NS COVID-19 Briefing for 13 November 2020


Today’s COVID briefing was as much about Premier Stephen McNeil’s decision to call the house into session for one day — December 18 — in order to prorogue until February 2021, but I will deal with the disease first before returning to the politics.

Nova Scotia announced two new cases of COVID-19 today and 18 active cases. One of the new cases was in the Northern Zone, is related to travel outside the Atlantic Bubble and the individual has been self-isolating as required. The second is in the Central Zone and is under investigation although, according to Dr. Robert Strang, preliminary indications suggest this case is not related to the cluster of cases previously announced in Clayton Park.

Dr. Robert Strang

Dr. Robert Strang

Strang said he is feeling “less anxious” about this cluster as they’ve discovered no new related cases since Tuesday and have had good uptake for testing. Strang says they will continue to monitor the situation and to try and determine the ultimate source of the outbreak but there is nothing to suggest broader community spread has occurred. He said this type of situation is exactly what Public Health has been planning for — they know that with cases rising across the province we will see more cases here and the objective is to detect it early and prevent wide community spread. He said that even though it “wasn’t perfect,” adherence to public health measures limited the ability of the virus, even where it was present “in a family,” to spread further.

Premier McNeil said that as of today, online booking for COVID tests is available at all primary testing facilities across the province and the IWK, as is the “gargle” COVID test for children.

Strang said plans were put in place for a temporary assessment center in the Bayer’s Lake Business Centre, but subsequent developments allowed them to “stand down” from that, although they will have access to the space if it’s needed in future.

He said our “collective fate” is in our hands and we need to do everything we can to avoid ending up in the situation we are seeing in other provinces, where cases are spiking. He says that while everybody is not at high risk for COVID, everything we do impacts how much we put other people — seniors, those with underlying health conditions, healthcare workers — at risk.

“We need to think about each other and how we’re collectively going to do the things that are necessary to keep our communities safe.”

Largely, he said, this will mean minimizing our social contacts and social circles in the next six to eight weeks, so that even though COVID may come, it’s not going to “get a strong foothold” in our communities.



Total new cases: 2

Total active: 19

Total cases: 1,136

Total hospitalized: 0

Total in ICU: 0

Total recovered: 1,052

Total deaths: 65

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

Total positive and negative tests to date: 121,927

Age range of patients: under 10 to over 90

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



Strang said Public Health is fielding a lot of questions about what constitutes “essential” travel. He said he can’t couldn’t provide an exact definition, but people should ask themselves why they’re traveling, how important it is or why they’re bringing somebody into the Atlantic Bubble. If it’s not “necessary,” then Strang says they’re asking that the travel be deferred.

Anyone who does travel must self-isolate for 14 days upon their return. If a traveler can be kept completely separate from everyone else in a household — in a basement apartment, for example  — the rest of the household is not subject to the quarantine period. But if the person is in contact with other household members, the entire household must self-isolate.

Asked whether travel into or out of the Bubble for the Christmas holidays would be considered essential, Strang said that the 14-day quarantine will apply. This includes students returning to their homes outside the Bubble. He said this message has been clearly communicated on campuses. As for students coming home for Christmas, Strang said they’re best choice is to “stay where they’re at,” although he recognizes this is a tough choice to make and will not be possible for everybody.

Strang was asked about Christmas shopping and said that his office will be putting out “clear guidance” around the holidays in the next week or so, but that the responsibility to shop while respecting public health rules will fall on both store and mall owners and individual Nova Scotians.



Exempted workers — like military personnel — are not subject to a 14-day quarantine period if they’re traveling for work, nor are the members of their household subject to quarantine, as long as none of them has traveled outside Atlantic Canada.

Rotational workers — defined as people who leave the Atlantic Bubble for work up to a maximum of four weeks on/four weeks off — are subject to a modified self-isolation period, during which they are permitted outside the house as long as they stay within their family bubble. Their family members are not subject to self-quarantine.

Strang said the province is working on a testing strategy like Newfoundland’s for rotational workers.



Strang said they’ve also been asked about testing everyone entering the province, but said this is neither realistic nor feasible for a number of reasons, chiefly the limitations of one-time rapid tests, which would not allow the testing of large numbers of people or provide results sufficiently accurate to allow them to lift the quarantine requirement.

Asked about testing numbers, Strang said there have been some “technological difficulties” getting negative results back to people by email within their targeted time of 48 hours to a maximum of 72 hours, but he understands those problems have been solved.

Strang was also asked to expand on his statement during the last presser that he was ensuring COVID testing was free of charge for everyone. He said this chiefly affecting foreign students in the province, some of whom “might not have health insurance.” (Why do foreign students not have health insurance? What happens if they actually get COVID or any other serious illness?)



Strang encouraged Nova Scotians to download the COVID app. He said there have been 5 million downloads nationally and while he can’t say how many exactly were here in NS, he’s sure there’s room for broader adoption.

He said the app warns you that you might have been exposed and advises you to monitor yourself for symptoms and is simply an additional tool in Public Health’s arsenal.



Asked if Nova Scotia is prepared for potential outbreaks in long-term-care facilities (LTCF), like those we’ve been seeing in Ontario and Manitoba, Strang said his department is working with Continuing Care on “clear guidance” for LTCFs. He says they’re working at bringing in periodic testing of staff and have used federal COVID funding to invest in infection control. He said one of his colleagues, an infectious disease physician, is now supporting LTCFs across the province with “her expertise” in infection control.

That said, he reiterated that the best way to keep LTCFs safe is to keep our communities safe.


Canadian Short Track Team

Strang said the Canadian Short Track Team has been permitted to train in Nova Scotia, but only under very tight protocols and a modified quarantine that sees these “elite athletes” leaving their hotels only to go to the training facility where they are not in contact with the public.

Asked why the public wasn’t informed about this arrangement, Strang said they weren’t “hiding” the information, the reporter (Tim Bousquet of the Examiner) was the first one to ask. (Editorial comment: there’s a difference between “not hiding” information and “proactively disclosing” information and the latter is preferable by far.)

Strang says national athletic organizations see Nova Scotia, with its low COVID rates, as a good place to train and he considers this “a good news story.”


Fall sitting

Premier Stephen McNeil was asked a number of questions about his decision to prorogue the fall session of the House of Assembly on December 18, ensuring he will not face questions about his handling of the COVID crisis (or anything else) prior to the selection of a new Liberal leader in February. (Ours is the only legislature in the country that hasn’t sat since the beginning of the COVID crisis.)

McNeil’s answer was basically that it’s not fair to pass legislation this fall because the new premier should have a clean slate and a chance to set his own “path.”

NS Premier Stephen McNeil

Premier Stephen McNeil

He also said that his “number one focus,” as he said when he announced his resignation, is COVID and he’s sticking to that. (I guess we should be grateful his number one focus  isn’t catching up on old episodes of The Great Canadian Bake Off, but the implication seems to be that it could be.)

He also insisted his tightly controlled press conferences — such as this one I am currently transcribing — are somehow a substitute for legislative debate and Question Period and that he is challenged “every day” on his government’s response to COVID.

He said he’s grateful for the “kindness” and the “thanks” that he’s received from Nova Scotians.

He said he’s been premier for seven years. He said it’s been the highlight of his professional career. He said he’s proud of his record and doesn’t think his successor will have anything to answer for when he takes office.

He said a quarterly economic update would be published.

He said he didn’t announce the plan to prorogue when he announced his resignation because it might have been necessary to go back to the House for “a policy position that we would need the authority of the legislature to do.”

In my head, this is of a piece with this province’s broken access to information system and the generally secretive nature of this government. I didn’t see an immediate response from the provincial Tories, but their leader, Tim Houston, noted on November 3 that the house had been shut for 283 days (#WhatAreTheLiberalsHiding) and this week, he’s in court this week, trying to get answers about provincial support for the Yarmouth Ferry.

NDP leader Gary Burrill put out a press release this afternoon, stating:

It is entirely disrespectful of the people of Nova Scotia for the Premier to avoid a fall sitting, evade public scrutiny, and limit the work of democratically elected MLAs in this way. There are a number of critical issues, from rent control to long-term care improvements, that need to be brought before the legislature and won’t be, because of the decisions of this Liberal government.

And that’s me for another week. Enjoy your weekend, everyone!