Nova Scotia COVID-19 Update for 9 November 2020

Briefing

Premier Stephen McNeil announced that since the last update on November 3, the province has identified 15 new cases of COVID-19, including the one announced today. The province has 16 active cases, and McNeil said they are “very concerned” about the number creeping up and the potential exposure that might exist.

Unusually for these briefings, McNeil offered a few details about the two main clusters Public Health is currently following. One, he said, is related to travel outside the Atlantic Bubble:

People came here and did not isolate alone. They quarantined at a residence, perhaps with best intentions, but exposed others in the household. That stops today. Effective immediately, if you are coming into our province from outside the Atlantic Bubble, you must quarantine for 14 days alone, away from people who are not quarantining.

If you are not able to isolate alone, then everyone in that household isolates together for 14 days. What that means is what it says: you don’t go to work, you don’t go to school and you don’t go to the grocery store or a restaurant.

Dr. Robert Strang the chief medical officer of health explained that if a traveler self-isolates for five days and then moves into a household with other people, those people must then self-isolate for a full 14 days — not just the remaining eight days of the traveler’s quarantine period.

Dr. Robert Strang

Strang said this does not apply to essential workers, like truckers and emergency responders, but both he and the premier said they were considering tightening restrictions on rotational workers, perhaps following the Newfoundland model, where workers self-isolate for 5 days and are then tested. Strang said they are also looking at tightening restrictions around specialized workers and compassionate exemptions.

The second cluster, according to Strang, is in the Clayton Park/Rockingham area over to Kearney Lake Road (identified in the close captioning of the livestream as “Corning Lake Road”), between the Bedford Basin and Highway 102, Bayer’s Lake (or Bears Lake, according to the CC) and Lakeside. The premier said he is “worried about the level of exposure in this area” and the province is deploying its mobile testing to unit to ensure people get tested faster and is prepared to establish a community testing center, if it becomes necessary.

Strang said that while nine cases, to date, have been connected to the Clayton Park cluster, there have been potential exposures throughout HRM, in Dartmouth, Bedford, Bayer’s Lake and downtown Halifax.

Strang says there are three specific locations related to this new cluster where they have enough information — including a positive case from one of them — to ask that everyone present during the specified times should call 811 and arrange to get tested whether they are experiencing symptoms or not. The three locations are:

The Bitter End bar in Halifax on November 2 between 9PM and closing

The Montana’s restaurant in Bayer’s Lake on October 25 between 6PM and closing.

St. Andrew’s United Church on Cobourg Road during an All Nations Full Gospel church service on October 25 at 6PM.

Strang said the NSHA has dedicated testing facilities at the Halifax Infirmary specifically for people who were at these locations and they’ve also taken steps to ensure people without health insurance can be tested free of charge.

Strang called the recent clusters “a wake up call for all of us,” because when it comes to COVID, although we’ve been able to go about our lives “relatively normally,” things can change very quickly:

We are, right now, at a tipping point here in Nova Scotia. I have had a very anxious weekend. We are at a critical tipping point that we all need to pay attention to and if you didn’t pay attention after our briefing last week, you need to sit up and pay attention now. We all need to make changes if we’re going to change our trajectory.

Strang said the change to the self-isolation rule is the only one being made today, but he’s engaged in conversations about further restrictions, should they prove necessary and called on all Nova Scotians to step-up their public health measures: stay home if you’re unwell (one of the new cases is related to a symptomatic person who chose to socialize), wash hands frequently, practice good cough and sneeze etiquette, wear a mask (properly) in all indoor settings, keep six feet away from people not within your social bubble.

Ideally, he said, people will have only one 10-person bubble, particularly right now in Metro Halifax.

He also said that non-essential travel in and out of Atlantic Canada “needs to stop” and this includes non-essential holiday travel. If you invite people from outside the Bubble into your home for the holidays, you will all be under a 14-day self-isolation.

Asked what the “next steps” would be, if stricter rules became necessary, Strang said knowing that the virus is most likely to spread through social activities involving large numbers of people in close contact without masks, and that we are now at “full capacity” in restaurants, and gathering in larger groups for sports or cultural events, “that’s where we’ll focus if we have to close down.”

 

Numbers

(Due to a technical issue, the full number of completed tests and negative test results from laboratories outside of Central Zone is not included in today’s testing numbers. Numbers will be updated when the issue is resolved and the information is available.)

Total new cases: 1

Total active: 16

Total cases: 1,114

Total hospitalized: 0

Total in ICU: 0

Total recovered: 1,048

Total deaths: 65

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

Total positive and negative tests to date: 118,752

Age range of patients: under 10 to over 90

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

 

Best policy

Strang noted in his opening remarks that it was critical that people be open and honest, if Public Health calls, about where they’ve been and whom they’ve been with and when. He said they were “having some challenges with that” and wanted people to realize that Public Health’s only priority is to contain the spread of the virus.

Later, in response to a reporter’s question, Strang said that some people “don’t understand purpose of Public Health” and are “not comfortable getting call from a government agency,” especially one asking questions about where they were, who they were with and what they were doing.

 

Community spread?

Asked by a reporter if the new clusters indicate community spread has already begun in the province, Strang said until Public Health has completed its investigations, he is not prepared to say there is broad community spread, but he’s also not prepared to say there’s not.

Strang said we’ve had community exposures, but what he’s seeing in the Clayton Park area is groups that are socially connected, and Public Health is “trying to tease apart” the connections to determine the initial source of infection.

Strang said we may have community spread, but we have to let the work proceed before we impose “unnecessary restrictions.” He described the situation as “fluid” and said his advice could well change over the next 48 hours.

 

Schools

Asked if Public Health was worried about COVID entering the schools in Clayton Park and if they would consider closing them, Strang said they were very well aware of the “potential implications” of the COVID threat for schools and while none of their cases is school age, there may be a need in the coming weeks to enhance restrictions or go to a blended model in a school or community of schools.

Asked about the protocol for communicating with parents, Strang said there’s an established model in place for communicating with parents in the case of staff, student or teacher exposure and that should it be necessary to go to a blended model, while they will have to do so “fairly quickly,” they won’t “spring it” on parents.

Premier McNeil added that we are in a much better position to respond to a COVID exposure in a school now than we were during the first wave.

 

Enforcement

Asked about enforcement at the border, Strang said they’re “actively working” on strengthening enforcement around the current program, which requires people entering Nova Scotia from outside the Bubble to complete the NS Safe Check-in form and respond to a daily email confirming they are self-isolating. Cases where people have failed to cooperate with this protocol have been referred to authorities in the past he said.

The premier added that while the vast majority of people follow the rules, there have been enforcement actions.

 

Cluster

In response to a reporter’s question, Strang said the Clayton Park cluster involved nine people, all of whom were self-isolating. The work of Public Health, he said, is now about “trying to look backward” to see who might have been exposed.

The premier thanked the private businesses — like the Bitter End — that have been taking customers’ names and contact information, adding that the Bitter End “took a pro-active approach” to the potential exposure and is having everyone who works there tested. He asked businesses to “continue to record who comes in and when they’re there.”

Strang couldn’t say how many people are being tested because the list is constantly growing as investigators do their work.

 

Quarantine

Asked why people staying in households with people in quarantine had previously been permitted to go out and about, Strang said when there was less COVID activity outside the Bubble, he judged there was “minimal risk” involved in letting household members go about their daily activity. Now, into the second wave, he says the risk is higher and it’s reasonable to extend the quarantine to the rest of the household.

 

Contact tracing

A reporter noted that some provinces have suspended contact tracing due to the high volume of cases and asked about Nova Scotia’s capacity for contact tracing.

Strang said the province’s objective is to continue contact tracing “as long and as much as possible.” He said Nova Scotia Public Health has federal funding to add up to 100 positions for contact tracing in the short term. He says federal surge capacity programs could further supplement capacity.

He said they are “actively building” contact tracing capacity because they consider it to be of fundamental importance in controlling COVID.

 

Ontario

Strang said the health authority and the government of Ontario have “finally” reached an agreement to help Ontario with its testing, but that the priority will always be testing Nova Scotians.

 

Pfizer

Strang said he had not heard Pfizer’s announcement regarding a potential vaccine and could not comment on it.