NS COVID-19 Briefing for 1 December 2020

Briefing

Premier Stephen McNeil and Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang announced 10 new cases of COVID-19 today and 142 active cases. No one is currently in hospital. Dr. Strang allowed that he found the case numbers “encouraging” and lower than he’d been expecting, reminding everyone that what we’re seeing now is the result of activity two weeks ago — that is, a week before tighter restrictions were introduced in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

All of today’s new cases are in the Central Zone and the cases identified in the Northern Zone seem to be connected to exposure in the Central Zone, but Public Health is still investigating two cases at the Northeastern Kings Education Centre in Canning, which is in the Western Zone and in fact, will be sending its new mobile testing units to the school tomorrow (more about this in the “Testing” section.)

Dr. Robert Strang

Nevertheless, Strang said it was “far too soon” to relax and that there are two numbers he’s monitoring, case numbers and close contact numbers, and the close contact numbers remain high. During the first wave, he said, the average number of close contacts per case was three and now it’s eight. Strang said we need to see that number come down, which is why the Halifax restrictions will be in place until “at least” December 9, at which point he’ll re-evaluate.

Strang reminded everyone that these tighter restrictions (details of which you can find here) permit travel in and out of the Halifax area for essential reasons only, which he defined as school, work and medical appointments. (He said he’d heard reports of a shoppers from Halifax avoiding the restrictions on retail stores in the capital by shopping in Truro.)

Strang introduced one, new, province-wide regulation today, reducing the number of designated caregivers permitted to visit residents of long-term-care facilities (LTCF) from two to one. He said he recognized the inconvenience this would cause people but said it was necessary to keep COVID out of such facilities.

 

Numbers*

New Cases: 10

Active Cases: 142

Cumulative cases: 226

Resolved cases: 84

Hospitalizations: 0

ICU: 0

Age range: 5 to 70

Total positive and negative tests: 66,489

*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.

 

Testing up a storm

The real story right now is testing — Nova Scotia has three main streams going at the moment and is about to add a fourth. Yesterday, NSHA labs processed 4,138 NS COVID tests, plus there were an additional 275 tests done at the rapid-testing pop-up site in Halifax and 585 at the rapid-testing pop-up site in Wolfville. There were no positive test results in either pop-up location.

Strang went over the basic testing streams again, the first being these rapid pop-up sites intended to test anyone over the age of 16 who isn’t captured by the other two streams (i.e. wasn’t working or visiting a late-night Halifax bar in the two weeks before they closed and doesn’t have symptoms.) Since these sites started operations, they’ve completed 5,477 tests producing 21 positives. The positive cases were re-tested, using the standard PCR lab test, and while Strang didn’t have a full breakdown of how many were found to be actual positives, he said he knew two were determined to have been false positives. You don’t need an appointment to visit the pop-up sites.

The second stream, which ends next Tuesday, is focused on asymptomatic bar patrons and workers in the 18 to 35 age category from the Halifax area. It has processed 8,300 tests to date and any positives are reflected in the daily case numbers. People in this stream were asked to book their tests.

The third stream involves voluntary testing of staff and volunteers in LTCFs. To date, 250 tests have been conducted in three HRM facilities and six more facilities will be added this week. The intention, ultimately, is to roll the program out province-wide.

Today, Strang announced a fourth testing stream in the form of two mobile testing units — 20-foot vans that he said have been equipped in record time (a six- to eight-month job completed in 100 days, for which he thanked the companies doing the work and the Public Health workers who have trained to staff the units).

As mentioned earlier, their first assignment will be the Northeastern Kings Education Centre in Canning, Kings County. Public Health is contacting people who need to be tested, the vans are not accepting drop-ins.

Asked by a reporter about the delays some people experience getting results, Strang acknowledged that with the increased testing, there have been issues, but he noted that one is that many people aren’t giving their email addresses, which would make contacting them (with negative results) easier and he encouraged people to supply their email addresses.

This weekend, Toronto epidemiologist David Fisman singled out Nova Scotia, among Canadian provinces, for its use of rapid COVID tests and placed us in some rather interesting company:

 

 

Local testing

During the COVID-19 update on October 6, Dr. Strang discussed the steps being taken to ramp up COVID testing capacity.

One of those steps was installing the equipment necessary to do the standard, PCR (polymerase chain reaction) COVID tests for the Eastern Health Zone in the lab at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital. Strang estimated daily testing capacity at the Cape Breton lab would be 400 and that testing would begin in early November.

Brendan Elliott at Nova Scotia Health told me today that the CBRH lab began processing tests on November 2, and has been averaging 105 tests per day. As of November 29, it had completed a total of 2,945 tests.

Here’s the daily breakdown to November 29:

COVID tests at CBRH, 2 to 28 November 2020

(Note: the potential November 17 COVID exposure at Governor’s Pub and Eatery in Sydney was announced at 7:00 PM on November 28. Anyone who’d been in the pub on that date between 3:00 and 10:00 PM was asked to book a COVID test immediately. Some of those tests might be captured in the November 29 numbers.)

 

Compliance

Strang said he’s been hearing stories about people arriving in Access Nova Scotia offices and retail stores without masks and arguing with employees who tell them they have to leave. He said he didn’t want to have to mandate masks because it would punish people who legitimately cannot wear them — like his own son who, he said, has significant disabilities and cannot wear a mask but sometimes must be in public places.

He asked that people understand the importance of masking — as illustrated by a recent Kansas study that found counties enforcing mask use had lower rates of COVID than counties not enforcing it — and simply wear one.

On the other hand, he said inspectors out this weekend in malls and big box stores found everyone in compliance. Strang said the inspections will continue as we move into the Christmas season.

A reporter asked Strang why he isn’t just announcing the tighter restrictions in Halifax will remain in place until after Christmas. Strang said because all restrictions come with a price and his goal is to balance COVID concerns with other concerns, so he would not leave restrictions in place longer than they were necessary. That said, he’s not promising anything — he’ll re-evaluate the Halifax rules on December 9.

 

Schools

In answer to a reporter’s question, the Premier said no additional cases have been discovered in connection to the case at Bedford South School, but testing continues and the school will remain closed until next Monday.

In answer to another question about Northeastern King’s Education Centre, the Premier explained that when a school is closed (as this one was), they do a deep clean and then teachers and staff return to the school and all online learning is conducted from the school, although the students are at home.

 

Ventilators

Asked whether Nova Scotia has any concerns about supplies of medical equipment like ventilators, Strang said they had increased their supply during the first wave and still have these, but, he said, their goal is not to get to the point where they are needed.

He said if we can keep the disease contained geographically and demographically — to the 18-to-35-year-old group that isn’t at risk of severe disease — there should be no strain on our healthcare system.

 

Swiss cheese

This is something I’ve been meaning to share since I first found it. It’s the “Swiss Cheese” model of COVID-19 protection, which holds that while a single layer of protection — say, mask-wearing — has “holes” or weaknesses that may allow the virus to get through, employing multiple strategies at once greatly improves protection.

But be warned, it might just make you hungry.

Swiss Cheese Model COVID protection