NS COVID-19 Update for 14 April 2020

Daily briefing

Dr. Robert Strang announced 43 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday bringing the total number of cases in Nova Scotia to 517.

He noted that the province was “well aware” of the recently approved Spartan Bioscience COVID-19 test kit, but said the test has “yet to be validated on the front lines” and that while Nova Scotia will participate in the this validation process (it will have some test kits to try), the province will wait to see the results before making any decisions on the technology.

Strang said the microbiology lab in Halifax is now averaging 1,000 tests per day which means Nova Scotia ranks just after Alberta in terms of testing per 1 million population.

Strang then surprised everyone — or maybe just me — by producing his long-promised projections for Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 outbreak (the photo above shows the worst-case scenario, the one the premier says “keeps him up.”)

The modeling suggests that if we’d done nothing to combat the virus, we would now have 943 cases instead of 517.

If we continue to practice good social distancing, then by June 30 we will have an estimated 1,453 cases with 35 in hospital (one-third of these in ICU) at the peak of the outbreak, a number Strang said would pressure but not overwhelm our healthcare system.

If we practice weak social distancing, by June 30 we could have 6,269 cases with 85 in hospital (one-third in ICU) at the peak of the outbreak, a number Strang said would overwhelm our healthcare system and leave us in the same position as some American States and some of our “sister provinces.”

COVID-19-Modelling

 

Numbers

Total new cases: 43

Total cases: 517

Total hospitalized: 10

Total in ICU: 4

Total recovered: 124

Total deaths: 3

Total positive and negative tests: 17,272

Age range of patients: under 10 to over 90

 

Connecting dots

“East Dartmouth” is a COVID-19 hotspot with about 200 of Nova Scotia’s 517 confirmed COVID-19 cases. The province has already opened one temporary assessment center in the area and Strang says they plan to open a second.

Getting on top of the “disease activity” in these communities — which include the traditionally black communities of North Preston, East Preston and Cherry Brook — means addressing  their “longstanding” financial, housing and transportation challenges.

Many people who work in long-term-care facilities (LTCF) live in these communities.

Conclusion: we need to pay the people working in LTCFs better.

 

Northside Community Guest Home

Jennifer Henderson is reporting on COVID-19 in long-term care facilities in Nova Scotia for the Halifax Examiner, including the death (in hospital) of a resident of the Northside Community Guest Home here in the CBRM. This last was acknowledged officially by the guest home foundation on April 9 (although Dr. Strang today refused to say how many of the three deaths had involved LTCFresidents, citing “privacy.”)

Writes Henderson:

Over this past weekend, the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness — which licenses and regulates 132 long-term care facilities — made it mandatory for all nursing home employees to wear surgical masks at work. These are the regular masks and not the specialized N-95 model which nurses and physicians wear when intubating severely ill people. Nurses and Continuing Care Assistants (CCAs) who interact with residents who are either suspected or confirmed COVID cases must “gown up” and wear Personal Protective Equipment from head to toe.

But the article notes that pre-pandemic, the union representing almost 4,800 people working in 49 of the province’s long-term care facilities in a variety of positions had:

…launched an online campaign  asking citizens to write their MLA and beg for more government funding to increase staffing in nursing homes. “Fully 74% of CUPE members in long-term care report they are working short on a regular basis and 36% are working short each and every day” reads text from the website.

And Henderson remarks on the premier’s refusal (expressed during yesterday’s daily update) to consider increasing funding for LTCFs once the crisis eases:

“This is not the time to be negotiating contracts nor staffing models,” he said sternly, before changing the subject. “We should be wrapping our arms around each other. I want to take this opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to healthcare workers. These are challenging times for you and your families.”

But “wrapping our arms around each other” in a period of mandated physical distancing is a dubious suggestion at best, and saying “thank you” doesn’t come close to addressing the pre-COVID-19 plea for adequate staff/patient ratios and compensation for workers in long-term care homes.

Conclusion: we need to pay the people who work in LTCFs better.

 

Enforcers

The Cape Breton Regional Police were busy this past Easter weekend, issuing 42 summary offence tickets for violations of provincial COVID-19 orders.

According to a police press release, officers responded to:

…numerous complaints of group gatherings over the four-day holiday, resulting in charges against 26 people at six different residences for not social distancing as ordered by the Health Protection Act.

Funnily enough, this pre-pandemic CBRPS promotional photo shows everyone except the police officer practicing social distancing.

A passenger arriving from Newfoundland and Labrador on a Marine Atlantic ferry was discovered to have no confirmed place to stay in the area, charged for not self-isolating, and put on the ferry back to Newfoundland.

CBRPS spokesperson Desiree Magnus said the other tickets were issued for “various observed instances of failing to social distance under the Health Protection Act” and one individual was charged under the Emergency Management Act for “parking to attend a closed beach area.”

If you’re keeping count, police have now issued a total of 66 tickets and say they have received over 500 COVID-19-related calls.

I would really like to know what the people charged were thinking — do they not believe in the threat posed by COVID-19? Are they so devoid of imagination they can’t terrify themselves into compliance by imagining themselves in a COVID-19 ward at the CBRH? (That’s all it takes to keep me on the straight and narrow.) Did they make any efforts at social-distancing? Do they just not like being told what to do by the government? This isn’t just idle curiosity, I’m thinking if we could get into their heads we might figure out how to get the message through to people who don’t seem moved by the rising case stats or the premier’s exhortations to stay home.  Maybe a $1,000 fine is the answer — but what if it’s not?

I’d also like to know how those “over 500 COVID-19-related calls” got translated into 66 tickets — that’s some ruthless triaging. How do the cops decide what constitutes a credible complaint? How many calls have they followed up only to find there’s been no offense? Have the tickets been issued all over the CBRM or have some areas seen more than others?

I hope the police are keeping good records, because there will be a lot to be learned from this experience.

 

No clarification necessary

After speaking to privacy lawyer David Fraser yesterday about the sloppy wording in Dr. Robert Strang’s Health Protection Act order, I asked the government if there were any plan to amend clause 6 which states:

All persons present and residing in Nova Scotia must maintain social distancing of two metres or six feet and keep social gatherings to 5 persons or less

Fraser’s point was that this wording fails to exempt people living in the same household from practicing social distancing.

The NS government replied:

The social distancing requirements set out under the Health Protection Act order apply to locations or settings where people from differing households may gather. Members of the same household would not be expected to maintain social distancing within their home [emphasis mine] unless they were receiving specific direction from public health in relation to a suspected or confirmed positive test for COVID-19…No additional amendments to the orders are needed for clarity at this time.

I sent the response to Fraser who replied:

That is a completely absurd response.

He added:

Also note they say only “within their home”. Out for a walk or in their car, they still must maintain social distancing.

I wonder if any of those 15 tickets issued by the CBRPS this past weekend for “various observed instances of failing to social distance under the Health Protection Act” involved people from the same household?

 

Ventilation

The CBC’s Tom Ayers followed up on a press release issued today by the “Nova Scotia Ventilation Project,” a consortium  led by Sydney’s Protocase and including 45drives, Enginuity Inc. of Halifax, Advanced Glazings, Nova Scotia Power’s Makerspace in Sydney and Cape Breton University.

Doug Milburn, co-founder of Protocase and founder of Advanced Glazings, leads the group which has designed a prototype ventilator he says could become a fully functioning machine within the next two weeks.

“The whole point of this project was to create a ventilator that is essentially made in Nova Scotia, or any parts that are purchased that are not made in Nova Scotia to be outside of the stressed medical supply chain,” said Milburn. “This is something that can become available in a very, very short time.”

Milburn’s brother, Dr. Chris Milburn, and Bruce Morrison, a respiratory specialist with the health authority, advised on the project. Doug Milburn said getting medical certification for the device would normally take months, but Health Canada is working with them to fast-track the process.

The device — which Milburn says can be built from custom-made and locally purchased parts — will be much cheaper than a standard ventilator, although some of its functions will be manual instead of automatic.

Nova Scotia had 240 ventilators at the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis and ordered 160 more (the status of which I am unsure of). Milburn says although the outbreak has yet to put the province’s supply to the test, medical professionals are eager to have extras on hand.

You can hear Milburn explain the project — and watch the prototype in action — below:

 

Tonight’s Distraction

The Town Heroes perform via Facebook as part of the NAC’s Canada Performs series. 7:30 PM ADT. But wait, there’s more:

Ok buds! This Tuesday at 7:30 we’re going live with an Acoustic Performance. Between songs we’ll be doing a 1-Line ISOLATION BINGO game. If you have a card already, you’re good to play. If you want one, comment below and we’ll be giving out a random number of new ones. The PRIZE is a $50 gift card of your choosing. Happy Easter and hope everyone is doing good out there! See you Tuesday for some Diddy’s and Dabbin.

The Town Heroes band members are, from left, Tori Campbell, Aaron Green, Bruce Gillis and Mike Ryan.

The Town Heroes band members are, from left, Tori Campbell, Aaron Green, Bruce Gillis and Mike Ryan.