NS COVID-19 Update for 8 April 2020

In brief

Dr. Robert Strang announced 32 new cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the Nova Scotian total to 342.

The province has expanded the list of symptoms it is now screening to include:

  • fever
  • new or worsening cough
  • sore throat
  • runny nose
  • headache

If you experience any of these you are encouraged to use the self-assessment tool on the provincial COVID-19 website to determine if you should call 811 (if you do not have internet access, you may simply call 811).

Asked if the province had sufficient staff to answer what could be a deluge of 811 calls, Dr. Strang said they’d assured him they were prepared to handle it.

Dr. Robert Strang and Premier Stephen McNeil

The official government photographer is clearly running out of interesting angles from which to take this picture. Presumably, aerial is next. (8 April 2020)

 

Numbers, please

Total new cases: 32

Total cases: 342

Total hospitalized: 11

Total in ICU: 5

Total recovered: 77

Total deaths: 1

Total positive and negative tests: 11,688

Age range of patients: under ten to over 90

(Further data visualizations)

 

Multiple facilities

Asked if the province planned to follow the example of provinces like British Columbia and stop healthcare workers from working across multiple facilities, Dr. Strang said they were trying to limit this, but having employees work across facilities is one of the keys to ensuring sufficient staffing.

 

CBRH

I’m going to devote the rest of this update to the COVID-19 death at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, a story that Post reporter Nicole Sullivan broke this morning.

Sullivan spoke to “multiple sources inside the hospital” and reported that 31 nurses, three doctors and three respiratory therapists are currently self-isolating after coming in contact with a patient with COVID-19. Sullivan said the patient was “believed to have been the 70-year-old woman who died Monday night due to complications caused by COVID-19.”

CTV’s Kyle Moore later confirmed this part of the story on Tuesday, and quoted Dr. Margaret Fraser as saying physicians must now check their temperatures at the beginning and end of every shift. Moore also stated unequivocally:

This comes after a patient at the hospital died due to complications from COVID-19.

The woman was in her 70s and had underlying medical conditions. She died Monday.

She was the first person to die from COVID-19 in Nova Scotia.

Sullivan reported the woman was a resident of a guest home in the CBRM — another piece of information that has yet to be officially confirmed — citing “family members of other residents” of the long-term care facility who were notified of the woman’s death and COVID-19 diagnosis on Tuesday afternoon.

Sullivan ended by saying that she had contacted the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) for comment but none was forthcoming.

The fact that CBRH healthcare workers are self-isolating was confirmed during today’s update in a roundabout way: namely, by reporters taking it as a given that they were.

Post reporter Nancy King told Strang they’d been told the patient had tested negative for COVID-19 and had been placed in a regular ward, which is how so many healthcare workers came to be exposed. Several days later, the patient developed further symptoms and a second test was performed which came back positive.

Dr. Strang did not deny any of this or refuse to answer on privacy grounds, he simply explained why tests can sometimes come back negative when the person has the disease (the viral load in the upper respiratory track might not be sufficiently heavy to be detected on the swab if the disease is deep in the lungs) and said that going forward, any patient exhibiting symptoms of a respiratory disease would be treated as though they had COVID-19.

Similarly, when CBC reporter Michael Gorman stated as fact that “several dozen employees” at CBRH were self-isolating after being exposed to COVID-19, Strang didn’t contradict him, but went on to answer the question about what impact having dozens of health workers self isolating had on the healthcare system. Strang said they were all being tested for the virus, and while it creates a strain, they had to balance that with potentially putting patients or co-workers at risk.

Strang then repeated something he’d said earlier, which was that they were looking at ways they might bring potentially exposed healthcare workers back to work safely before the end of the 14-day self-isolation period.

 

COVID-19 Map NS 8 April 2020

 

Analytics

I can share the official response I received from the NSHA when I asked them yesterday about the rumor that many healthcare workers at the CBRH were self-isolating due to COVID-19 exposure. The NSHA replied:

We do not provide numbers of staff who self-isolate. We can’t accurately quantify the number of staff in isolation because the number is changing frequently and we have multiple data systems tracking and reporting this. The analytics team is working to streamline this process and we hope to provide regular updates once ready.

They then threw me a bone by answering a question I hadn’t asked:

We have staff in isolation for numerous reasons:

• due to travel – knows [sic] as “furlough”

• due to being a close contact of a confirmed case, not work-related (friend, family member etc.) but asymptomatic

• due to symptoms and pending swabbing and results

• due to being a confirmed case of COVID19

• due to being a high/medium risk contact due to a workplace exposure but asymptomatic.

Good to know, but I could honestly have made a pretty good stab at listing those reasons all by myself.

 

Secrecy is not an anti-viral

The goal of journalism is to serve the public good and in a pandemic, as I see it, this means helping to communicate the measures Public Health has determined will best keep us all alive and well. It also means understanding that our Public Health officials are grappling with a disease we’d never heard of just over three months ago.

But reporters should never become what I.F. Stone called “stenographers to power,” and as I watch and report on the province’s daily COVID-19 updates, I repeat this to myself like a mantra. I will continue to report Dr. Stang’s directives on handwashing, social distancing and self-isolation because literally everything I’ve read about this virus suggests such measures work.

At the same time, I think seeking out information the government won’t tell us, as Sullivan and Moore have done today, is fair game because, as friend of the Spectator Madeline Yakimchuk pointed out this morning, at some point refusing to share information with us becomes less about protecting the privacy of people with COVID-19 and more about treating us like children who can’t handle the truth.

And frankly, even if we WERE children, don’t the parenting experts say that explaining why you are insisting children do a thing is better motivation than simply saying, “Because I said so?”

I will freely admit that watching this disease make its inexorable way to this province, killing literally thousands along the way, filling ICUs to overflowing, causing cities like New York — New York! — to consider using public parks for mass graves, still didn’t quite prepare me for its arrival right here, on our doorstep.

And if that’s true for me, a news junkie who is watching this stuff for an absolutely unhealthy amount of time each day, then how much more true must it be for people who aren’t paying that much attention?

Telling people that COVID-19 is in the CBRH (Brett MacDougall, executive director of operations for the Eastern Zone told CBC Information Morning Cape Breton host Steve Sutherland that as of yesterday, there were two cases there and one in the hospital in Antigonish), that it has killed a patient there and forced dozens of healthcare workers into self-isolation just as we are approaching the peak of the outbreak seems, to me, like a pretty effective way of driving home your message about this disease.

It also occurs to me that sharing the province’s best- and worst-case projections for the disease (which Nova Scotia has yet to do) not only allows citizens to see the information upon which our officials are acting, it allows the army of qualified scientists out there on the interwebs to see and possibly question those projections. There is literally a world of expertise out there for the asking, you don’t have to have it all in-house.

We have no choice right now but to trust our public institutions but I think that would be easier if they’d trust us too.

 

Tomorrow Night’s Distraction

London’s National Theatre will drop its 2015 production of Jane Eyre, directed by Sally Cookson (who, on the eve of the online presentation, discussed the production with the Guardian). 

At the time it premiered, that paper said of it:

Sally Cookson presents a picture of exultant feminism in Jane Eyre. Forget the word “adaptation”. Cookson’s production is a tumultuous re-creation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel. “It’s a girl” are its first and last words.

P.S. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend the National’s production of “One Man, Two Guvnors” with James Corden which is still available, but will disappear tomorrow.