NS COVID-19 Update for 27 November 2020

Briefing

Premier Stephen McNeil announced nine new cases of COVID-19 today in the Central Zone, one of which is a student at Bedford South School. McNeil said the school has been closed for a deep clean and contact testing is underway. Dr. Strang said there were 118 active cases (the press release said 119, I don’t have an explanation for the discrepancy.)

The Premier also announced a voluntary testing regime for long-term care facilities (LTCF) that is being launched in three HRM facilities — Northwood, Ocean View and St. Vincent’s — and will expand to six more in the next two weeks and, eventually, across the province. Volunteers, designated caregivers and employees who provide direct care to residents will be tested every two weeks.

Dr. Robert Strang 27 November 2020

Dr. Robert Strang

Testing was, in fact, the main subject of today’s briefing. Dr. Strang explained that their testing strategy is very different than it was in the first wave. At the moment, the focus is on testing “a large number of people with no symptoms” in the 18 to 35 age range. Strang says this is no judgement on the cohort in question, the vast majority of whom he says are following the rules, but even within the rules it’s still possible for the disease to spread.

Last week, the province asked anyone — bar staff or patron — who had been in a late-night licensed establishment in HRM in the previous two to go online and book a test. Since then, 8,000 people have come forward.

Strang says this means reaching out to people to book appointments for tests is taking more time, so if you are in this category of asymptomatic people who did the online assessment and have yet to get called for a test, you do not need to self isolate, you may “go about your life” following the COVID protocols until you are contacted.

Another testing stream involves people who think they may have been exposed to COVID at one of the potential exposure sites announced by NSHA (you’ll find the full list of potential exposure sites here). In these cases, people are asked to self-isolate until they are tested. Strang said he recognized that this is challenging but said that Public Health has a very large number of people to contact right now and is “working very diligently to get on top of it.”

Pop-up testing

Source: Instagram

A third testing stream, which involves pop-up, rapid-testing sites, is intended to capture people over 16 who don’t fall into the categories captured by the other two streams. The pop-ups, run by Drs Lisa Barrett and Todd Hatchette, have seen turnout Strang described as “nothing short of amazing” and have performed over 2,700 rapid, point-of-care tests in three locations, to date. This in addition to standard PCR tests, of which NSHA labs completed 3,109 yesterday alone. Strang cautioned, the rapid tests are not as reliable as standard tests, so if you test positive, a second swab goes to the lab and you are required to self-isolate until you get the results.

Strang said the model being employed now in Halifax — tight restrictions combined with testing — is being watched with interest by the rest of the country. In response to a reporter’s question, he said Barrett and Hatchet come from research backgrounds and are “applying a research lens” to the pop-up work, comparing, for instance, the rapid positives to the PCR results. “We’re learning from this,” said Strang.

He said that while he’s relieved to see Nova Scotia’s case numbers have “somewhat stabilized,” we are just in Day 2 of tighter restrictions in HRM and he expects “high numbers of daily cases for the next week to 10 days.”

“We are by no means out of the woods yet.”

 

Numbers*

New Cases: 9

Active Cases: 118

Cumulative cases: 175

Resolved cases: 57

Hospitalizations: 0

ICU: 0

Age range: 5 to 70

Total positive and negative tests: 40,562

*Public Health has reset the numbers as of the beginning of the second wave of COVID in this province, which it is dating to October 1. Total cumulative numbers can be found on the provincial COVID website.

 

Wolfville Wastewater

On Friday, researchers from Acadia, Dalhousie and LuminUltra announced they’d detected coronavirus in Wolfville’s wastewater.

In a release on Friday, the Town of Wolfville stated:

This research is still experimental so can’t be considered definitive. But it could be a signal that COVID-19 is present in our community.

In response to the discovery, Strang says Public Health is increasing capacity at its primary intake center in that area and hopes to set up a pop-up rapid-testing site in Wolfville later this week.

 

Vaccine

There were a number of questions related to vaccines. Strang said there are 140 candidate vaccines out there in development and Canada has procurements in place with seven manufacturers but both he and the Premier underlined that none is yet licensed and there is “no certainty” about their efficacy at this time. That said, both Strang and McNeil said they’ve been told by the federal government to prepare for “small amounts” of vaccine by January, which will be administered according to a “very strict prioritization.”

Asked how that prioritization would be determined, Strang the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has provided “high-level” guidance and is in the process of providing more detailed guidance, based on which the National Advisory Committee, on which he sits with the rest of the country’s public health officers, will make a recommendation. This will be brought forward in each province and territory.

Premier McNeil said Public Health will be in charge of vaccine distribution in this province — our immunization program is “a well-oiled machine” — following protocols the Premier hopes will be “consistent across the country” and set by Public Health officials, not politicians. He reiterated his hope the vaccine would be supplied to the provinces on a per-capita basis.

Dr. Strang said Halifax lawyer Fred Crooks, Nova Scotia’s chief regulatory officer, who led the procurement process for PPE is now working on a vaccine delivery plan.

 

NS COVID cases as of 26 November 2020

 

Follow-up

Here’s two pieces of good news: there have been no further cases of COVID discovered in the Auburn Drive High School family of schools in Cole Harbour and Strang said Public Health and the Department of Education learned lessons about communication from these initial school-related cases. The process, he said, worked much more smoothly with the two subsequent school-related cases in Canning and Bedford.

Strang also said that, to the best of his knowledge, there had been no cases connected to the infamous 60-person party shut down by Halifax police. But, he said, they have had cases related to private parties and visits to “multiple bars.”

 

Post-Bubble

Asked if Nova Scotia is going to require residents of the other Atlantic Canadian provinces to self-isolate for 14 days upon entry, Premier McNeil said no, that they will rely instead on asking people not to come for non-essential travel — which remains their advice for Nova Scotians entering or leaving Metro Halifax, too.

McNeil said people traveling here from elsewhere in the province for medical appointments, for example, “are welcome” and are not required to self-isolate but nobody should be traveling here to shop.

In response to a related question (or maybe I’m just pretending it’s related because I want to finish this), Strang said that while he and his fellow Atlantic chief medical officers “work hard to be consistent in areas where it makes sense to be consistent,” he prefers Nova Scotia’s method of tightening restrictions to the color-coded systems in PEI and New Brunswick because it gives him more flexibility to respond to actual circumstances without locking him into a set of “pre-defined steps.”

The Premier said it had to be remembered that the four Atlantic Provinces had their own characteristics — Nova Scotia, for example, has one larger urban area while “other provinces have more than one.”

(“Ahem,” said everyone in the CBRM who happened to be watching.)

 

Small biz

Asked if he had any plans to assist businesses — especially small retail outlets — that don’t qualify for the $5,000 grants announced last week for HRM businesses forced to close down for two weeks, the premier said they realize that, having told people not to go shopping, they have to do something to help such outlets and the province is working on it.

 

In praise of youth

The Premier closed today’s briefing by directly addressing HRM’s 18 to 35 year olds:

We’ve asked you now to get tested. We thought maybe a few of you would go. Instead, thousands of you have showed up. In just six days, if you count all streams of testing, we’ve conducted over 13,000 tests.

The vast majority of these, he said, were of young people who “stood in the cold and in the rain,” sometimes “for hours,” and he thanked them for turning out “not because you were sick but because we asked.”