NS COVID-19 Briefing for November 17


The headline from today’s COVID update with Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang is that we now have community spread in the Central Zone of the province. Dr. Strang said Public Health has been unable to trace seven of the cases announced recently to travel and they “have to conclude it’s local transmission. ” He outlined the trajectory the disease has taken since September:

September — 3 new cases

October — 21 new cases

November — 42 new cases, and the month is only half over.

Dr. Robert Strang, NS COVID Update 2020.11.17

Dr. Robert Strang

Strang said he wasn’t going to bother with cumulative totals because the numbers from the first wave of the virus are no longer relevant and in response to a reporter’s question said we are at the beginning of the second wave.

But he also said it’s early enough that we can control what happens next by “stepping up our game” and adhering to Public Health measures, which he says we may be tired of hearing but which constitute our best defense against the virus. Here’s my paraphrase of what he said:

Frequent and thorough handwashing.

Everyone who can wear a mask must wear one indoors, Strang says the science shows it protects those  around us (the Centers for Disease Control in the States goes further, saying masks also protect those who wear them.) Make sure it’s effective — two or three layers, no face shields, no gators — and that you’re wearing it properly. Asked by a reporter whether he was prepared to advise people to wear three-layered masks, Strang repeated his earlier view that the benefit from the third layer is marginal and that, while going forward they will look to procure three-layer masks, the key is to a) wear a mask and b) wear it properly, covering your nose and mouth.

Maintain social distance of 2 meters (6 feet) from people outside your 10-person social bubble.

Respect gathering limits: no more than 10 people in your social bubble. Ideally, said Strang, everyone would belong to one social bubble, but he knows this isn’t practical. Nevertheless, he said everyone should try to limit their social contacts as much as possible.

If you feel unwell stay home, do the online assessment or call 811. Strang said even if you have only one mild symptom, stay home for 24 hours and see how it progresses. He said he recognized there were “challenges” to being off work for many people and said they were looking for ways to support those individuals.” Strang also appealed to workplaces and employers, some of whom, he’s heard, having been telling people to come to work even if they’re not feeling well. “That’s not helpful,” said Strang who asked employers to be tolerant and support their employees. Asked later what aid the provincial government would provide people who cannot afford to stay home from work, Premier Stephen McNeil pointed to the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) introduced by the federal government in September which provides $450 (after tax) per week for a maximum of two, not necessarily consecutive weeks.

Don’t leave bubble, stay home and enjoy what Nova Scotia has to offer and don’t invite those from outside bubble to be guests in your home, but if you must, understand the entire household must self-isolate.



Dr. Strang gave an update on the two, school-related cases announced last night, one at Creighton Junior High in Cherry Brook and one at Auburn Drive High in Cole Harbour. He began by confirming that both cases are students and both students are self-isolating. He also said that the school cases are connected to the previously identified Clayton Park and Bitter End clusters through “adults in a workplace.”

He said all the students’ close contacts — anyone who shared a classroom or a bus with the individuals — have also been told to self-isolate and are being tested. In answer to a reporter’s question, Strang said seven teachers at the Junior High and two at the high school had been identified as close contacts. He didn’t have the breakdown of students by school, but said in total something like 53-55 students were also self-isolating as are any other close contacts of the students (like family members).

Strang stressed that COVID in a school was “not unexpected,” and said that Public Health and the Department of Educations had been working since summer to establish protocols and communications for such a situation and that these have been followed. He said the affected classrooms had been closed for cleaning, but the schools remain open and other students can continue to attend.

Asked when they might switch to a blended model, which would see students in grade 9 and higher stay home while younger students remained in school — Strang said they will continue to do as they’ve done with these school outbreaks and decide, based on the epidemiology, what steps are necessary. The premier pointed out that students from the two affected schools who are self-isolating are effectively in a “blended model.”

Asked what he’d tell parents who are keeping their kids out of the affected schools anyway, the Premier said he understood their concerns but he wanted them to know the government was doing all it could to keep students safe. Asked if he felt the high school model, which sees students moving from class to class, might need to be tightened, the Premier said the Department of Education is constantly monitoring the situation and if it becomes necessary to modify the model, it will.

Strang said there was no need for the “general community” to take further action — like canceling sporting events or banning participants from the two schools (which he’d heard was happening.)

He said he was also hearing speculation about the families involved which he termed “wrong” and “inappropriate.” He said a number of rumors had come his way — in particular, a rumor that other students had tested positive for COVID — and that these are unfounded. The two cases announced yesterday are the first involving school-age children.

Strang said it was important to “treat people with kindness and compassion.”


Young people

The other main message from today’s briefing was addressed by Strang directly to “young people” in the 18-35 age category (which apparently includes all the individuals involved in the linked clusters in Clayton Park and the Bitter End.)

Strang called upon young people to be “COVID protectors” for the rest of the province, noting that even if they felt they were not at high risk from the virus themselves, they were sure to know people who were.

This cohort is “mobile and very social,” he said, but he called upon them to reduce the amount of time they spend socializing each week, keep their social circles small and “understand the impact of substance use” on their adherence to Public Health measures.

It’s the same message the German government is sending its young people, although the Germans are being uncharacteristically funny about it:

The German Government’s new #COVID19 campaign is very clever and, dare I say it, funny.pic.twitter.com/bP8jTNFShr

— Richard Chambers (@newschambers) November 14, 2020


Rotational workers

Strang was asked why Nova Scotia hasn’t followed PEI’s example and changed the rules for rotational workers (although PEI only announced this measure today, along with mandatory face masks in indoor public spaces, a protocol that has been in place in Nova Scotia since summer).  According to CTV, PEI chief medical officer of health Dr. Heather Morrison announced that:

Going forward, rotational workers travelling onto P.E.I. are to avoid public places until their 14-day self-isolation period is complete. That includes schools, stores, malls, banks, places of worship, gyms and restaurants.

Rotational workers also should not visit or host people from outside their household, until their self-isolation period is complete.

During the last briefing, Strang had said Nova Scotia was working on a testing strategy like Newfoundland’s for rotational workers, and today he said that involved working out the “logistics” around testing, capacity in primary assessment centers, lab capacity, etc.


Restrictions, enforcement

Asked how close he was to closing some things down, Strang said he wouldn’t speculate on that.

Asked what would be the first restrictions he’d reinstate, Strang said the highest risk for COVID involved social gatherings which would “give you an indication of where we may apply some enhanced restrictions.”

Asked whether he intended to step up enforcement, Strang said enforcement has always been part of their approach, but that their inspectors — which include those from a number of departments and agencies, like gaming and occupational health and safety — have had more presence in Downtown Halifax lately. He said his department is always talking to police about their role in enforcing Public Health regulations.


Holiday parties

Asked if hotels and restaurants should be taking bookings for holiday parties, Strang said there are gathering limits and rules around how such events can take place, however, he said, there is no guarantee that those rules will be the same come mid-December.


Everything we do

The Premier said the answer to keeping the virus at bay is “in our own hands.” He said he not only won’t be opening the Atlantic Bubble, he “won’t think twice about shutting down the economy again” if it becomes necessary.

He noted that there are now 300,000 cases in Canada and 11,000 deaths.

He warned those who are not taking COVID seriously, particularly young people “living their lives as though COVID isn’t here,” that their actions could impact the livelihoods of “many, many Nova Scotian families.”

“Everything we do,” he said, “impacts what COVID does.”