NS COVID-19 Update for 28 October 2020


Premier Stephen McNeil began today’s briefing by noting that in the two weeks since the last one, Nova Scotia has announced 10 cases of COVID-19, five of which remain active. No one is in hospital.

Dr. Robert Strang said nine of those 10 cases were related to travel outside the Atlantic Bubble and the tenth case was a close contact of one of the travel-related cases. One of these cases was diagnosed and recovered in another province, but because the person was a Nova Scotia resident, it is included in our tally.

Strang said it is not unexpected that as cases rise elsewhere in Canada and the world “we will get more COVID coming here.”

Dr. Robert Strang



Total new cases: 0

Total active: 5

Total cases: 1,102

Total hospitalized: 0

Total in ICU: 0

Total recovered: 1,032

Total deaths: 65

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

Total positive and negative tests to date: 111,181

Age range of patients: under 10 to over 90

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



McNeil noted off the top that people in the Central Health Zone of Nova Scotia (read: HRM) can now book a COVID test online. The service will be available to residents of other health zones by mid-November.

The goal is to allow people to get tested and get results more quickly. (Jennifer Henderson reported in the Halifax Examiner today that the entire process — from getting a test to getting results — can take seven to 10 days.)

Dr. Strang said Nova Scotians feeling unwell should do the online assessment. In Central Zone “and soon elsewhere,” if the assessment determines they need to be tested, they can book an appointment online. People without internet access can continue to all 811. Strang also underlined that if the online assessment determines a person’s symptoms are serious, they will be instructed to call 811 and speak to a nurse directly.

Asked about the relatively low number of tests completed yesterday — under 850 — and how the government expected to reach its goal of 2,500 daily tests by mid-November, Strang said the online booking process was “critical” to meeting this goal, adding the NSHA is building capacity in testing centers and installing testing equipment at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital that will be able to process 400 tests per day. Strang says he can’t say for sure what capacity is today, although it’s probably close to 1,800 to 2,000 per day.

Asked why the move to online booking was important, Strang said it’s part of a longer-term project, that pre-dates COVID, of moving all medical test-booking online. Basically, he said, it should streamline and speed the process.

Asked if Nova Scotia would provide test results online as PEI does, Strang said people have the option to get their results via email now, if they test negative, although those who test positive are contacted by phone.


International students

In early November, the province will begin welcoming international students attending universities and private language schools found on Immigration and Citizenship Canada’s list of designated learning institutions (DLIs).

Students will be subject to “strict public health protocols,” says Strang and institutions must provide them with “comprehensive information” about travel and quarantine before they arrive and have “detailed protocols” in place to support them once they get here. Strang says this means getting them from the airport to a hotel or other living situation and supporting them through their mandatory 14-day isolation period.

The DLI list is updated every two weeks and Strang says the next update, scheduled for November 3, should see Nova Scotia post-secondary institutions added. As for private K-12 institutions, Strang says the Department of Education continues to work with them (he’s involved in the discussions) to make sure that if they want to bring in international students, they can do so following the same protocols.

Asked about testing, Strang said the international students will not be required to be tested the way university students were in September because they represent a much smaller group who will be arriving over a longer period of time.

Asked about students considering leaving the Bubble for the Christmas holidays, the Premier said they will be expected to self-isolate upon their return and if there is any change to the protocol, it will be communicated to them. Strang said “what January looks like” and the Christmas break are the subjects of his current talks with university presidents.


Tourist Travel

Strang addressed recent media stories about the Atlantic-Cuba Bubble — the brainchild of a Halifax travel agent — warning that, like Canada, many countries are seeing a second wave of COVID that is not going to be over “anytime soon,” in fact, he said we can expect it to be around for the next “two or three months” and we have no idea what 2021 will look like.

Strang noted that the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to advise against international travel and federal regulations require international travelers to self-isolate for 14 days before recommending that Nova Scotians limit their travel to the Atlantic Bubble.

Asked if he’d had many inquiries about the Atlantic-Cuba Bubble, he said he’d heard from three people and he had told them the same thing he’d just told reporters.

Later, a reporter asked about the possibility of introducing widespread testing at the border with an eye to shortening the 14-day quarantine period for visitors.

Strang said their first priority remains making sure residents get access to tests and ensuring “timely turnaround” of results. But once they’ve achieved this, he says, they are open to using testing capacity for other purposes and border testing is something they are looking at. The short answer, he says, is “lots of active discussion on that.”

Asked if he was prepared to go as far as his colleague in PEI, Dr. Heather Morrison, and say the requirement to self-isolate is unlikely to change before the Christmas season, Strang said he was not prepared to go as far as Dr. Morrison, and would say only that he meets regularly with his Atlantic counterparts and the premier meets with his.

As far as the possibility of shortening the quarantine, Strang said it’s been keeping the Atlantic Provinces safe, but that they are watching with interest pilot projects using testing and monitoring as a replacement for a stricter quarantine and their policy will evolve with the science.


Halloween, etc

Strang says the impact of unsafe social gatherings is visible elsewhere in Canada and reiterated the importance of handwashing, self-distancing and mask-wearing. He said he’s heard stories about people celebrating Thanksgiving while respecting the protocols and he thanked those people who chose to “put community first.”

He noted that the province’s detailed guidance for trick-or-treaters can be found on the Nova Scotia COVID website before revisiting what he called a few key things, including:

Don’t go out if you feel unwell

For kids, stay in groups of 10 at most and keep 6-feet away from other groups of 10

Make sure your hands are clean and avoid touching surfaces like doorknobs (knock instead) and if you’re distributing treats from a communal bowl, use tongs.

Children trick-or-treating indoors (like in an apartment building) should include a non-medical mask as part of their costume.

Adults should limit parties to 10 guests, the same with groups in restaurants.

Strang said specific advice will follow for other religious and civic holidays, but his general advice is to socialize safely.



Strang was asked about workers at Irving Shipyard refusing work this week after discovering that a contractor from Quebec had been granted an exemption from self-isolating and was circulating among them.

Strang was asked what he considered when granting exemptions, how many have been revoked, if any has ever led to a case of COVID in the province and if people worried about working with exempted workers should be allowed to opt out.

Strang said exemptions may be granted for “essential workers,” a category that can include workers from outside the province needed to perform certain tasks. Such people must maintain “as much distance as possible” from anyone else on the worksite and if this is not possible, follow strict protocols on mask-wearing and handwashing. Off the site, such workers must remain self isolated.

Strang described the incident at the shipyard as “a communications issue.”

He said there have been no COVID cases related to exemptions, but agreed that employers should communicate with their workers about them. He said that was made “very clear” to Irving. As for employees who feel unsafe working with exempted workers, Strang suggested that there are processes in place to deal with workers who feel an employer is placing them in an unsafe position.

He said exemptions had been revoked for “two or three” Irving executives in the past, and though no other exemptions have been revoked, he always has the ability to do so in the case of non-compliance.


Teacher burnout

The premier was asked about the results of an anonymous questionnaire distributed by CBC journalists to teachers in Atlantic Canada and Eastern Ontario. The story (which I had to look up) says about 700 NS teachers responded and “about a third of them were either thinking about retirement or changing professions.”

(I am uncomfortable with this whole idea of the CBC designing and distributing “questionnaires” even though I understand why the broadcaster would resort to such methods. Teachers, like all other government employees — like CBC employees for that matter — are very reluctant to speak to the media.)

A RadCan reporter asked Premier McNeil what extra supports he intended to provide teachers to help them better cope with COVID restrictions and regulations.

The premier said they’ve continued to invest in public education and added “extra supports.” (He also said a lot of other stuff but it didn’t really amount to an answer — it was more about thanking educators for their work.)



Strang was asked about a group of surfers from Quebec reported to have entered the province without self-isolating.

Strang said people can come in from outside the Bubble as long as they follow the rules. He said enforcement responsibility rests with the police and the RCMP are involved in this particular case.

Most people, he said, are following the rules.


Nursing homes

Strang was asked about plans in the event of an outbreak in a nursing home, particularly, he was asked if there was truth in the rumor that patients might be removed from individual facilities and placed in “regional care centers.”

Strang said the Health Authority is developing such regional centers but that he didn’t know the details and that it was a question for the NSHA and Continuing Care.

The briefing ended with the usual, scripted remarks by the premier but I thought his (apparently) off-the-cuff remark — that he was thinking of dressing up as Dr. Strang for Halloween — was better.