NS COVID-19 Update for 6 October 2020

Briefing

Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang held one of their now-rare COVID-19 briefings on Tuesday at 1:00 PM.

Strang began with the numbers — Nova Scotia has 3 active cases (including an essential worker who continues to be in ICU), all of which are related to travel outside the Atlantic Bubble. In each case, he said, the individuals were self-isolating, as required, and as a result, few close contacts and no additional COVID cases were identified in relation to any of the three cases.

Dr. Robert Strang, COVID-19 Update, 6 October 2020

Dr. Robert Strang, COVID-19 Update, 6 October 2020

 

Numbers

Total new cases: 0

Total active: 3

Total cases: 1,089

Total hospitalized: 1

Total in ICU: 1

Total recovered: 1,021

Total deaths: 65

Total long-term-care facilities (LTCF) affected: 0

Total positive and negative tests to date: 99,199

Age range of patients: under 10 to over 90

Number of Epidemiologists in Dr. Strang’s department: 3

 

Testing, testing

The big takeaway from today’s briefing is that, as we enter flu season, the government plans to increase the ease and speed with which Nova Scotians exhibiting symptoms can be tested. Strang said it was “critically important” that we are able to detect and manage cases quickly. This doesn’t apply just to people who test positive, but to those who test negative — Strang said it’s important to get them “out of quarantine” and back to work or school as rapidly as possible.

Measures include increasing lab capacity in Halifax to 2,500 tests per day, but also, as of early November, providing the Cape Breton Regional Hospital with the equipment necessary to process Eastern Zone tests here on the Island (Strang said 400 per day) rather than sending them to Halifax.

The government also intends to expand most primary assessment centers around the province with “larger locations, longer hours and more staff.”

Also in the works: online booking for testing appointments, which is expected to take “about 10 minutes, down from [the current] 24 to 48 hours.”

A press release from the Department of Health and Wellness provided some additional testing statistics:

  • primary assessment centers have collected an average of 752 samples for testing per day since the beginning of September
  • current lab capacity in Halifax is 1,500 tests per day and an average of 958 samples per day have been processed since the beginning of September

In response to reporters’ questions, Premier McNeil explained that funding for the expansion of testing will come, in part, from federal funds intended to help provinces cover COVID costs, and the existing healthcare budget, but that some of it will be a matter of “restructuring the current workforce.”

To this end, the introduction of a “gargle and spit” COVID test piloted by British Columbia will help, because a broader range of healthcare workers will be able to administer it. According to the Department of Health and Wellness press release:

The IWK Health Centre will expand its primary assessment centre to double its capacity and increase the speed of testing for children. The expansion will be fully operational by the third week of October.

The IWK will also start using the gargle test tomorrow, Oct. 7, to diagnose COVID-19 in children ages four to 18. It is a more comfortable test for children. Once they’ve piloted the process, the gargle test will soon be available for children at all primary assessment centres.

Premier McNeil also said that the province could also use its added capacity to help other jurisdictions out with testing.

Asked if he was still considering testing workplaces or population groups of asymptomatic people, Strang said the possibility was still on the table, but Public Health had prioritized first, testing students, and now, testing symptomatic people during flu season.

 

No Popping Bubble

Strang stressed that the measures at our borders (namely, requiring all but essential workers to self-isolate for 14 days upon entering from outside the Atlantic Bubble), combined with public health protocols around distancing, handwashing and mask-wearing, have kept COVID under control in Atlantic Canada, even as cases are again spiking in Ontario and Quebec.

Both he and the premier, however, warned that this could change if we succumb to “mask fatigue” or cease following the other protocols.

Strang said what’s happening in Ontario, where they have so many cases they’ve “stopped contact tracing,” where hospitals are filling and cases, after initially seeming to be on the rise among younger people, are now starting to mount among older people, can serve as a warning.  And while he understands, he said, that some businesses are hurting, they “have to understand” they’re part of a bigger picture. “We don’t want to be where Quebec and Ontario are.”

In the face of COVID outbreaks elsewhere in the country — and south of the border — McNeil said there were no plans to open the Atlantic Bubble anytime soon.

Asked if he worried about the COVID misinformation being shared by no less a person than the president of the United States, Strang said:

“I have my own thoughts about that, I’ll keep them to myself.”

He then went on to say that he was concerned about anti-mask messaging and people getting their information from “less than valid” websites. He directed anyone with COVID questions to the provincial or federal websites.

 

Flight risk

A reporter raised the issue of a September 30 flight from Toronto to Halifax to Deer Lake, NL, asking why passengers were warned of potential COVID exposure by Newfoundland Public Health officials, rather than Nova Scotian.

Strang said the Public Health protocol for such notifications is that they be sent by the “receiving” province, even on multi-stage flights, and in this case, the receiving province was Newfoundland.

That said, he explained his team was looking at how it could be a part of the notification system in such situations in future.

 

Gobble, gobble

Strang discussed Thanksgiving through the Public Health lens, saying the limit on groups gathering without social distancing remains at 10, although he realized this could force some families to modify their holiday plans.

He suggested perhaps multiple sittings for dinner or a large family breaking up into smaller groups for the meal. He also suggested people who will not be traveling outside the Bubble for Thanksgiving this year might celebrating “Friendsgiving” with 10 non-family members.

He advised regular cleaning of high-touch surfaces; put the kibosh on buffet-style meals; suggested food should be served by one person, rather than having dishes pass from hand to hand; and said if it’s nice enough to eat outdoors, people should, and if that’s not possible, they should still socialize as much as possible outdoors.

People who are feeling unwell should not host or attending gatherings.

Those who choose to leave the Atlantic Bubble for Thanksgiving, must self-isolate for 14 days upon re-entry.

Asked if students who leave the Bubble would be subject to the same testing regime they faced in September on their return, Strang said they were encouraging students not to leave the province and felt that the numbers who chose to leave would be much lower than the numbers that entered the province at the beginning of term and that the testing regime would not be necessary.

 

Bag ban

Asked whether a provincial ban on single-use plastics bags would come into effect as planned at the end of October, Premier McNeil said it would.

 

Diversity

Asked if he was disappointed by the lack of diversity among candidates to replace him as leader of the provincial Liberals (so far, there are only two candidates, Labi Kousoulis and Iain Rankin) McNeil said he was elected with more women MLAs than any premier, had achieved gender parity on the family court bench, and had appointed women to most of the important positions in his own office.

The lack of diversity among his potential successors, he said, was a question for the Liberal Party.

McNeil eschewed “catchy” endings today and instead asked that Nova Scotians continue to look out for each other, that we feel thankful for each other this Thanksgiving and that we spare a thought for those we’ve lost.

(It might not fit on a coffee mug, but I liked it.)

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

 

 

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