NS COVID-19 Briefing for 24 November 2020


Premier Stephen McNeil began by announcing 37 new cases of COVID-19 today, bringing active cases to 87. Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said that 72% of these active cases involve people in the 18-35 demographic.

Of the 37 new cases, 35 are in the Central Zone. One is in the Northern Zone but is connected to exposures in Central Zone and one is at Northeast Kings Education Centre in Canning, in the Western Zone. Strang said it involved a student, who is self-isolating. Public Health is investigating the case and the school itself will be closed for the remainder of the week.

In response to what he called an “explosion in cases” (three in September, 21 in October, 118 to date in November), Strang announced new restrictions in western and central HRM, a geographic area defined as the HRM from Hubbards to, and including, Porters Lake and the communities up to Elmsdale and Mount Uniacke in Hants County (you can find more information on the boundaries on the provincial restriction alert map) and some additional restrictions province-wide.

Strang warned, however, that we will see cases rise over the next week to 10 days before we see the effects of the stricter measures begin to kick in.

The Premier said that if anyone has yet to wake up to the second wave of COVID, this should be a wake-up call.

COVID-19 stats for NS 2020.11.24


Province-wide rules

Nova Scotians are being asked to limit their travel to other Atlantic Provinces (two of which, PEI and Newfoundland, have reintroduced quarantines for Nova Scotians anyway) and to limit their trips into and out of HRM to “essential” travel for the next two weeks. The definition of “essential” basically boils down to work (Strang said if you live in Truro but work in HRM, you can still enter the city) and medical appointments (if you live in Cape Breton and have a medical appointment in Halifax you may enter the city.)

Strang’s real focus was on shopping. He said anyone considering traveling to Halifax to shop for Black Friday bargains should “rethink” that plan and that Halifax should not be considered as a “shopping destination” for the next two weeks. He went further, advising people to shop online, to take advantage of all the local businesses that offer this option or consider donating to a local charity.

“This year,” he said of the various upcoming religious holidays, “the way we show that we love each other is by keeping each other COVID safe.”

In addition, the following restrictions will come into force across the province at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, November 26, and continue for two weeks until midnight Dec. 9, with a possibility of extension:

  • no visitors except volunteers and designated caregivers to long-term care facilities and Adult Residential Centres and Regional Rehabilitation Centres licensed by the Department of Community Services
  • sports teams are restricted to local or regional play only (this includes the QMJL)
  • no extracurricular activities between schools

HRM rules

The following restrictions will come into effect in central and western HRM as of 12:01 am on Thursday November 26 and continue for two weeks until midnight Dec. 9, with a possibility of extension:

  • the gathering limit in public is five (or up to the number of members of an immediate family in a household)
  • mandatory masking now applies to common areas of multi-unit residential buildings, such as apartment buildings and condos
  • restaurants and licensed establishments are closed for in-person dining but may provide take-out or delivery (Strang said hotels may keep their dining rooms open but only for guests)
  • retail stores must restrict shoppers and staff to 25% or less of allowable capacity
  • wineries, distilleries and breweries cannot hold tastings or in-person dining and must follow retail rules in their stores (delivery and curbside pickup allowed)
  • organized sports, recreational, athletic, arts and cultural activities, faith-based activities are paused
  • profit and non-profit fitness and recreational facilities closed
  • libraries and museums are closed, including the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
  • the casino and First Nations gaming establishments are closed

Strang said there will be stronger enforcement of illegal gatherings. He said he had met with police chiefs and had the support of the Mayor of Halifax who has offered the use of city fire and by-law inspectors for enforcement purposes. Strang also said that from now on, the $1,000 fine for illegal gatherings can be levied against host and guests alike. He said inspectors will also be policing retail settings to ensure capacity limits are being respected.

He also, without using the term, encouraged people to snitch if they see people flouting the rules. If you see more than 10 people gathering without social distancing outside HRM or more than five inside HRM, you should call the non-emergency police line. He said police are expecting the calls — and in fact, Halifax police apparently received 55 such calls on Monday.

Strang said he hoped the enforcement would not prove necessary, that Nova Scotians would do what was necessary to keep each other safe and get the outbreak in the HRM under control.

“Please do not look for loopholes,” he said of the new restrictions, “please do not look to skirt around the rules.”

Strang also reminded everyone in the province to continue following Public Health protocols around masking, physical distancing and handwashing. If everyone is following the precautions, he says, even if COVID reaches a community outside HRM, it will not have the chance to get a foothold.

Strang said he’d had a “very hard last few days” looking at the case numbers which put us “back where we were in March and April.”

“We are in a pandemic,” said Strang. “Life has to be different.”



Schools across the province will remain open. Asked by a reporter why, given the Christmas holidays are coming up anyway, he didn’t just close the schools now, Strang they’ve “worked hard to keep [schools] safe,” that school age children is not the demographic where they’re seeing disease, and that in the school cases they’ve had, exposure has taken place somewhere other than the school. He said should the epidemiology change, he won’t hesitate to close schools, but right now it’s not necessary and the benefits to children, mentally, physically and socially, of being in school are an important consideration.


Dr. Robert Strang

Dr. Robert Strang


The province is introducing “broad asymptomatic” testing in HRM for bar and restaurant patrons and staff. Anyone who works in a licensed establishment or went to one in HRM after 10PM in the last two weeks should book a COVID-19 test, even if they have no symptoms. Said Strang:

We believe there is a large pool of people out there that are infected and don’t even know it themselves.

People tested through this process don’t have to self-isolate while awaiting results unless they are experiencing symptoms.

In addition, pop-up tests sites for rapid testing are also being deployed, following the pilot project at the Dome last week. The most recent pop-up was on the Dalhousie Campus, where two students recently tested positive for COVID.

NSHA labs completed 1,561 NS COVID tests on November 23. Asked by a reporter why we haven’t reached Public Health’s goal of 2,500 tests, Strang explained that was a capacity goal and it was met in mid-November. However, he and the premier both said they expected further increase capacity as they attempt to get the outbreak in the Central Zone under control, and to introduce testing of long-term-care facility (LTCF) workers and rotational workers.



No one is currently in hospital, but Strang said Public Health is sharing what it is seeing in the epidemiology with the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) and having “lots of discussions” around infection control. At the moment, he said, they’re looking at preparing for a potential surge in COVID hospitalizations that would entail shifting other services.

But, Strang noted, the 18-35 age bracket to which the disease is largely contained is at low risk of severe disease and keeping it contained to this demographic is “one of our objectives.”


Help for business

Asked if he had any additional plans to help small businesses, the premier pointed to a “new federal rent program” announced yesterday and said they are working with the relevant business associations in Halifax to “see what they can do to help them.”


Personal services

Strang says certain personal services businesses — like hairstylists, estheticians and nail salons in western and central HRM can continue “except procedures that cannot be done while a patron is masked.”


More data?

Asked if he would commit to making more data about cases public — information about where transmission occurred, for example, Strang told reporters not to focus on “individual cases” but rather on what is known about how the virus is transmitted — through close, indoor contact between people without masks and social distancing. He also noted that the lists of potential exposure locations published by Public Health give you a good sense of what type of locations these are. (They are heavy on gyms, restaurants, bars and retail stores.)

(Personally, I wish they would break the data on testing down by Zone at least — I would like to know how much testing is being done here in the Eastern Zone.)


Contact testing

This was an interesting bit: asked whether the province had met its goal to hire 100 contact tracers, Strang said they were still hiring but that “not everyone” can do the job and it wasn’t easy filling 100 positions.

He said, in response to a reporter’s question, that the province is “finalizing” an agreement that will allow it to borrow federal government employees for contact tracing, as a number of provinces have done already.

He also said that, given how widespread COVID is in HRM, contact tracers will no longer focus on backward tracing, to try and determine how an individual may have become infected, but on forward tracing, to try and identify, test and isolate all the people the individual might have exposed. Forward-looking tracing, he said, is more important to minimize spread. He also said the asymptomatic testing of bar patrons and workers will take care of backward tracing.

Right now, he said Public Health is “very stretched” but is “working creatively” to do what they need to do.


Difficult decision

Premier McNeil said if the measures announced today to “encapsulate” the disease in HRM and keep it from spreading across the province don’t have the desired effect, he is prepared to make further “difficult decisions.” Asked by a reporter to be more specific about these decisions, he said we should just think back to March when “we locked down a much larger part of our economy.”

McNeil said the “weight of potentially closing someone’s business is not something I take lightly” and expressed his frustration with people who do not follow the rules because “we can all prevent this.”

He advised people in the Greater Halifax area to follow the measures that have been put in place and limit their movements for the next two weeks:

Go to work, go to school, get your necessities, go home. And once you’re home, stay the blazes home.



This just in: Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Chuck Porter will announce protections for renters Wednesday, Nov. 25 at 12:30 p.m.