NS COVID-19 Update for 26 May 2020

Daily briefing

Today’s briefing began with Premier Stephen McNeil acknowledging the province’s latest COVID-19-related death, a woman in her 80s in the Central Zone who was not a resident of a long-term-care facility (LTCF).

McNeil then reminded viewers of the ongoing fire ban, in light of the wildfires that have been, and in some cases still are, burning in the province.

 

Dr. Robert Strang, NS COVID-19 Update for 26 May 2020

Dr. Robert Strang, NS COVID-19 Update for 26 May 2020

Dr. Robert Strang also offered his condolences to the family of the latest COVID-19 victim, before going through the day’s statistics. He noted that while they were announcing two new cases, total cumulative cases have only increased by one since Monday, because an earlier test on a Northwood resident was determined to have been a false positive. (Strang said he, “”Just wanted to make that clear for you mathematicians out there.”)

Strang said both cases announced on Tuesday were “known contacts” of a previous case and did not indicate community transmission.

He said that since the list of symptoms had been expanded on Friday, they’ve seen a “significant increase” in people being tested “which is exactly what we wanted.” The microbiology lab completed 573 tests on May 25.

 

Numbers

Total new cases: 2

Total cases: 1,052

Total hospitalized: 7

Total in ICU: 3

Total recovered: 976

Total deaths: 59

Total long-term-care facilities (LTCF) affected: 1

LTCF residents: 11 (Northwood)

LTCF staff:(Northwood)

Total positive and negative tests to date: 40,051

Age range of patients: under 10 to over 90

 

Daycares

Asked if he were optimistic the province would hit its target date of June 8 for reopening licensed daycares, the premier said he felt it was achievable.

He also noted that they had not seen a large number of requests around childcare for essential services workers, the need for which seemed to have been met “organically” through community support or smaller daycares.

 

Municipal Aid

I had been watching the CBRM council meeting just prior to switching to the COVID briefing and had heard one councilor after another (including two currently serving with the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities) expressing frustration at the lack of support for municipalities from either the provincial or federal governments. Basically, other than the $380 million loan program in support of property tax deferment, councilors said the province and feds have done “nothing” for them.

CBRM councilors referenced Bill Karsten, the Halifax regional councilor who serves as president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and who said during today’s Halifax council meeting that the federal and provincial governments need to give the municipalities money. Karsten said the prime minister has expressed willingness to fund municipalities with the help of the provinces but the provinces are “mute on the urgency that we’re facing” and that they are the hold-up. (Thanks to Zane Woodford of the Halifax Examiner who live-tweeted the meeting.)

Asked to comment on this — and on what form federal/provincial assistance to municipalities would take, grants or loans — McNeil said the idea that Nova Scotia was slowing down discussions with the feds was “news to him” and pointed to changes in the federal formula for infrastructure funding (I assume he was referencing the $3 billion program to make facilities more pandemic-resistant, which will see the feds pay 80% of costs instead of the traditional one third.)

McNeil said his government continues to work with HRM staff to consider different funding models and that Atlantic Canadian premiers have been clear with the prime minister that municipal aid must not be geared toward municipalities the size of Toronto but must be “flexible” enough to apply to municipalities of all sizes.

Then he cited the $380 million loan and suggested it could potentially be amortized over a longer period than three years.

And that was all he had.

 

Second wave

Asked what preparations were being made for the likely second wave of infection, Dr. Strang said maintaining capacity in the healthcare system and ensuring robust public health surveillance capacity (ability to test and trace contacts) were both key to handling a resurgence of the virus.

Asked whether we had sufficient supplies of medical equipment like ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) for a second wave, Strang said we would go back to “where we were at the beginning” with the NSHA anticipating future needs and that we would build on existing plans according to what has been learned during the first wave of the epidemic.

Premier McNeil said they would continue to buy and stockpile PPE but that the new normal would also include continued manufacture of PPE in the Atlantic region.

 

Reopening

I chickened out on trying to explain the reopening plan on Friday, but I will take a stab at it today.

Asked if Strang and Business Minister Geoff MacLellan would be finished their consultations with businesses and business associations by Friday, the premier stressed that they were focusing on those businesses they had forced to shut down via the Public Health order, not those that had chosen to close or were forced to closed by virtue of having lost all their customers.

He said each business sector is expected to produce its own plan for operating while respecting Public Health protocols on public distancing and handwashing and gathering sizes. These plans are to be submitted to Dr. Strang for review and, once approved, communicated to members. In this way, when the government lifts the Public Health order, all these businesses will (in theory, at least) know what they have to do to reopen.  He told those associations that have yet to submit a plan to “get on it.”

McNeil said the government would communicate the reopening date to businesses to give them “time to respond.” Early June is the goal but meeting it will depend on COVID case numbers remaining low.

As for businesses that were not closed by the Public Health order, McNeil said he’s noticed many reopening, having figured out how to do so while respecting the public health restrictions themselves.

But he also said the province was launching a “Preparing to Reopen Nova Scotia” website with advice both for those businesses that were required to close and those that weren’t.

(I’m thinking there’s a category of business being ignored here: the ones that chose to shut down because they weren’t sure how to comply with the public health restrictions. Perhaps the website will answer their questions?)

 

Visiting LTCFs

Asked if, now that the weather was improving, people might be permitted outdoor visits with residents in LTCFs, Dr. Strang said he “fully recognizes” the importance of social interactions for residents and their families, that the subject is under discussion but that it would be “premature” to “guess at a timeframe” for permitting such visits.

Asked if he was concerned that we were still seeing new cases at Northwood, Strang said even a “small breakdown” in infection control or use of PPE can put healthcare workers at risk in an outbreak, which is why they are tested regularly at Northwood, as are residents, but he stressed that Northwood is still “managing an outbreak.”

 

Testing numbers

I asked NSHA for total testing numbers for the Eastern Health Zone (which includes Cape Breton) to date and they told me that as of May 24, there had been 4,092 people tested in the Eastern Zone.

To play mathematician for a moment, as of May 24, Nova Scotia had completed 39,104 tests, so Eastern Zone tests accounted for 10.5% of that total.

And the 51 positives here in the Eastern Zone represent 1.2% of all tests conducted here.