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COVID-19 news for the January 4 week

Quick looks at cases and more, in Halifax and Nova Scotia.

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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.

Click for mobile-friendlier version of graph.

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.


Sunday, January 10


 Better than zero cases

Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of January 10, 2021. Legend here. - THE COAST
  • The Coast
  • Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of January 10, 2021. Legend here.

After reporting at least one freshly diagnosed infection every day for the last 57 days, today Nova Scotia has zero cases. Hooray!

But the good news gets better. One of the COVID-19 cases announced Thursday in the Central health zone turns out to be a patient whose residence is somewhere else in Canada, so in the Panorama public health tracking system they technically drop off Nova Scotia's case tally. That means our case total went down today—instead of having zero cases, we have negative one, a pretty good trick after nearly two straight months of infections.

(Because it's a day of celebration, we'll disregard the fact that the patient whose case got shuffled around was here when they were diagnosed, and it's here they pose/posed a transmission risk, not wherever they officially live according to Panorama.)

In the first wave, Nova Scotia went 75 days in a row with new cases, from March 15, 2020—the day the province's first three cases were announced—through May 28. Friday, May 29 was the first zero day, which is essentially when the pandemic fever broke here. After that, we had sporadic days with cases, and days without cases. The province's longest case-free streak was 20 days spanning June and July. Compared to the provinces west of Atlantic Canada, we were free of the disease.

The second wave hit the westerly provinces with force in September, as we kept getting a few cases mixed in between case-free days. Finally the second wave arrived here in November. Before today, the last day with zero cases was Thursday, November 12. Then there were cases every day from Friday, November 13 through yesterday.

It's premature to say today's lack of cases marks the end of Nova Scotia's second wave of C19. However, we can look at how the two long runs of cases compare. The streak in the first wave had 1,055 cases over 75 days, for an average of 14 cases per day. The just-ended streak had 379 cases over 57 days, or 6.6 cases per day.

All around the planet, including next door in New Brunswick, you can find places where the second wave of the coronavirus is worse—often many times worse—than the first wave. But judging by our two streaks, so far the second wave in Nova Scotia is less than half as severe as the first wave. We're gonna celebrate that with another hooray—Hooray!—before turning things over to NS top doc Robert Strang to remind us this case-free day doesn't mean the end of anything except a counting streak.

"I'm pleased to see that we have no new cases today, but we are not out of the woods yet," Strang says in the C19 report. "If we want to continue this trend of little to no new cases, we must follow all the public health measures."


Saturday, January 9


 Another case at St. FX

Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of January 9, 2021. Legend here. - THE COAST
  • The Coast
  • Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of January 9, 2021. Legend here.

Just like yesterday, there are new cases in both the Eastern and Central health authority zones. Also like yesterday: There aren't terribly many fresh infections, community transmission of the virus apparently isn't a concern with them, one patient who had COVID-19 has recovered and Nova Scotia has nobody in the hospital due to C19.

A change from yesterday is that the infected person in the Eastern zone is a student at St. FX. Here's how the provincial C19 report to media describes today's three cases:

Two cases are in Central Zone. One case is a close contact of a previously reported case. The other case is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada. The person is self-isolating, as required.

One case is in Eastern Zone and is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada. The person is a student at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish. The student lives on campus and has been self-isolating, as required.

That's the second St. FX case (and the third university student) diagnosed this week, a tough way to start the winter term at X after the school didn't have a single case in the fall and was able to hold in-person classes.

Today, university president Andy Hakin posted a letter to the St. FX community  about the new case. "The student arrived on January 5th and was tested the same day. As with the first case, the student has been properly isolating in residence since arrival and continues to follow the prescribed safety protocols," Hakin writes. "The two cases appear to be unrelated. Our plans have been fully enacted, including activating the necessary supports for our student, and the risk to the overall community remains low."

Yesterday, after the province enacted a two-week quarantine on travellers from New Brunswick, St. FX announced some changes to its winter term schedule. The start of in-person classes has been delayed until Monday, January 25, and X is asking its New Brunswick students to return to the Antigonish campus by tomorrow, January 10, to be sure they'll finish quarantining in time to attend class. Meanwhile, students who don't have to quarantine—those coming from Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia—are asked to stay away from campus until January 24, the Sunday before classes start.

You may recall back in the summer, when the fall term was about to begin but before the C19 second wave had arrived, the province ordered all quarantining post-secondary students to get tested three times during isolation. Now, however, even though Nova Scotians are actively working to squelch the second wave and St. FX is facing unprecedented infections, there is no testing requirement on students. Instead, the provincial C19 report says students are "strongly encouraged" to go online to book a test "for day 6, 7, or 8 of their 14-day self-isolation."

We strongly hope the disease doesn't go on a community transmission spree by exploiting the difference between three mandatory tests and a single optional test. Otherwise, Nova Scotia's decision to relax testing requirements for travelling students will be written about in public health textbooks, as an example of what not to do.


Friday, January 8


 Facing the New Brunswick outbreak

Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of January 8, 2021. Legend here. - THE COAST
  • The Coast
  • Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of January 8, 2021. Legend here.

Nova Scotia's big news today isn't the two new cases of COVID-19, which are few and travel-connected. "One case is in Eastern Zone and one case is in Central Zone," says the province's C19 report. "Both cases are related to travel outside Atlantic Canada."

It's not the state of emergency being extended for another two weeks. This has happened literally every fortnight since the first two-week SOE was announced by premier Stephen McNeil last March 22.

It's not the province-wide restrictions being extended two weeks, to January 24 instead of expiring this Sunday as originally scheduled. That isn't a surprise, and anyway the restrictions are being loosened, such as by allowing casinos to reopen and letting more people into retail spaces. Bundled with Halifax restaurants reopening at the start of this week, you might not even notice any limits on your pandemic-normal life.

Today's big news is Nova Scotia reacting to New Brunswick's worsening, worst-ever C19 outbreak by imposing a two-week quarantine on visitors from the Irving province. This is a major move for NS, which has always been the least-strict member of the Atlantic bubble. Get the full Coast report on the changes at the border by clicking here.


Thursday, January 7


 Trouble next door 

Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of January 7, 2021. Legend here. - THE COAST
  • The Coast
  • Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of January 7, 2021. Legend here.

The province's report is straightforward and not particularly frightening today: Four new cases, across every health zone but the Western, all of them connected to either travel or prior COVID-19 patients, with nobody in hospital due to C19. In the report, however, Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil points to the slightly ominous situation developing next door.

"While the case numbers in our province are encouraging, we are closely monitoring the rise in cases in New Brunswick," says McNeil. "The situation there is a reminder of how quickly the virus can spread, and also reminds us of the importance of following all the public health protocols."

What is that situation, exactly? "Our situation is grim," is the way Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, put it at a press conference today. "The current situation is the worst we have seen so far during this pandemic."

In December, New Brunswick averaged three news cases a day. So far in 2021, the province is averaging 17 cases every day, including 24 today and a pandemic record 31 yesterday. Grim indeed.


Wednesday, January 6


 A rotten dozen

Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of January 6, 2021. Legend here. - THE COAST
  • The Coast
  • Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of January 6, 2021. Legend here.

The province is announcing 12 new cases of COVID-19 today, the most for Nova Scotia in a single day since December 4, over a month ago. Dammit.

The cases are spread unevenly across the Western, Eastern and Central health authority zones, and only one of them might be community spread, having no known connection to travel or another patient. With two recoveries since yesterday, there are now 29 active cases in Nova Scotia. No C19 patients are currently in hospital.

As well as a case at St. FX among the 12 reported today, the province says a case from Monday turns out to be a Dal student—these are the first two known university cases of 2021. Here are the detailed descriptions of these rotten dozen cases copied straight from the province's C19 update email to media:

Two cases are in Western Zone. One case is related to travel outside Atlantic Canada. The other case is a close contact of a previously reported case.

One case is in Eastern Zone and is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada. The person is a student at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish. The student lives on campus and has been self-isolating, as required.

Nine cases are in Central Zone. Seven cases are close contacts of previously reported cases. One case is related to travel outside Atlantic Canada. The other case is under investigation.

One of the cases reported on Jan. 4, which remains under investigation, has been identified as a student at Dalhousie University in Halifax who lives on campus.

In closing, detail-oriented readers will doubtless notice a glaring oddity in our map at the top of this capsule. Compared with yesterday's map, Central zone's cases only increased by eight, when there are nine cases today, and although there are no cases today in the Northern zone, its case count rose by one on the map. The explanation dates back to Monday, and took two requests from us to the province to get a definitive answer. As it has done several times during the pandemic, the province reclassified a case in the Panorama public health system, moving it from the Central zone to Northern at some point over the weekend. Our current map and the province's version are now showing the same numbers, which the province assures us are correct as of today.


Tuesday, January 5


 Spotlight on Central

Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of January 5, 2021. Legend here. - THE COAST
  • The Coast
  • Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of January 5, 2021. Legend here.

Public health head Robert Strang and premier Stephen McNeil gave one of their routine webcast COVID-19 briefings today. They talked a lot about the vaccine, and you can read all about it in our story on the main part of the site.

In other news, there were three new cases reported today, and a whopping 11 recoveries, to bring Nova Scotia's current number of known active cases down to 19, with no C19 patients in the hospital. The last time we had fewer than 20 active cases was November 13, nearly two months ago, back at the start of our second wave.

But we haven't beaten this miserable disease back yet, as the province's update to media doesn't know the infection source for a pair of today's case, raising the spectre of community transmission: "All of the cases are in Central Zone. One case is related to travel outside Atlantic Canada. The other two cases are under investigation."

On top of the vaccine-centric briefing, where Strang called the plan to be inoculating 10,000 people daily by the middle of May "by far the most complex vaccine program that we’ve ever implemented," today's C19 update includes the debut of a weekly jab tally. The number we put on our latest map—2,720—represents "doses of the COVID-19 vaccine administered between Dec. 16 and Jan. 2" says the province. Presumably next week's number will just be for the past seven days.

Speaking of maps, the province didn't yet answer our question about the discrepancy in numbers yesterday that makes it unclear exactly how many cases the Northern and Central health zones have had. We don't know if the province forget about the question, or is just as confused by the situation as we are, but in case it was the forgetting thing, we asked again. You'll get the answer when we do; until then, today's three cases have been added to the Central numbers from yesterday, with no other changes to the numbers on yesterday's map.


Monday, January 4


The Steve & Strang Show is on tomorrow

The province is announcing the first COVID-19 briefing of 2021, starring premier McNeil and top doc Strang tomorrow at 3pm. As in 2020, you can watch the webcast live at novascotia.ca/stayinformed/webcast, or catch it later at the Nova Scotia government's YouTube page.


 No rest for the virus

Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of January 4, 2021. Legend here. - THE COAST
  • The Coast
  • Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of January 4, 2021. Legend here.

The first work day of the new year brings a full COVID-19 report from the province. There are several cases, two days, one correction, some reassurance and even confusion with the official map. Here's how it plays out.

The report announces six new C19 cases—four of them today, two from yesterday. That means Nova Scotia's supposed weekend break from reporting was not a vacation for the disease, and we've had at least one new diagnosis every day for the last 52 days straight. Three of the six new cases are possibly community spread.

"On Jan. 3, two cases were reported. One case is in Western Zone and related to travel outside Atlantic Canada. The other case is in Eastern Zone and is under investigation," says the update. "On Jan. 4, four cases were reported in Central Zone. One case is related to travel outside Atlantic Canada, one case is a close contact of a previously reported case, and the other two cases are under investigation."

None of the new cases are connected to Churchill Academy school, which is a relief after the seven Churchillian cases announced Saturday. In another bit of reassurance, the update quotes premier McNeil saying, "I'm pleased that the recent low number of cases in the greater Halifax area means that restaurants can reopen today."

In terms of the number of patients who recovered from C19, today's report doesn't break down the numbers for yesterday and today, plus it includes a note that one patient who recovered from C19 was missed in the Saturday report. So our map at the top of the page indicates five recoveries since Saturday, but we're not sure when exactly they happened.

The province's map and the province's report have different numbers as of Monday evening. - SCREENSHOT FROM NOVASCOTIA.CA WITH COAST NOTES
  • Screenshot from novascotia.ca with Coast notes
  • The province's map and the province's report have different numbers as of Monday evening.

Our map also shows the six new cases spread across three health authority zones, with the Northern zone devoid of cases, as today's report states above. But as of Monday night, the province's official map shows the Northern zone getting one of those cases since Saturday. So we're asking the province which numbers are right. Otherwise there are 27 active cases, with one of those patients in the hospital. Not a horrible way to start the working year, although top doc Strang warns in the report that "we still haven't seen the full impact of the holidays."


 Back to the Mondays 

The holiday are done. The year is new. It's the first Monday of 2021, and you've got this.

In COVID-19 developments, bars and restaurants in Halifax can reopen today, on the same hours as restos in the rest of Nova Scotia. However, there's no word from the province yet on when today's case report is due, or if there's going to be a C19 briefing this week for premier Stephen McNeil and chief medical officer of health Robert Strang. We shall all wait and see.


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