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 is reporting six new cases of COVID-19, extending the streak to 31 days in a row with at least one new infection. That's a full month of the disease spreading. This is how it goes in the second wave.
"Three cases are in Central Zone; all are close contacts of previously reported cases," says the province. "Two cases are in Eastern Zone. One is a close contact of a previously reported case. The other is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada and is self-isolating as required. One case is in Western Zone, and is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada."
There have been 281 known cases diagnosed in the last month. The Central health zone, which includes the known outbreak site of Halifax, is responsible for 242 of those cases. The Western zone, where the Eden Valley poultry plant outbreak is happening, has had 17 cases.
Northern zone, which had the day off from new infections today, is at 13 cases. And although the Eastern zone made it through September, October and November without any C19 activity beyond one weird accounting blip, it's had nine cases already in December.
The second wave sucks.
Out of the seven new cases of COVD-19 the province announced today, only one of them is in the Central health zone. That is a slightly rare, very welcome statistic—the last time Central had just a single new daily case was more than three weeks ago, on Friday, November 20. That's the good news.
The bad news is in a much rarer, radically unwelcome statistic: Every health zone in the province has at least one new case today. That maximum level of viral spread hasn't happened since April 20. By that measure, the disease is having its best day in the last 237 days.
Here's the breakdown, including the latest cases at the Eden Valley poultry plant, straight from the province's press release:
Three cases are in Western Zone. Two are close contacts of previously reported cases. One is an employee of Eden Valley Poultry. This case was included in yesterday's announcement of the plant closure related to the outbreak. A total of six employees have tested positive. All employees have been tested and are self-isolating until they can be retested this coming week.
Two cases are in Eastern Zone and one case is in Northern Zone. All of these are related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada and are self-isolating as required.
One case is in Central Zone and is a close contact of a previously reported case.
You'd be forgiven for expecting some sort of quiet routine at this point. We're in the third week of the Halifax lockdown; McNeil and Strang have settled into a Tuesday-and-Friday briefing schedule; the terrifying nightly "potential exposure" lists of every shop and restaurant you've ever been to have dried up. Now we just have to patiently wait out this miserable virus. At least that was the plan.
But any hopes for quiet routine today were shattered at 11:35 this morning. That's when the province sent a note to media pushing back the briefing time from noon to 1:30pm.
It's rarely a great sign when, just before show time, an event's start gets delayed. That's true for bake sales, rock concerts and hockey games. And it's doubly true for high-profile media events involving the two most important public officials in the province.
The cause of the delay isn't something that's publicly acknowledged, but take your pick of likely culprits. (Here's The Coast's full report from the briefing.) Maybe it was Shannon Park Elementary school getting its second case (our list of school-based infections is here). Maybe it was the province deciding to give the whole public school system an extended holiday break "out of an abundance of caution," closing early (next Friday, December 18 is the last day of classes) and starting late (Monday, January 11, 2021). Maybe it was the disease outbreak at a poultry processing plant in the Annapolis Valley.
Hmmm. If we had to bet on the main reason the province needed an emergency postponement, we'd put our cash on the chicken choppery coronavirus contagion crisis.
"The Eden Valley Poultry Inc. processing plant in Berwick will be closed for at least two weeks due to an outbreak of COVID-19," says the province's press release. "Four cases of the virus have been detected at the plant in the past two days."
The Eden Valley plant employs about 450 people, and the province says all staff have been tested, with plans for more testing. Additionally, public health is throwing all kinds of extra testing capacity at the area, including a mobile testing unit, in hopes of reaching deeper into the local population. "We haven't seen community spread in the Berwick area but COVID-19 is a stealth virus, and having asymptomatic people get tested within the community will help us get ahead of that," top doc Strang says. "I encourage everyone to get tested."
So anyway, things aren't calming down yet, even though more people have recovered from the disease than gotten infected since the Halifax lockdown started (196 recoveries compared to 159 diagnoses, from Thursday, November 26, through today). The province is reporting nine new C19 cases today.
"Three cases are in Western Zone. Two of the cases are close contacts of previously reported cases. The other case is under investigation," says the provincial press release. "One case is in Northern Zone and is under investigation.
"Five of the cases are in Central Zone. Two of the cases are related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada. The people are self-isolating as required. One case is a close contact of a previously reported case. One case is under investigation."
Nova Scotia had eight new COVID-19 cases on Monday. Then seven on Tuesday. Six Wednesday. And today the number falls even more, with the province announcing four new cases. It's is a very welcome trend, and if it continues we'll be at zero cases by early next week, ready for top doc Strang to end the Halifax lockdown on schedule at the end of day next Wednesday, December 16.
But there are worrisome parts of the provincial case update. Another school has gotten an infection, and the disease continues to show up beyond the Central health zone's outbreak central. "One case is in Eastern Zone and is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada. The person has been self-isolating as required," says the province's report.
"Three of the cases are in Central Zone. One is a close contact of a previously reported case. One case is under investigation. The other case is connected to Tallahassee Community School, a pre-primary to grade 3 school in Eastern Passage." The complete list of school cases, and corresponding closure dates, is available here.
Also, the province's official case map is causing confusion. Today it's showing 1,176 cumulative cases in the Central zone since the pandemic started, up from 1,175 yesterday. But if there are three new cases since yesterday, as the province's report says, today should be at (1,175 + 3 =) 1,178 total cases in Central.
This doesn't seem to be a situation of cases moving around in the Panorama public health database, as happened Tuesday, because no other health zones on the province's map have unusual case totals. From yesterday to today, the Northern and Western zones stayed the same, and the Eastern zone increased by one case—consistent with what the provincial report says.
For a journalist on the COVID-19 beat, today felt like a return to normal. Not the old normal of hugs and visible smiles and sitting next to strangers on buses. But the pre-second wave normal of Nova Scotia's amazing disease-free summer, which felt like the closest we're going to get to the old normal for a very long time in the new normal.
What does that kind of normal look like to a journalist? For starters, the province issued its daily C19 report early in the day with little fanfare, avoiding any speculation about all the bad things that could be happening to cause it to be late. And then, not only did the report avoid scary double-digit new-case numbers, but in announcing just six new cases, it continues a recent trend of declining infections.
Finally, the majority of those six cases can be blamed on travel and uninfected people hanging out with infected people, rather than outbreak-causing random transmission in the community. "All new cases are in Central Zone," says the province's report. "Four of the cases are close contacts of previously reported cases. One is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada. The individual has been self-isolating as required. The other case is under investigation."
Ahh, there's the blemish that makes this an all-too-modern report. Most of the cases aren't community spread, but one probably is. We aren't out of this outbreak yet.
We heard back from the province about the numbers on the official case map changing unexpectedly from Monday to today. Sure enough, there is no mistake; "the shift is due to data being updated in Panorama" says our contact at NS C19 HQ. This is what we'd assumed happened, and our map for Tuesday (below) is correct as first published.
Let's start today's case report by forgetting all about new cases. The big news, announced by premier Stephen McNeil and chief medical officer of health Robert Strang this afternoon in one of their webcast briefings, is about the vaccine! And the cool, very very cold, freezer needed to store vaccine doses. But mostly it's about the vaccine, a very small batch of which arrives in Nova Scotia next Tuesday. Read The Coast's full report here.
Now back to the cases. Nova Scotia is reporting seven new COVID-19 infections, including one at a school, Dartmouth's Shannon Park Elementary. The update emailed to media breaks the seven cases down like so:
Two cases are in Western Zone and are close contacts of previously reported cases.
One case is in Northern Zone and is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada. The person has been self-isolating as required.
Four cases are in Central Zone. Two are close contacts of previously reported cases. One case is under investigation. The other case is connected to Shannon Park Elementary in Dartmouth.
This makes the fourth day in a row the Nova Scotia Health Authority's Central zone (an area that includes Halifax) has had four new cases. A steady, consistent, not-increasing four cases. Much better than rising, double-digit case numbers like Halifax was seeing two short weeks ago.
However, it might be even better. If you're a wonderfully fastidious reader with both an aptitude and an appetite for cross-referencing the province's C19 reports and its C19 case map across multiple days, you already know what we're talking about. (And if you are one of those readers, we really should get together for a drink when all this is over. Or at least over enough to gather in small groups again. We probably won't need a huge table.)
The provincial report says there are four cases in Central today. But the provincial case map only increased by three from yesterday to today, rising from 1,166 cases to 1,169. Our nicer version of the province's boring map is here in yesterday's case report. Relatedly, according to the maps the Western health zone (Bridgewater, Yarmouth, the Annapolis Valley) also increased by three cases, from 65 to 68, although the report says it only had two new cases.
What probably happened is an old case in the Panorama public health tracking system got moved from Central to Western. The provincial reports always include a mention that this is a thing—"Cumulative cases may change as data is updated in Panorama," is how they say it—and there's no telling which case it was, so we don't know if Central's numbers were inflated yesterday or two months ago. Meaning we should just look at four days in a row with four cases, and be happy Central's formerly out-of-control curve has gone flat. Our map for today assumes that's the situation, and uses the numbers from the report.
But there's a chance the maps are right and the report is wrong, and if that's what's going on then Central's numbers are even better—just three cases today—and we are kicking the disease's ass even harder with the current lockdown. Can you tell what scenario we're hoping for? We've asked the province for clarification. Most likely it's a Panorama data correction, and Central has four new cases. But without foolish hope, we wouldn't be human.
The week begins with a rise in the daily number of new cases, after falling for two days in a row over the weekend: Friday had 15 cases, Saturday six cases, Sunday four, today back up to eight. But the roller coaster numbers obscure two trends that are going in different directions.
One is that infections in the Central health zone—Halifax and surrounding area—have become boring. There were four Saturday, four Sunday, four Monday. This is a change from November, when cases tracked steadily upward in the Central zone outbreak to a peak of 35 two weeks ago, leading to the province locking down Halifax. Now the ongoing restrictions seem to be working. Remember all that talk of flattening the curve in the first wave? Well, for the last three days Halifax's curve has been like the harbour on a calm day.
But the second trend is that, despite good news around Halifax, cases are spreading faster in Nova Scotia's other three health zones. In November, the province announced a total of 184 new cases in Central, and just 12 for the Northern, Eastern and Western zones combined. That's more than 15 Central cases for every one case in the rest of the province.
COVID-19 isn't climbing in Central so much as oozing beyond it. Either way, however, the disease is spreading.
The province's report breaks down today's infections as follows:
Four of the new cases are in Central Zone. One is the school-based case reported yesterday evening at Ian Forsyth Elementary School in Dartmouth. The other three are close contacts of previously reported cases.
Two cases are in Western Zone. One is the school-based case reported yesterday evening at Berwick and District School. The other case is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada, the person has been self-isolating as required.
The other two cases are in Eastern Zone. One is related to travel outside Atlantic Canada, the person has been self-isolating as required. The other case is under investigation.
Even with Halifax well into its second week of the first lockdown of the second wave, the Nova Scotia Health Authority continues to issue warnings of potential COVID-19 exposures. Get the very latest at the NSHA's database here.
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