NOTE: This week is now over. For the very latest news, please go here. But for an informative look back at exactly how Nova Scotia responded to COVID-19 in realtime, keep on reading.
Editor's note: In its 28 years The Coast has never been a just-the-facts news service, but for these strange times here are quick-hit updates.
Nova Scotia announced two new cases of COVID-19 in the Central health zone, which includes Halifax. "Both are connected to previously reported cases, including one linked to the Clayton Park area," says the provincial update. "The cases are still under investigation."
Making that news easier to take, the province also had two recoveries. So the net change in C19 numbers is zero.
But even better, the Western health zone (Bridgewater, Yarmouth, Digby, Annapolis Valley) has reached two full weeks without a case. Being disease-free for a whole virus incubation cycle allows the Western zone to revert from the yellowish colour on our C19 map to green. So on the whole, the province got ahead of the disease today. Hooray!
As we warned you earlier this week, with the print Best of Halifax issue on its plate, Team Coast couldn't give full attention to these COVID-19 updates. And sure enough, while racing over the last couple days to catch up after the issue came, we missed two alerts from the NS Health Authority about places in the community with a risk of C19 exposure. (That's two that we know of. The catching up is ongoing.)
These alerts were emailed out to media yesterday, one at 4:30pm, the other at 7:11pm. They concern two bars—the Economy Shoe Shop (the exposure risk was Sunday, November 8) and The Local (Monday, November 9)—the gym in the new YMCA (Monday and Tuesday, November 9 and 10) and a Tim Hortons in Bedford (Thursday, November 12). Here are the times and details copied and merged from the NSHA emails:
So somebody (or somebodies) who tested positive for C19 were at each of these places at the specified times. If you were there too, there's a real possibility you encountered the disease, and it's real important for you to pay attention to any symptoms that develop in the two-week incubation period after the potential exposure. And if you think you might have the disease?
- Economy Shoe Shop Bar & Restaurant (1663 Argyle St., Halifax) on Nov. 8 between 8:30 p.m. – 11 p.m. Anyone present at this location during the time named is asked to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19. It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus at this location on the named date may develop symptoms up to, and including, Nov. 22.
- The Local Restaurant and Bar (2037 Gottingen St, Halifax) on Nov. 9 between 4 p.m. and close. Anyone present at this location during the time named is asked to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19. It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus at this location on the named date may develop symptoms up to, and including, Nov. 23.
- John W. Lindsay YMCA Gym (5640 Sackville St., Halifax) on Nov. 9 and 10 between 6 a.m. – 8 a.m. Anyone present at this location (only the gym section of the facility) during the time named is asked to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19. It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus at this location on the named dates may develop symptoms up to, and including, Nov. 24.
- Tim Horton’s (36 Verdi Drive, Bedford Commons, Bedford) on Nov. 12 from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. Anyone present at this location during the time named is asked to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19. It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus at this location on the named date may develop symptoms up to, and including, Nov. 26.
It was more than 10 years ago that the province started the 811 phone system, making registered nurses available 24-7-365 to answer health questions. Among other benefits, 811 reduces the load on hospitals by giving people an option to heading straight to an emergency room, but it's often been overwhelmed in the time of Covid. In order to take a little pressure off the phone system that's supposed to take a little pressure off the hospital system, there's an online system; the province wants you to do a C19 self-assessment before you phone 811.
Not long after the provincial COVID-19 case report came out, the Nova Scotia Health Authority issued one of its warnings of potential C19 exposure at various common locations around town. In an unwelcome coincidence, there are six places to go with the six new cases.
At a couple of the places—Real Fake Meats and Antojo restaurants—the exposure happened Saturday, October 31. That was two weeks ago, making today the last day symptoms might develop (because the incubation period for the virus is believed to be 14 days).
The other spots are outdoor-equipment store MEC (the exposure happened Wednesday, November 4), runners' shop Aerobics First (Saturday, November 7) and, on Monday, November 9, the East Preston Recreation Centre and Pet Valu pet supply's Spring Garden Road location.
For the specific times in question, here's the bulletin, copied straight from the horse's mouth (the horse here being an email from the NSHA):
Nova Scotia Health is advising of potential exposure to COVID-19 at the following locations:
Anyone present at any of these locations during the time named is asked to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.
- Real Fake Meats (2278 Gottingen St., Halifax) on Oct. 31 from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus at this location on the named date may develop symptoms up to, and including, Nov. 14.
- Antojo Tacos and Tequila (1667 Argyle St., Halifax) on Oct. 31 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus at this location on the named date may develop symptoms up to, and including, Nov. 14.
- MEC (1550 Granville St., Halifax) on Nov. 4 from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus at this location on the named date may develop symptoms up to, and including, Nov. 18.
- Aerobics First (6166 Quinpool Rd., Halifax) on Nov. 7 from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus at this location on the named date may develop symptoms up to, and including, Nov. 21.
- Pet Valu (5686 Spring Garden Rd., Halifax) on Nov. 9 from 5:30 pm to 6:30pm. It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus at this location on the named date may develop symptoms up to, and including, Nov. 23.
- East Preston Recreation Centre – Gym/Basketball Court (24 Brooks Drive, East Preston) on Nov. 9 from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus at this location on the named date may develop symptoms up to, and including, Nov. 23.
We can't even. Here's what the province's COVID-19 report has to say about the six cases announced today:
The new cases are in the Central Zone. All cases are all contacts of previously reported cases. One of the cases is related to the Bitter End in Halifax. The cases at the Bitter End appear to be linked to the Clayton Park cluster. The other cases are part of an emerging cluster that is being investigated by public health.
Friday the 13th could have been worse: The province announced two new cases and two recoveries today, for a net total of zero. "One new case is in the Northern Zone and is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada," says Nova Scotia's daily COVID-19 update. "The traveller self-isolated, as required. The other case is in the Central Zone and is currently under investigation. These cases are not linked to the cluster of cases in Clayton Park."
Top doc Robert Strang and premier Stephen McNeil had a briefing today. Strang was upbeat about the Clayton Park cluster, which he feels is under control. Where Monday he'd warned that we are at a "critical tipping point" with the disease on the brink of community spread, today he expressed relief that we successfully backed away from that tipping point. For now, we are still holding off the C19 second wave that's continuing to grow in much of the rest of Canada.
McNeil's big news was that there isn't going to be a fall sitting of the legislature. Or at least not a sitting where the government has to publicly explain it plans and defend them under the withering gaze of opposition politicians whose whole job is to hold the government to account on behalf of the people of the province. Instead the legislature will return December 18, in order to be prorogued—the fancy parliamentary term for ending a session. Want to have it used in a sentence? No problem. "Nova Scotia's legislature is the only one in Canada that hasn't opened since the pandemic started, so it's total bullshit for premier McNeil to technically meet the legal requirement to have a fall session by having a one-day meeting simply to prorogue the legislature."
Here's the full text of the press release the speaker's office sent out about McNeil going prorogue:
The second session of the sixty-third general assembly will be prorogued at 9 a.m. on Friday, Dec.18.
The third session of the sixty-third general assembly will open at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, with the lieutenant governor reading the speech from the throne.
It is necessary to prorogue the existing session to open a new session of the general assembly.
Check out that amazing line: "It is necessary to prorogue the existing season to open a new session." It is necessary. As if there isn't any other option. Like it's not completely offensive to the spirit of Canada's oldest legislature for McNeil to keep this institution of democracy shut down from March 10, 2020 to February 16, 2021. Nearly a year for McNeil and his Liberals to avoid direct questioning of their pandemic response or anything else. But it is necessary.
McNeil claims his retirement and the Liberal leadership race happening in early February means a fall session is yap yap yap, political double-speak, avoid the question, pass the buck to the next premier in line, refuse to admit this is disgusting, pretend that holding short C19 briefings on your own unpublished schedule where reporters formally ask two questions each—mostly to Strang because we are in a pandemic and people are justifiably freaked out and it is supposed to be a C19 briefing—is an adequate substitute for a real legislative session where you don't have complete control over who gets to ask what. McNeil is wrong. And doing it his way is most unnecessary.
In other news of under-criticized power moves by government today: As has happened every two weeks since the provincial state of emergency was first announced in March, the SOE was extended for another two weeks.
Nova Scotia gets ahead today, with one recovery and no new cases of COVID-19. That breaks the streak of days with cases at 13—just shy of two weeks.
You may suspect there are no cases simply because the labs were closed yesterday for Remembrance Day. However, the labs were indeed working: they processed 891 tests yesterday, which is more than last Saturday (722 tests, three cases), Sunday (658 tests, one case) and Monday (842 tests, 3 cases).
Today is simply a holiday from the dreaded disease. We'll take it.
Remembrance Day brings a year without mass gatherings to honour the war dead. It also brings two more cases, and no recoveries. Not the best day at all.
"The new cases are in the Central Zone and are close contacts of a previously reported case," says the province's COVID-19 update. "These cases are not linked to the cluster of cases in Clayton Park."
We're got an apology for behaviour to come: Team Coast is hard at work preparing the Best of Halifax print issue that comes out this Thursday, so with our attention divided it's going to be a lacklustre week in COVID-19 updates. Not that C19 news ever has a much lustre, but some weeks go deeper than others. This is going to be a shallow week. Hopefully the virus itself will read the room and not get up to too much.
Today's provincial report brings one recovery three new cases. "The new cases are in the Central Zone," says the report. "One case is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada. The traveller self-isolated, as required. The other two cases are linked to the cluster of cases in Clayton Park. One is a close contact of a previously reported case and the other is connected to the Bitter End in Halifax. Both cases remain under investigation."
Not long after Strang and McNeil finished their COVID-19 briefing, which made special mention of the warnings the Nova Scotia Health Authority's been putting out lately, the NSHA issued yet another alert about "Potential exposure to COVID-19 at Halifax stores." Here are the details, copied straight from the email advisory:
Nova Scotia Health Public Health is advising of potential exposure to COVID-19 at:The NSHA alert doesn't say if these exposures near the Clayton Park area of Bedford are related to the C19 cluster in the Clayton Park area of Bedford. It also doesn't say people should get tested immediately if they were in Sobeys or the liquor store at these times, the way Strang said some other recent exposure areas are now treated (see below).
• Sobeys (Mill Cove, 961 Bedford Hwy, Bedford) on Nov. 6 between 8 and 10 p.m.
• NSLC (Mill Cove, 955 Bedford Hwy, Bedford) on Nov. 6 between 8 and 9 p.m.
Instead, if you were buying important supplies or food Friday night in Bedford, you need to pay close attention to your health for the next two weeks (a C19 incubation cycle). If you develop a fever or cough; or any two of sore throat, headache, runny nose and trouble breathing; do an online self-assessment or phone 811 to find out if you need to get tested.
There's one fresh COVID-19 infection in Nova Scotia. "The new case is in the Central Zone and is a close contact of a previously reported case," says the province's report, which doesn't sound like much to worry about. But that single new patient arrives as part of an ongoing string of cases, which is a lot to worry about.
"We are at a critical tipping point," NS public health czar Robert Strang said today at a webcast C19 briefing. "If you didn't pay attention after our briefing last week, you need to sit up and pay attention now. We all need to make changes if we're going to change our trajectory."
Strang was happy to report that last week's two concerning infection clusters—one in the Northern health zone, one in Central—have been contained and are no longer a threat for community spread. Then he introduced a new cluster of nine cases in Clayton Park.
This cluster is related to three of the places recently flagged by the Nova Scotia Health Authority as potential exposure sites. Those are:
—The Bitter End bar on Argyle Street, last Monday, November 2, from 9pm to close.
—Montana's restaurant in Bayers Lake, Sunday, October 25, from 6pm to close.
—The service of All Nations Full Gospel Church, which took place at Saint Andrew's United Church on Coburg Road, Sunday, October 25 at 6pm.
At the briefing, premier Stephen McNeil said there's an urgency to "wrap our arms around" this area of the city and "make sure we contain the virus to prevent further spread." Uncontrolled community transmission is the legit fear. So a mobile C19 testing unit is being deployed to Clayton Park, and if you were at any of those three places during the specified times, you need to get tested. No monitoring for symptoms, no waiting, no seeing. Call 811 and make arrangements to get tested immediately.
Strang and McNeil also used the briefing to tighten up one of the rules around travel. During the first wave of C19, travellers had to quarantine when they arrived in Nova Scotia—for two weeks they couldn't have contact of any kind with locals, unless those locals were also in quarantine. The quarantine then slackened during the summer when case numbers were relatively low in the rest of Canada, so a traveller could self-isolate in someone's home for the two weeks, while other people in the home could still come and go. But the days of that why-do-we-even-bother-calling-that-a-quarantine sort of quarantine are over, effective immediately.
"People need to understand, if they are taking people into their home and living with them when the traveller is in a quarantine period, they're imposing a full 14-day isolation period on themselves and the rest of their household members," Strang said. "It means kids can't go to school, people cannot go to work, you can't go shopping, you can't go to the grocery store. So that sounds harsh, but it's necessary."
Tightening up how quarantine works was today's only change to the public health regulations. However, Strang wants everybody be more rigorous about pandemic prevention, especially when it comes to getting together.
"Now is the time for all of us to start to reduce our social activities and to restrict social activities to people that are in our household or close social bubble," he said. "We need to start ramping down our social activities. Be very careful of the number of people that we're interacting with. This applies for all Nova Scotians. But it's particularly important right here in today in Metro Halifax."
Indeed, when someone can go to a bar and/or to church and get infected, as the NSHA warns, that certainly feels like community spread is upon us, even if professional contact tracers can retroactively link that case to other cases. This point was made by several reporters in different ways during the briefing, although Strang would not commit to the label. "We're at a point where we can't say that there is broad community spread, but we can't say there's not," is one way he put it during the briefing.
"I'm not at a point where I'm going to conclude that we have general community spread, but I'm also not at a point where I can rule that out," is another way he explained it. "This is like detective work. We're in the middle of a complex investigation, we're always going to err on the side of caution. But we still have some some work to do before we can make some firmer conclusions."
Then there's this: "I may well come to a conclusion that we have broader community spread and that we need to impose further restrictions. Or we may actually, in the next couple of days, be able to say with a few cases aside, we can explain within a tight circle how this virus was circulating around. We're right in the middle of that investigation."
In a similar vein of getting terms and definitions correct, we asked Strang if he thinks the second wave of C19 has now arrived in Nova Scotia. "We're certainly seeing the impact of the second wave elsewhere, by having more people traveling into Nova Scotia with COVID," he said. "I would say that for me, the second wave would be here if we actually get established community transmission and have that confirmed. We're working really hard to try to avoid that possibility."
Or to put it a more Nova Scotian way, it's like we know there's a hurricane out in the Atlantic, but so far the only sign of it here is great surf. Those big waves can be dangerous all on their own if you're not careful at the beach, but they're nothing like what happens if the hurricane itself hits here.
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