NS COVID Update for 20 November 2020


Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang announced stricter COVID-19 measures in a targeted area of the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) and across the province as Public Health announced five new cases today (including one announced yesterday evening) and 28 active cases. That’s nine new cases since the last briefing on November 17 and 51 cases since the beginning of November. Strang says community spread is here “and is rapidly becoming widespread.”

Pressed by a reporter to be more specific, Strang said there are a “handful of cases” maybe “10 to 12,” where they can’t explain how an individual was exposed, which suggests it might be “fairly widespread” in the 18-35 age category, but that we’re not where provinces outside the Bubble are yet and still have an opportunity to “change our trajectory.”

Dr. Robert Strang

Dr. Robert Strang

Strang said he is worried for the potential of the situation to “snowball” to the point where COVID overwhelms our healthcare system and said we should look to what is happening to provinces outside the Atlantic Bubble.



Public Health has now identified three cases in the Auburn Drive High School family of schools in Cole Harbour — two cases in Auburn Drive High School and one in Graham Creighton Junior High. All schools in the family were closed today for a “deep cleaning” and Public Health continues to test close contacts of the identified cases, but Auburn Drive High School and Graham Creighton Junior High will be closed for the next two weeks (until December 7) out of what Strang called “an abundance of caution” and as what the Premier called a “precautionary measure,” given the cases in the schools and the surrounding communities, and the anxieties of families, many of whom have been keeping their children at home this week. The school gymnasiums and sports programs will also be closed for 14 days.


Western HRM

Strang said it is not travel or schools or arts and sports activities or essential workers that is driving the community spread but socializing by adults aged 18-35 in their homes and in restaurants and bars. Strang said they did not want to shut down the entire economy again, recognizing the toll this takes on people financially and otherwise, and he stressed that he was not blaming bars and restaurants, most of which are doing a good job of following the Public Health protocols. But he called on Nova Scotians to keep their social circles small and introduced tighter restrictions in the western half of HRM to enforce this.

The area in question stretches from the municipality’s borders with Lunenburg County to the west and as far east as Porter’s Lake, up to Hants County to the north (including Mount Uniacke and Endfield). It does not include the Eastern Shore from Porter’s Lake to Eecum Seecum. (There will be a map on the Coronavirus website if this description leaves you as puzzled as it does me — but my geographic knowledge of Halifax is really bad.)

Within this area, which is where cases have been discovered, new restrictions will take effect at one minute after midnight on Monday, November 23 and, said Strang, “if all goes well,” will be lifted on Monday, December 21 — 28 days or two incubation periods later. Under the new restrictions:

  • five people can gather in a close social group without physical distancing, down from 10 (this applies in bars and restaurants too)
  • a household may have more than five members but they may only go outside the home in groups of five
  • households can only have a maximum of five visitors at a time
  • onsite gatherings at long-term care facilities can have a maximum of five people (including residents and staff), down from 10
  • adult day programs for seniors who live in the community will not be allowed
  • 25 people, down from 50, can gather with physical distancing for informal indoor and outdoor social events like a neighborhood street party
  • indoor events run by a recognized business or organization can have 50 per cent of the venue’s capacity to a maximum of 100 people with physical distancing, down from 200
  • outdoor events run by a recognized business or organization can have 150 people with physical distancing, down from 250

Bar staff in Halifax, even if asymptomatic, will be tested over seven days, starting next week. Testing is on a voluntary basis and Strang said they are hoping for strong uptake and are working with the Restaurant Association to determine how many late night, licensed operations are involved and how many staffers, but he said a ballpark figure would be 500 to 600 people.

(You can find further details on the provincial COVID website.)



Here in Cape Breton, we will be subject to a number of restrictions Strang is imposing province-wide. These include the following restrictions for long-term-care facilities (LTCFs) for Nov. 23 to Dec. 21:

  • residents can only leave their facilities for medical/dental appointments
  • a registered designated caregiver can take a resident for a sight-seeing car ride but they must wear masks and cannot include additional passengers or stops for shopping, visits, etc., of any kind or use drive-thrus
  • a facility can continue sight-seeing outings using their vehicles, but physical distancing is required, no other passengers are permitted in the vehicle and there are no stops of any kind including use of drive-thrus

Full-service restaurants (as opposed to fast-food outlets) and licensed establishments across the province must collect accurate contact information on each patron, including date and time of visit, name and phone number. (If you visit with a group, one member must provide contact information.) This data must be retained for four weeks from date of visit for contact-tracing purposes. There is no end date for this requirement.

People who travel outside the Atlantic Bubble for what is considered “unnecessary” travel must self-isolate in a completely separate space with no contact or shared living spaces with the rest of the household. If this is not possible, the entire household must self-isolate or the traveler must self-isolate in another location.

Strang said his office had received a number of calls since announcing this requirement, so they are now recognizing the following types of travel as “necessary” travel, which does not require the entire household to self-isolate as long as strict protocols for shared spaces are followed:

  • people who must travel for work that cannot be done virtually and don’t meet the criteria for rotational workers
  • legal custody arrangements that require parents or children to travel for visits
  • essential, specialized health-care treatment that is not available in Atlantic Canada
  • participating in an essential legal proceeding outside Atlantic Canada when virtual attendance is not possible
  • students studying outside of Atlantic Canada whose primary or family residence is in Nova Scotia

Strang said they are strongly discouraging people from traveling outside the Bubble if it’s not necessary and in response to a reporter’s question said have been encouraging Nova Scotians for some time to “stay close to home.” (PEI and New Brunswick are now actively discouraging travel outside the province.)

Strang said he is in conversation with the other Atlantic Provinces about adopting a “consistent approach” to rotational workers.

(You can find further details on the provincial COVID website.)



Asked if the province would reinstate the moratorium on evictions, Premier McNeil said Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Chuck Porter would have something to say about that next week.



Asked if Nova Scotia had succeeded in increasing its testing capacity to 2,500 PCR swab tests per day, Strang said it had.

Asked about rapid tests, Strang said they are “not as rapid as you think,” nor are they as reliable as PCR tests but that they were looking at using them in testing higher risk groups — like rotational workers — or with “large outbreaks” where they can “tolerate less reliability” in the results. He said they will use them “if necessary” when testing bar staff, but prefer to use standard PCR tests.

Asked why Public Health didn’t just test everyone present at a potential-exposure location, Strang said most such locations are large retail environments where there is little prolonged contact between people and which are considered low-risk, so people are asked to monitor for symptoms rather than self-isolate or get tested.

Strang said, as he has before, that testing large groups of asymptomatic people is not a good use of testing capacity, adding that they must maintain “surge capacity” as there will be “more and more people coming forward with symptoms.” (He didn’t connect this to flu season, but I’ve heard this connection made before.)



Strang was asked for more detail about the cases in the schools — namely, how the virus was transmitted, whether it happened in a classroom or on a bus, whether students were sitting close to each other. Strang said they don’t know for sure and can’t be definitive about where transmission took place. He got uncharacteristically testy, saying he knows there have been instances of people who tested positive being harassed on social media and that he was legally bound to protect Nova Scotians’ privacy.



Asked (again) about increasing enforcement in bars, Strang said they already have “strong enforcement” in place, that alcohol and gaming inspectors are in bars “on a regular basis” and that they are working on a plan to bring in inspectors from other departments — like food inspection and occupational health and safety, and in some instances have already done so.

Strang said it’s key to have inspectors out late night on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.



Asked if he were concerned about crowded shopping malls and office and family parties over the Christmas season, Strang said he was certainly concerned, but that most retail outlets have been doing a good job of mandating masks and limiting numbers and enforcing social distancing (although he’s heard “too many stories of people not wearing masks”) and that any gatherings must take place under existing protocols.

But he made it clear that if the epidemiology worsens, he’s prepared to impose harsher restrictions.

He also asked Nova Scotians to ask themselves, “How much shopping do you need to do?” (In fact, he noted a number of times today that the onus of keeping people safe can’t be placed entirely on business owners, that customers also need to step up.)



Asked if the province had a plan to deliver vaccines, once they became available, Strang said there is no certainty of getting a vaccine and even if one is proven effective, they don’t know what the timing of it will be or how much each province will receive, except that the feds have made procurement agreements for a couple of potential candidates and have told the provinces to be ready to vaccinate “very small number of people” as of January.

Strang said vaccination will initially target those most at risk, like healthcare workers, according to an approved priority list that will be consistent across the country.

He also said that no province is prepared to handle the Pfizer vaccine (he didn’t name it but I recognized it from the description) which must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, but that the federal government is in the process of procuring one cold storage unit per province.



Asked why, given what happened at Northwood during the first wave, people were still being permitted to visit LTCFs, Strang said there were protocols in place to make visits safer — not just anybody can walk in, you have to make an appointment, there’s health screening and handwashing — but that they had to balance what he called the “substantive harm” done to seniors, particularly to their mental health, by the very tight lockdown during the first wave.



There were questions about the border in Amherst (the checkpoints will remain in place throughout the winter) and uptake of the COVID app (Strang continues to encourage people to use it but says it’s only one of their tools).

I also noted some discrepancies with the closed captions today that I think must have caused some alarm for the hard of hearing — like the example below. Strang was talking about “cases”:

Screen shot from Nov. 20 NS COVID briefing



Last word

We’re at a “critical point” in the trajectory of the second wave, Public Health is taking a “targeted” and “focused” approach to begin with, concentrating on “urban and suburban HRM” but if the epidemiology worsens, Strang says “nothing is off the table” in terms of restrictions.

On that note, enjoy your weekend, dear readers, and stay safe!