NS COVID-19 Update for 22 April 2020

Daily brief

Dr. Robert Strang announced two additional COVID-19-related deaths on Wednesday, bringing total deaths in the province to 12. Both occurred at the Northwood long-term-care facility in Halifax, the site of the province’s worst COVID-19 outbreak. That brings total deaths at the facility to eight. Strang said the majority of the 35 new cases announced today were from Northwood.

Dr. Robert Strang during the COVID-19 Update for 22 April 2020.

Dr. Robert Strang during the COVID-19 Update for 22 April 2020.

Strang was asked about a press release put out by the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) on Wednesday under the headline: Immediate Reaction Required to Protect Seniors & Workers at Northwood Manor. The release (which is accompanied by a stock photo of a “stressed nurse“) states:

NSGEU nurses redeployed to Northwood Manor are reporting extremely serious concerns about the health and safety of vulnerable seniors due to poor infection control and limited safety protocols at the facility.

Government’s Ministerial Order forced nurses and other health care workers to leave the Halifax Infirmary and report to the epicenter of the COVID outbreak at Northwood. NSGEU members are working at 11 Manor, an 11th floor unit with a capacity of 16 and an occupancy of 12 residents, and 1 Centre a first-floor unit with a capacity of 22-23 beds which is fully occupied. Both are COVID-positive units.
One staff member described the conditions at Northwood Manor as “horrible” and noted there is little wonder why the virus has run rampant through the facility, given the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and basic infection control protocols in place.
 
“Our members are telling us it was like walking into a war zone,” said NSGEU President Jason MacLean.

Dr. Strang was clearly not pleased with this, going so far as to accuse the union of “fear-mongering” and “hyperbole.” He said he had had a phone call with all the unions on Monday and asked that any “legitimate” concerns be brought to incident management at the facility. He said frontline people at Northwood have told him what the NSGEU is saying is “inaccurate” and that an infection control professional at Northwood told him there was “no validity” around the the NSGEU’s infection control concerns. Strang called on the union to “come to the table” to work for Nova Scotians.

Another reporter told Strang she’d spoken to a woman whose father was sharing a room with two other patients in Northwood, one of whom tested positive for COVID-19 and now the woman’s father has also tested positive. Strang responded, as he did yesterday, that the facility is trying to free up space by moving recovered patients to an off-site recovery facility (a hotel) and taking all infection control measures it can while people remain in shared space.

Strang was then asked about federal guidelines for LTC staff which recommend staff not move between facilities and asked whether Nova Scotia was considering banning this practice, as some other provinces have done. Strang said they are currently looking at the impact this would have in terms of staffing shortages (which could be “critical”) and trying to “minimize” the need to bring in outside help, in part by allowing staff who may have been exposed to COVID-19 but are not exhibiting symptoms to return to work under “strict protocols.”

In answer to a question about residents at Northwood failing to practice social distancing and coming and going from the facility at will, Strang explained that part of the Northwood complex is a separate tower, with a separate entrance, occupied by residents in independent living accommodations. He said people who see these residents coming and going may be confused, but that they have no contact with the patients in LTC, where the outbreak is.

At times like these, you really realize the limits the pandemic is placing upon journalism — there is no possibility of a reporter simply visiting the facility to see what is happening in person.

 

Numbers

Total new cases: 35

Total cases: 772

Total hospitalized: 10

Total in ICU: 3

Total recovered: 330

Total deaths: 12

Total long-term-care facilities (LTCF) affected: 10

LTCF residents: 148

LTCF staff: 65

Total positive and negative tests:  23,765

Age range of patients: under 10 to over 90

 

Dispensing with fees

Premier Stephen McNeil said the province will be waiving family and senior care dispensing fees.

 

Good news?

The CBC’s Michael Gorman noted that for the past few days recovered cases have outnumbered new cases of COVID-19 in the province. Emphasizing that he didn’t want to downplay what was happening in LTCFs, he asked Strang if those numbers, combined with our generally low hospitalization numbers throughout the pandemic, are good news?

Strang answered very cautiously that it is “potentially” good news, that it seems to suggest a decrease in community transmission (even on “the Dartmouth side of the harbor”) but that it is not a reason to ease up on restrictions.

He noted again that reducing community transmission is not simply about protecting the community but about protecting the most vulnerable among us, particularly seniors in LTCFs.

 

Send troops?

Noting that Quebec Premier François Legault today called in the Canadian military to help in that province’s understaffed nursing homes, a reporter asked Strang if Nova Scotia would consider this option.

Strang said nothing was “off the table” and they knew they had the option if they needed it but he didn’t feel the current situation warranted such a step.

 

Flu

Chronicle Herald reporter John MacPhee pointed out that sometimes, in a severe influenza season, Nova Scotia sees “dozens of deaths” in large seniors facilities and wondered how the current COVID-19 epidemic compared to our worst flu seasons.

Strang said he would have to dig out the necessary data on past flu seasons to give a definitive answer but “off the top of [his] head,” he said there were influenza outbreaks in LTCFs every year but never had one come “anywhere close to what we’re seeing in Northwood right now with COVID-19.”

 

Check in the mail?

Asked whether monies from the funds established to support small businesses and workers had begun going out, Premier Stephen McNeil said money began flowing “six to seven” days after the programs were announced on April 2.

Asked what would be done with the remaining $5 million in a fund administered by Dalhousie, McNeil said they were continuing to look, with the assistance of the Red Cross, at needs and the Trustee group managing the fund would take advice from different organizations, including “deputy ministers and government.”

 

CBRM

Sharon Montgomery-Dupe of the Post asked a Cape Breton-focused question, namely, what percentage of the tests performed in the Eastern Health Zone to date represented people from the island. Strang said he didn’t have the numbers in front of him but would get back to her (so watch for that, it should be interesting.)

Strang then said that while the cases “up in Cape Breton” have been “sporadic” it doesn’t mean we can let our guard down — the fact that it has appeared in LTCFs here means the potential for spread is here.

Speaking of which, the CBC’s Tom Ayers has a good piece today in which a man whose mother lived at Harbourstone and died in the CBRH of COVID-19 complications is calling on the province to release the names of the LTC homes where the virus has been found. (Ayers goes deep into all the privacy considerations around this.)

Montgomery-Dupe then asked if there is any evidence of people recovering from COVID-19 and testing positive a second time.

Strang said he was not aware of any and noted that the understanding, with viral infections like this is that people will get “some long-term immunity,” but whether that is for the rest of their lives or, as with the flu, for a few months, remains to be seen.

 

Earth Day

A reporter (whose name I didn’t catch and I’m sorry I didn’t because I appreciated her question) asked Premier McNeil, in honor of Earth Day, if the environmental improvement the world has seen during this pandemic might inspire Nova Scotia to consider a “green recovery.”

In response, the Premier gave the usual laundry lists of reasons why Nova Scotia is — you heard it here first — a leader in protecting the environment and warned they would not be opening up the economy (in a green way or any other, I presume) without the approval of Public Health.

 

Convalescent plasma

There are now at least 330 people in this province who have recovered from COVID-19 (in truth, there are likely more — people who never knew they had it or suspected they had it but never got tested).

Although they’ve recovered, their blood plasma still contains the antibodies their immune systems produced to combat the virus and Canada — like many countries — is planning to conduct a clinical trial to see if plasma from recovered patients can be used either to treat COVID-19 or to inoculate people, particularly healthcare workers, against it.

Canadian Blood Services will be collecting the samples and head scientist Dana Devine provides a good overview of the goals of the trial and role of the organization:

 

Donating convalescent plasma is like a standard plasma donation, the only difference being Canadian Blood Services want “a specific type of donor.” Namely, someone who is:

  • Younger than 67 years old
  • Previously confirmed positive for COVID-19 by a laboratory test
  • Fully recovered from the virus and symptom free for at least 28 days

If you meet the criteria, you can join the online registry.

That said, there is one more criterion that might be problematic for Cape Bretoners: you need to live within within “reasonable driving distance from a Canadian Blood Services donor center.”

 

Tonight’s Distraction

I’m late to this, for which I apologize, because I don’t know how I missed this excellent local distraction, courtesy of The Highland Arts Theatre in Sydney. The HAT is offering virtual classes in a variety of performing arts including dance and voice (tonight’s is “Barre” at 8:00 PM).

But it is also offering video recordings of some past productions (including “Heart of Steel” and “See Jane Run.”)

You’ll find the videos on the HAT’s YouTube Channel, and if you enjoy the performance, you have an opportunity to make a donation to the theater, which has been hit hard by the pandemic.