NS COVID-19 Update for 29 May 2020

Daily briefing

Premier Stephen McNeil began today’s briefing saying that almost 11 weeks (76 days) after the first briefing to announce Nova Scotia’s first COVID-19 cases, today there were “no new cases to report, zero, that’s exciting.”

Dr. Robert Strang agreed, saying we’d reached “a significant and encouraging milestone” noting that even the hard-hit Northwood long-term-care-facility (LTCF) was not reporting new cases.

Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, NS COVID-19 Update for 29 May 2020

Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, NS COVID-19 Update for 29 May 2020

He also pointed out that, thanks to the broadened list of symptoms for which people are being tested for COVID-19, the microbiology lab in Halifax completed 1,034 tests yesterday.

The premier then took over to discuss a further easing of restrictions in the province:

Gathering limit

The limit on the number of people allowed to gather has been raised from five to 10.

Dr. Strang went into more detail about this, saying this covers gatherings of all kinds: social gatherings on your deck or in your house, gatherings in parks, arts and cultural events (like dance recitals), sporting events, faith gatherings and concerts.

Social distancing of six feet must be maintained indoors or outdoors, with the exception of people who share a household or a household bubble.

In the case of faith gatherings, 10 people may gather indoors or outdoors but “singing is highly discouraged” as the evidence suggests it increases the spread of respiratory drops and therefore, potentially, of the virus.

As for sports, Strang illustrated with the example of a soccer field. He said a maximum of 10 players could be on the field at any one time, provided they respected the social distancing protocols, which means a team can practice but not play a typical game which would involve contact. Strang said conversations are happening with sports organizations at both the provincial and national levels as they seek ways to practice their activities safely.

Asked about a timeline for much bigger events, Strang said if things go well, “we may get to 50” by the end of the summer, but the province must “think very carefully” about how it reintroduces events with 150, 200 or more participants. To understand why, we need only “look at the role they played in the first wave.”

Outdoor wedding and funerals

The province is making an exception for outdoor weddings and funerals at which people may gather in groups of 15 (not including the officiant). While the officiant does not count towards the total number gathering, any other service provider — like a DJ or a photographer — does.


Private campgrounds will be permitted to open on June 5 for “all types of campers” but can operate at only 50% capacity and must ensure public health protocols — including adequate distance between campsites — are met.

Provincial campgrounds will open to Nova Scotians on June 15, with the reservation line opening June 8. They will operate at reduced capacity to ensure a minimum distance of 20 feet between campsites.

Swimming pools

Pools can start maintenance work to prepare for reopening “likely in time for summer.”

Sleepover camps

Sleepover camps will not be permitted this summer. Asked to explain the rationale behind this, Strang said it was due to the high risk represented by children eating, sleeping and participating in activities together.

The province is not going to increase the number of families permitted to bubble at this point, either. It will remain at two.

Strang also gave a hint at the decision not to reopen lounges, citing concerns about the consumption of alcohol and respect for social distancing protocols.

Both Strang and the premier acknowledged there have been many questions about the province’s reopening plans and directed business operators to the government’s COVID-19 website, which includes some numbers owners may call for assistance.

Strang acknowledged the rules surrounding reopening are “a lot to digest” and that Nova Scotia’s is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution, but stated unequivocally that opening the economy and allowing people to get back to work is the priority. (Basically, the explanation for any inconsistency you’d care to point to — like, why can I be in a restaurant with 20 self-distancing people but at a social gathering or church service with only 10? — is “It’s the economy.” I’ve elided the “stupid” because I don’t think Strang would use it.)



Total new cases: 0

Total cases: 1,055

Total hospitalized: 8

Total in ICU: 3

Total recovered: 978

Total deaths: 59

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

LTCF residents: 10 (Northwood)

LTCF staff: 4 (Northwood)

Total positive and negative tests to date: 41,969

Age range of patients: under 10 to over 90



Strang provided some additional information on the decision to put off reopening daycares until June 15 (the original target was June 8). He’d been questioned about it because daycare seems like a piece of the puzzle that must be in place before people can return to work — as many are slated to do on June 5.

Strang said the problem is that the plan presented to them by the daycares wasn’t sufficiently detailed for them to approve and they are waiting for more information.


New Brunswick

Asked if he saw any lessons for Nova Scotia in what has been happening in New Brunswick, where a doctor has been suspended after contracting COVID-19 on a trip to Quebec, failing to self-isolate on his return and causing an outbreak of the virus in a province that had just entered the second phase of its reopening plan.

Strang said the message is that it’s important to self-isolate for 14 days after entering the province, a restriction that has not been lifted.



Asked if he was concerned about municipal elections going ahead as scheduled in the fall, Strang said his public health team has been asked to begin conversations about holding them safely and over the next few weeks, once the recovery plan is well underway, they will be “very willing to engage” in those discussions.


Public washrooms

Asked if, given the opening of campgrounds will mean more people on the road, he was going to “reopen public washrooms,” Strang said they’d never been closed, although some businesses may have made the decision to close theirs.

Strang said public health has been talking to businesses about cleaning protocols ad managing the numbers of people in washrooms, adding, “we have to make sure they are accessible.”


LTC beds

The government today announced it had cut a two-year deal with Shannex to convert a floor of that company’s Caritas Residence, a private assisted-living facility in Bedford, by adding 23 nursing home beds.

Asked why the announcement was being made now and if it had anything to do with the way the COVID-19 epidemic had played out at Northwood, the premier said they are looking at continuing care capacity not just at Northwood but across the province.

Asked if he would commit to funding renovations at Northwood to allow it to operate with fewer residences or at least to end the double and triple-bunking identified as one reason for the severity of the outbreak at that facility, the premier said his government has been in conversation with Northwood about funding since “before COVID” and would continue to work with the facility. (The McNeil government may have been “in conversation” about funding for Northwood, but according to media reports, that conversation involved the province saying “no” three years running to Northwood’s requests for increased funding to expand. You can hear a discussion of this on the latest episode of the Canadaland COMMONS: Pandemic podcast, which focuses on the Halifax facility.)

The premier told reporters he felt the question was not whether LTCFs should be private or non-profit but rather, how large they should be (Northwood is the largest east of Montreal) and how they should be configured.


Sick days

Asked again about paid sick days, the premier doubled down on his insistence that if the feds are willing to pay for a “temporary” increase in paid to cover “specifically” COVID-19-related matters (like testing), he was fine with that.

Otherwise, he was leaving it up to unions to negotiate the 10 paid sick days Trudeau and the federal NDP say Canadians are entitled to.

McNeil didn’t address what the 70% of Nova Scotians — 88% in the private sector, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives — who are not unionized are supposed to do, but Robert Devet had an answer in the Nova Scotia Advocate: unionize.



Kyle Shaw of the Coast said they’d heard reports from physiotherapists working in hospitals that they were not mandated to wear — and therefore not supplied with — surgical masks and asked Strang if this was the case.

Strang said the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) feels they “do not have to mandate wearing of masks” for “everybody” because they have “other protocols in place.”

(I find that more than passing strange, at a time when we’re all being told it’s worth wearing a non-surgical mask when we can’t respect the social distancing protocols which physiotherapists surely can’t.)


Last words

You know what I will not miss when these daily briefings end? The premier’s speechwriter’s idea of a great line.

Today, in addition to stating that “the hug is both a beautiful and a dangerous thing,” McNeil said something like:

If we continue to flatten the curve, we will be able to lift up spirits by taking down more restrictions.

The only thing that almost came up was my lunch. (TGIF, folks, TGIF.)

Transit CB

Changes coming to Transit Cape Breton, beginning Monday June 1, the service will allow an increase in the number of passengers per bus. Passengers are asked to wear a non-medical face mask as social distance between passengers can not be assured.


And that’s it for another week. Enjoy your “new normal” weekend!