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.
Today's big news is that the next phase of province-wide restrictions start at midnight. For The Coast's looks at what's changing, what's staying the same and what it all means to you, click right here.
The more regular news is the province reporting two new cases of COVID-19. "One new case is in Northern Zone and is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada," says the provincial update. "The person is self-isolating, as required. The other is in Central Zone and is still under investigation."
These cases compliment yesterday's two cases well, in that over the weekend every health zone in Nova Scotia has had one case, suggesting that the virus is not out of control here, but it is actively present throughout the whole province. "It is encouraging to see low case numbers as we start a new phase of guidelines and restrictions tomorrow," says premier Stephen McNeil in the update. "We can do our part to contain the virus by following these protocols that are designed to keep our social gatherings small and our communities safe."
Every province in the country has new cases today—although British Columbia doesn't report its on the weekends—as Canada passes the unwelcome milestone of getting 500,000 cases of COVID-19 during the pandemic. None of the territories of the North has cases Saturday, but the nine reporting provinces combining for 6,248 new infections is enough to push the national total to 501,594 cases.
For the first time since November 12, the Central health zone (Halifax et cetera) has no cases. That was 38 days ago, and in between those case-free days there were 261 cases; the rest of the province combined over the same stretch saw less than half that at 114 cases. One clear day isn't enough to say this means the Halifax lockdown worked and the outbreak is over—14 straight days would be a COVID-19 infection cycle, and it takes two full cycles for public health professionals to feel comfortable—but it's a start.
Unfortunately the rest of the province didn't quite avoid new infections. Nova Scotia is reporting two cases today, one each for the Western and Central zones. "Both cases are related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada," says the province's C19 update. "The people are self-isolating, as required."
Straightforward as that sounds, there is a wrinkle: "As confirmed publicly by Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny, the case in Eastern Zone is in the Eskasoni First Nation community," the province says. "Public health continues to work closely with Chief Denny to manage the case. Contact tracing is underway and at this point, there is no evidence of community spread."
This is the first case at Eskasoni, says the First Nation's Facebook page. "Eskasoni Chief and Council is asking to the community stay calm and take even more pre-caution when going out and to also limit traveling." Chief Denny gave a video briefing today, which you can watch on Eskasoni's Facebook page.
It's almost quaint to look back to March 15, the day the province reported its first COVID-19 cases. There were three cases that first day, as if Nova Scotia was trying to catch up for being Canada's last province to catch the disease. "The cases are not connected and are travel related," said the province's debut case report. That bit about infections being related to travel would become a common refrain of the reports over the following nine-and-counting months. What would disappear almost immediately from later reports is the chatty Nova Scotian way of describing the people behind the statistics:
Two individuals are in the Halifax Regional Municipality and one is in Kings County. All three are managing their symptoms at home in self-isolation. Details include:
• a female in her 60’s, who returned to Halifax from Australia on March 8.
• a male in his late 50’s, who recently attended a conference in California and returned to Halifax on March 13.
• a male in his 30’s, who returned to Halifax on March 10 following travel throughout Europe.
Robert Strang, our beloved, tireless, over-worked chief medical officer of health, became much more reticent about specifics after that. If the privacy pendulum started at too much information, it has swung back hard to circumspect, abstract, borderline-useless.
Does "close contact of a previously reported case" refer to a spouse or roommate, or are we talking about a friend who dropped by for a quick chat? The answer helps you understand the risks of your own behaviour, depending on whether you have friends, roommates or spouses. Similarly, when the province announces a case connected to a school, is that a student, a teacher or the Grade 8 bio sub from Tuesday afternoon? For parents desperately trying not to panic, a little more help from the province would go further than the Facebook-fuelled rumours premier Stephen McNeil has complained about.
The province's turn from abundant information about cases to very little information extends to where patients live. That first day described the location at an understandable level—specifically two patients in Halifax Regional Municipality, and one in Kings County. Now cases are grouped by the Nova Scotia Health Authority's four "management zones." The Central health zone includes HRM, but also a chunk of Hants County. Kings County is in the Western zone, along with six other counties. Northern zone is three whole counties plus the other part of Hants, while Eastern is everything else—the rest of the mainland plus Cape Breton.
Useful or not, however, most of Nova Scotia's cases have been reported by health zone, and so we find ourselves marvelling today that the Central zone has passed the 1,200-case mark. The province is reporting seven new cases, all in Central, pushing the zone from 1,199 cases yesterday to a total for the pandemic of 1,206. "Five of the cases are close contacts of previously reported cases," says the province's report. "The other two cases are related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada." (Whether that's people going to conferences or essential-worker truck drivers or university students coming home for the holidays, your guess is as good as ours.)
It took 256 days for Central to reach 1,000 cases, from those first two on March 15 to hitting exactly 1,000 on November 23, a rate of 3.9 cases per day. From 1,000 to today's 1,206 cases took 26 days, or 7.9 cases per day. That means the infection rate in Central has more doubled, if you consider it abstractly.
But what we've learned from those first two infections in HRM to today's seven Central zone cases is also what we lost along the way: the power of getting enough information.
We're not talking about what is clearly too much information, the sort that could identify a particular person, such as knowing that an infected man in his 50s—we mean late 50s—was at a conference in California. However, it wouldn't mess with anyone's privacy for cases to be reported by the province's 18 counties, rather than the NSHA's four zones, and by age range and gender.
For an example of what useful info looks like, let's get a little more context on the abstract numbers by considering the first wave and the second wave separately. Central was hit hard in the first wave, passing 800 cases on April 30, just 49 days into Nova Scotia's pandemic. That's 16.4 cases per day. But the province had already passed the peak of the first wave by then, and soon that wave tapered off completely to allow a relatively disease-free stretch that become the envy of much of the world. To get from 800 to 1,000 cases took the 208 days from April 30 to November 23, a rate of less than one case per day.
The second wave had arrived by November, and cases were going up. That's why, as described above, the rate was 7.9 cases per day for the 200 cases between November 23 and today. That's high compared to Nova Scotia's disease-free stretch with less than one case per day, but it's less than half of the 16.4 daily cases we had at the worst of the first wave.
In the abstract, Central zone's case rate is more than double what it was. In the specific, the second wave is so far hitting with less than half the impact of the first wave. Information makes all the difference.
Tuesday had six new cases, today has six new cases. Tuesday they were spread around Nova Scotia's four health zones in a three, two, one, zero pattern, today they're in the same pattern. But that's where the deja vu stops this week, because the zones with one and two cases switched from Tuesday, plus all Tuesday's cases were close contacts of earlier cases. Today brings some travel-related cases and a potential case of community spread along with a couple close contacts.
"Three of the new cases are in Central Zone," says the province's COVID-19 update. "One case is a close contact of a previously reported case. One case is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada. The person is self-isolating, as required. The other case is under investigation." As you doubtless have internalized by now, "under investigation" is ominous code for "there's no obvious transmission vector here, so while we continue to look for one, prepare yourself that this may well be community spread."
Back to the province: "Two cases are in Western Zone and are related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada. The people are self-isolating, as required." Right on.
And finally, "One case is in Northern Zone and is a close contact of a previously reported case."
In the report, premier McNeil puts his finger squarely on the mix of good and bad news contained in today's case count. "While our case numbers are low, COVID-19 is still here and still moving into different areas of our province," McNeil says. "That is why we must be careful about our own movement and our social contacts. I ask all Nova Scotians to keep following all the public health protocols to keep each other safe."
We just realized yesterday's map had a mistake on it. Although there were four new cases in Central zone Wednesday, for a total of 1,196 cases to that point in the pandemic, our map showed only 1,192 cases. We're sorry about that. The error has been fixed and the map currently on the page, not far below this capsule, is correct. And we believe today's map, just above, is right—putting Central at 1,199 cases, the brink of a new, unwanted milestone.
Today's webcast briefing about the restriction regime that will see the province through the holidays from now to 2021 was a confusing mix of dates, places and rules. We've got the full report coming soon, but long story short: The current Halifax lockdown has been extended and is NOT expiring at midnight tonight.(Update: Here's our full report!)
The extension lasts until the end of this Sunday, December 20. Then a different—but not completely different—set of restrictions comes into effect Monday, December 21, which applies to both Halifax and the rest of the province (with some local variations). Like we said, it's confusing.
If you must know more before our report is ready, we suggest you go straight to the horse's mouth and get the province's announcement. It's not particularly interesting reading, but at least it has the facts straight. Then check back on our site for the whole package of straight facts and sharp analysis combined with spicy writing.
With the current Halifax lockdown slated to expire tonight at midnight, it's decision day for the province. Will the lockdown end? Will it be extended (again)? Or will the restrictions continue in a modified fashion, such as keeping gyms and restaurants closed, but letting people travel around the province to gather over the holidays in groups up to 10?
All should be revealed when premier McNeil and top doc Strang address the province at 3pm. As always, you can watch the briefing live at novascotia.ca/stayinformed/webcast, or catch it later at the Nova Scotia government's YouTube page.
A report on the vaccine should also be on today's briefing agenda, including news of the first injections. Our story from yesterday on the vaccination plan will get you all caught up.
In more routine COVID-19 matters, Nova Scotia announced the latest case numbers: Four people have been diagnosed since yesterday, and six patients have recovered. "All cases are in Central Zone," says the province's update. "Three of the cases are close contacts of previously reported cases. The other case is under investigation."
Tuesday, December 15 at 1:12pm, the province issued a press release titled "Nova Scotia Receives COVID-19 Vaccine." With this inaugural batch of 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, we have reached a potential turning point in the pandemic.
"This is a milestone in the battle against the virus," says premier Stephen McNeil in the press release. "As the supply increases, every Nova Scotian will have access to the vaccine. But this will take many months, and I ask everyone to be patient in the meantime as the vaccine rollout begins with front-line health-care workers and the most vulnerable."
The first shots go into arms tomorrow.
"The province will continue to receive small weekly shipments of vaccine until the end of March 2021, when the supply is expected to increase," says the press release. "Between now and March the immunization effort will focus on:
— front-line health-care workers who are closely involved in the COVID-19 response
— long-term care residents and staff
— older Nova Scotians, starting with those 80 and older, then 75 and older, then 70 and older"
Doses of the Moderna vaccine, which is theoretically easier to ship around the province because it only needs to be stored at -20 Celsius unlike Pfizer's -70, are expected later in December. Vaccine or no, the public health measures we've all learned to fight the spread of C19—things like wearing masks, physical distancing, obsessive hand washing and gathering in limited groups—will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
We're on pins and needles to see how this all plays out.
We'll get to the details of today's six new cases in a moment. First up, it's vaccine day!
"The arrival of the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine today in Nova Scotia is a landmark development in the fight against the virus," says premier Stephen McNeil in the province's daily C19 update. "We will be following the national guidance around immunizing priority groups first as we receive more shipments of the vaccine over the coming weeks and months."
In that same update, public health head Robert Strang says the province is ready to receive and deploy our allotted dose of doses. "Last week we participated in several exercises to refine our approach to handling, storing and managing the supply of the Pfizer vaccine before it arrived in Nova Scotia," says the top doc. "These exercises helped to prepare us for the first delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine."
Sounds awesome. We're keeping our fingers crossed the job of dealing with the jabs goes smoothly.
Now about those cases… The six new infections are distributed in a three, two, one, zero pattern around the province: three in the Central health zone, two in Northern, one in Western and, for the second day in a row, Eastern zone has none. "All the new cases are close contacts of previously reported cases," says the C19 report.
To balance the six cases, six patients recovered from the disease since yesterday's report, so the number of active cases stays even at 57. That's down from the second wave high of 142 active cases, where we were December 1, just two weeks ago today.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority's issued a few "Potential exposure" alerts in recent days. Most were about various flights, but three of them—including one that came out tonight—involve businesses in New Glasgow. If you were on an airplane recently, or out and about in New Glasgow at a major retailer or two on Sunday, December 6 in the afternoon or a club last Tuesday afternoon, December 8, you should check the NSHA's exposures database. It has specific details, including the business names, relevant times and what you should do vis a vis testing and/or monitoring your symptoms. If you haven't been on a plane, or to New Glasgow, lately, don't worry about it.
We just heard back from the province, and as we guessed none of today's five new cases—particularly the two in the Western zone—are related to the Eden Valley poultry plant outbreak in Berwick. In other words, contagion conditions are currently clear concerning the chicken-chopping company's coronavirus crisis.
Remember when "Gimme five!" was something people would say, in order to initiate some casual close contact? Those were the good old days of a year ago. Now the province is reporting five new cases, and COVID-19 continues to leave us hanging.
Two of these cases are in the Central health authority zone (Halifax and surrounding area). "One is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada and is self-isolating as required," says the province. "The other case is under investigation."
There are also two cases in the Western zone (Yarmouth, Annapolis Valley, Eden Valley Poultry), and one in Northern (Truro, New Brunswick border, Elmsdale). All three cases are what the province calls "close contacts of previously reported cases," with no mention of whether any of these patients are or aren't connected to the poultry plant outbreak. We are guessing that means they aren't, but we've asked the province to clarify for sure.
"We will reach a milestone in the battle against COVID-19 this week with the arrival of the first doses of vaccine and the first vaccinations," says premier Stephen McNeil in the province's C19 report. "This is great news, but it will take time for everyone to get their shots. That means we have to keep following the public health protocols—isolate when required, wear a mask, limit social contacts and travel, practise social distancing, stay home when feeling unwell and wash your hands."
As you know, when the second wave of COVID-19 infections arrived in Canada, it didn't hit equally. The six westerly provinces—Quebec to British Columbia—got it first, starting in September. The Atlantic provinces and the territories of the North were untouched, or practically untouched. September saw Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador jockeying to see what province could have the longest number of case-free days in a row, routinely going a week or more between sporadic cases.
New Brunswick dropped out of that game in early October, as its caseload started to rise, followed by Nova Scotia later that month. But Yukon had a 72-day steak without cases well into October, which was unimpressive next to Northwest Territories' 196-day streak, and at the start of November the pandemic had still not brought a single case to Nunavut.
Now it's the middle of December, and the whole country is fighting the second wave. Through yesterday, Yukon owned the longest case-free streak at just five days, followed by NWT at two days, then, tied for one day, PEI, Newfoundland and Nunavut. (BC can't be bothered to report new cases on weekends, so technically it has a two-day caseless streak, which will end today when it reports a large three-day crop of infections.) Still, it's not equal, as the six western provinces are getting the most cases by a huge amount: yesterday they set a horrible record of a combined 90,152 new cases over the last 14 days, while Atlantic Canada has 225 on the same rolling two-week count, and the North has 88 cases.
The difference in scale is easier to discern on the above chart. As seriously as Nova Scotia is taking its second wave, complete with the ongoing lockdown of Halifax, our case numbers, even when combined with the rest of the east coast, are literally invisible on the graph of infections by region. We don't exactly have it good, as the graph at the top of this page makes clear, but things could be much worse.
December 7 week. November 30 week. November 23 week. November 9 week. November 16 week. November 9 week. November 2 week. October 26 week. October 19 week. October 12 week. October 5 week. September 28 week. September 21 week. September 14 week. September 7 week. August 31 week. August 24 week. August 17 week. August 10 week. August 3 week. July 27 week. July 20 week. July 13 week. July 6 week. June 29 week. June 22 week. June 15 week. June 8 week. June 1 week. May 25 week. May 18 week. May 11 week. May 4 week. April 27 week. April 20 week. April 13 week.