2020.

“Care, community and commonsense” should be the watchwords, said Strang.

The chief medical officer said he’s noticed there are still Nova Scotians “looking for loopholes, ways to get around this,” like those who’ve signed a petition protesting the delayed sports fishing season.

Now is “not the time to be thinking about how you can get out” and continue your regular activities, he said. People should stay close to home, minimize their interaction with each other and “protect each other.” If you’re not happy with the current situation, said Strang, the answer is to “do what we’re doing now and do it well.”

Asked by a reporter about a Tuesday  National Post story that said Canada’s Government Operations Centre’s “best case scenario” would see current public health measures in place until “at least July,” Strang said it was the subject of his call with his fellow provincial public health officers yesterday afternoon and that is is “an important part of our national dialogue.”

Strang said he’s not sure if the measures will be in place until July or June but “we know this is not a two-week phenomenon,” or a six-week, or eight-week or 10-week phenomenon. He also noted that even as restrictions are relaxed, they will not be lifted all at once —  we “can’t get back to full normal right away.”

Premier Stephen McNeil said one of the reasons the province has been so aggressive in its efforts to “flatten the curve” is because “how long [the measures must be in place] is up to us.”

 

Numbers, please

Here are the states presented on Tuesday:

Total new cases: 26

Total cases: 173

Total hospitalized: 5

Total recovered: 11

Total positive and negative tests: 6,764

Age range of patients: under ten to over 80

 

Be Kind to Truckers

Strang (who sometimes starts to seem a bit like Santa Claus in his ability to see whether you’ve been naughty or nice) said he’s been hearing stories of people “not being welcoming to truckers,” as in, refusing to serve them food or allow them to use their washrooms.

Truckers are delivering essential goods to Nova Scotia and on to Newfoundland and should be supported, said Strang, a sentiment echoed by the Premier.

I am choosing to illustrate this item with a story about Crystal Blair, who runs the Glenholme Loop Petro Pass Restaurant near Debert, and who has been offering free meals to truckers, supported by food and money donations from the community:

She planned to close up shop entirely last week, but changed her mind after seeing truck drivers posting on social media about closed bathrooms and restaurants at truck stops.

“I just went into a panic. I was like, ‘I can’t do this to them, they need me,'” she said.

The restaurant is closed to the general public, but is open for truck drivers to have a meal, use the bathroom and take a shower. Blair sent her staff home as a precaution for them and customers.

I am sure Dr. Strang has duly noted that she is being nice.

 

Co-Parenting

Strang revisited the issue of custody to note that his remarks yesterday — in which he advised against sending children back and forth between households — were purely from a public health perspective.

He said he recognizes people have complex co-parenting relationships and he is not telling anyone to disregard court orders or parenting arrangements, but he asked parents to work together to “develop a plan” that was in the best interest of the children’s health and involved as little risk of exposure as possible.

He advised people to consult their lawyers, if necessary, and said Legal Aid had resources in place to help in this “difficult and challenging time.”

 

Techno

In response to a question about the province’s plan to provide an online map showing the breakdown of COVID-19 cases by health zone, Strang said he was “not a techno person” (and here I had him down as a Deep House fan) but that his staff has been working to transfer the information to the website and he expects results later today. (They don’t seem to be there as I write.)

 

Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang

Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, COVID-19 Update, 1 April 2020

Small biz

Asked again about commercial landlords who are refusing to allow their tenants to defer their rent for three months, the Premier again said it was incumbent upon these landlords to realize that some of their tenants have had to close, either because of the Public Health Order or because of a lack of customers.

He said they knew there was still “more to do” for small businesses and their employees and promised an announcement in the coming days.

 

Daycare

Asked why unlicensed daycares were permitted to stay open, McNeil said they’d closed the larger daycares but allowed the smaller ones (with under six children) to remain open because he felt they were “providing a service required by those still working.”

He also noted that many neighbors have been helping essential workers, like healthcare workers, with childcare.

 

Bidness

A reporter brought up the bleak situation in Newfoundland and Labrador, described by Premier Dwight Ball in a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau this way:

The anticipated impact of COVID-19, the January snowstorm and resulting State of Emergency and the collapse of oil prices on the Newfoundland and Labrador economy in 2020 will be unprecedented.

Newfoundland and Labrador was unable to sell its bonds to finance its COVID-19 preparations and had to turn to the Bank of Canada for help.

Having noted that the situation in Nova Scotia was in no way comparable to that of Newfoundland (so why bring it up?), the reporter then asked if Nova Scotia was borrowing more than usual?

A second reporter followed up with questions about balanced budgets and whether the government regretted raising the minimum wage.

All of which left it up to Stephen McNeil, of all people, to say that public health was the number one priority right now.

 

Positive tests in jails?

Dr. Strang said no one in any of the province’s correctional facilities — neither the people in jail nor those working there — had tested positive for COVID-19 yet. He said clinicians and Infection Control were working with Corrections to put measures in place to minimize exposure to or spread of the virus. Strang said Public Health would move in to support facilities as necessary.

Advocates for those in prison have been calling for the temporary release of some people to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia’s jails. As the CBC reported on March 16:

East Coast Prison Justice Society and four other advocacy groups sent a letter with the request to the provincial ministers for health and justice, and senior administrators for the provincial correctional service and health authority.

The letter, dated Sunday, calls for the province to grant temporary absences to all inmates on intermittent sentences, which are typically served only on weekdays, with weekends in the community, or vice versa.

The advocates are also asking for the release of inmates at heightened risk for complications from the coronavirus, and mothers and other primary support parents.

Cape Breton County Correctional Centre, NS

The organizations also called on authorities to:

  • Minimize the use of health segregation cells.
  • Ensure risk mitigation strategies “do not unduly restrict prisoners’ liberties,” including “avoiding reliance on prolonged or indeterminate lockdowns/solitary confinement.”
  • Ensure inmates have regular access to phone communications with lawyers and family.
  • Ensure inmates have regular access to programming and other activities and possibly reinstating volunteer access, with necessary modifications.
  • Meet public health standards, including by increasing sanitation measures and ensuring inmate access to hygiene and sanitation products at no cost.

Writing in the Halifax Examiner on March 24, El Jones described what she called an “unprecedented” effort by lawyers and a Halifax judge that resulted in the release of 20 people, so it can be done.

 

Construction sites

I was listening to a call-in show earlier in the week and heard a call from a construction worker in Ontario (which — like Nova Scotia — has designated construction workers “essential” workers). He described the unsanitary conditions on construction sites where the only bathrooms are port-a-potties (and not the posh kind, with soap and water for handwashing.)

He also noted that he was currently renovating someone’s basement which did not seem like “essential” work to him.

Asked whether Nova Scotia had provided any guidance to construction companies, Dr. Strang said they will be required to provide a way for workers to wash their hands on sites without running water (maybe some of those posh port-a-potties?). He said discussions were ongoing with the construction industry with regard to COVID-19 prevention measures.

Masks?

There’s a lot of buzz right now around the World Health Organization’s recommendation (echoed by the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia) that there is no need for asymptomatic people to wear masks.

The CBC’s Evan Dyer wrote a detailed piece about this which is worth reading. He suggests public health experts — even our own Dr. Theresa Tam — may be about to do an about-face on mask-wearing.

Seller of cloth face masks in the Philippines

Seller of face masks made of cloth draws buyers near Munoz public market along Roosevelt Avenue in Quezon City on Wednesday (March 11, 2020, PNA photo by Robert Oswald P. Alfiler / Public Domain)

He spoke to Dr. K.K. Cheng, director of the Institute of Applied Health Research at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., who said that European and North American health authorities:

…have never really grasped the point that wearing masks is not primarily to protect the wearer. The original motivation is to protect others.

In a severe pandemic, the main objective of any public health intervention is to limit the source of infection, things that are coming out of our respiratory tract…

He said any mouth and nose covering is superior to telling people to cough into their elbows, as the government of Canada does now.

He also said the most sophisticated devices “must be saved” for healthcare workers.

Dr. Strang said he was aware of the “very, very recent articles” on the topic, and said the question of masks had been identified for “urgent conversation” among the country’s public health authorities.

Evidence is evolving on the question, he said, and when evidence evolves, you must be ready to change in response.

 

Tomorrow’s Distraction

If you’re a Montreal Canadiens fans: watch them win!

RDS is broadcasting a series of 28 Habs games over the course of 14 day. The marathon of victory began on March 30, and tomorrow’s games are as follows:

Thursday, April 2

If you are not a Montreal Canadiens fan, how about a full-length play from the National Theatre in London? They’ll be streaming one every Thursday at 7PM UK time (which means 3PM here).

James Corden in "One Man Two Guvnors"

James Corden in “One Man Two Guvnors”

The first one, as a matter of fact, will be streamed tomorrow, Richard Bean’s “One Man Two Guvnors” starring James Corden, who won the 2012 Tony for best actor for his performance.

The play is an update of a 1746 play by Carlo Goldoni usually translated as “The Servant of Two Masters.” According to the Guardian:

Richard Bean has used it for a riotous farce combining the original’s structure with a particularly Anglo-Saxon verbal and physical humour. The result, a kind of Carry On Carlo, is one of the funniest productions in the National’s history.

I’m in.