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Monday, April 13, 2020

Just the news on COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, for the week starting April 13

The latest info, short and sweet, mostly from the province but also Halifax.

Posted By on Mon, Apr 13, 2020 at 12:26 PM

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 here for a smaller, mobile-friendly version of The Coast's Nova Scotia COVID-19 case graph.


The Coast has never aimed to be a just-the-facts news service. After all, there are lots of those and far-too-few media outlets that specialize in context, depth and engaging writing. But these are strange times, so we're experimenting with this news centre to be able to give quick-hit updates for our readers who want them. And for readers who don't, the rest of the site is bringing that beloved Coast approach to covering our beloved Halifax during the pandemic.

Long-term care and mass murder

Robert Strang announced a plan for dealing with Northwood at Sunday’s briefing, including moving COVID patients out of Northwood to a "recovery unit" set up in a hotel; pulling in staffing help for Northwood from all over the place, such as the Nova Scotia Health Authority, health care students, the Red Cross and other long-term care facilities; and "redeploying the Halifax Infirmary COVID-19 unit to Northwood."

This would have been big news, but it happened as the province was coming to grips with the deadliest mass-shooting episode in recent Canadian history. Nova Scotia can’t catch a break. Everybody’s hearts go out to everybody.

A blast of bad numbers

Before the weekend, Nova Scotia’s statistics on diagnosed cases and deaths showed a positive glimmer. At Thursday’s briefing with premier Stephen McNeil and chief medical officer of health Robert Strang, the number of new cases announced (30) was lower than the number of people who have recovered (39) from COVID-19. For the first time since the disease arrived, we had more people getting well than getting sick, and there were no new deaths.

Also on Thursday, Strang introduced a new set of statistics focused on nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. "I know that there's been a lot of interest in the numbers related to long-term care facilities around COVID-19. And it's an area that we've been asked about, and we've certainly done some work in that. So as of today," Strang said, "we’re going to start reporting on a daily basis, as part of the news release, numbers related to long-term care facilities."

The province usually issues a news release with the latest C19 numbers every day around 1pm, information Strang and McNeil go over if they have a briefing that day. Thursday’s release put the new information this way: "As of April 15, there were seven licensed long-term care homes in Nova Scotia with cases of COVID-19, involving 42 residents and 23 staff."

Friday there were 27 new cases and only one recovery, making Thursday’s decline in active cases a fleeting glimmer of hope. Plus a fourth person died from the disease, the first death in several days.

The latest nursing-home numbers also created confusion for the amateur statisticians who have popped up along with the amateur virologists in the time of COVID. Friday’s news release reported: "As of April 16, there were eight licensed long-term care homes in Nova Scotia with cases of COVID-19, involving 55 residents and 43 staff." Compared to the day before, that’s an increase from 42 to 55 residents’ cases, and 23 to 43 staff, or a total increase of (13 residents plus 20 staff) 33 cases. In other words, it looked like there were 33 new cases in long-term care facilities, but only 27 new cases across the province.

At Friday’s briefing, Strang gave a perfectly reasonable explanation for the discrepancy—the province is new at getting these numbers together. "Have a little bit of patience with us. We're working through a process," he said. "While we have a lot of facilities working day and night to deal with COVID, we're asking them to report numbers to us. And so we're trying to create efficient, but also accurate, ways to collect that number."

To be clear, there were 27 new cases across Nova Scotia, not 33. The province confirmed explicitly with The Coast that the 27 were not all from long-term care facilities. Expect the statistics on those facilities to have anomalies for some time.

McNeil signed off Friday briefing saying the next briefing would be on Monday—indicating the normal Saturday day off and a rare break from the standard Sunday briefing. "Hang in there, follow the rules and we can beat this thing together," McNeil said. It all felt a little too easy.

Sure enough, Saturday’s press release hinted at chaos. Three deaths, all at the large Northwood care home on Gottingen Street, 43 new cases—tied for the most Nova Scotia has faced in one day—Strang and McNeil’s Sunday holiday cancelled.

State of emergency extended

No surprise here.

Nova Scotia initially declared a state of emergency March 22—becoming the last place in Canada to go into some sort of official emergency mode for COVID-19. The declaration only lasts for two weeks; it was renewed near the beginning of March, and this week it was re-upped again.

Because there’s more time for civics lessons now, the way it works behind the scenes is the provincial cabinet meets and has to agree an SOE declaration (or extension in this case) is needed. That meeting happened by teleconference on Thursday. But thanks to our colonial heritage, cabinet technically can’t control SOEs, so on Thursday cabinet could only agree to ask Nova Scotia’s lieutenant governor for the extension. As the queen’s representative to our plucky outpost of the commonwealth, lieutenant governor Arthur LeBlanc has all sorts of theoretical power, but most of the time serves as a rubber stamp for the elected officials’ choices. With cabinet’s decision made, plan for the current state of emergency to be extended from noon this Sunday, April 19 until Sunday, May 3. (And watch for another ask coming at the end of April.)

In other SOE news, this week Prince Edward Island upgraded from a public health emergency (declared March 16, second province after Quebec to invoke emergency coronavirus measures) to a state of emergency. PEI’s statement about the move says it will allow resources to be used more efficiently, particularly as the province tightens its borders to visitors: "During the period of the state of emergency, individuals travelling to Prince Edward Island will be required to disclose the purpose of their travel to determine if it is deemed essential or not as per the direction of the Chief Public Health Office." The PEI SOE is in effect for two weeks starting Friday, April 17.

The one-month anniversary of COVID-19’s arrival

A month ago, March 15, 2020, Nova Scotia announced its first diagnosed cases of COVID-19. Every other province had cases by then, although none of the territories did. Today Nova Scotia announced 32 new cases, for a total of 549 diagnosed in the past month—the most in Canada after Ontario, BC, Alberta and Quebec—and Nunavut is the only territory to have zero cases.

Today’s provincial briefing is about to start; watch live around 3pm at novascotia.ca/stayinformed/webcast today at 3pm, or catch it later at the Nova Scotia government's YouTube page.

Federal government updates the CERB

If you're a seasonal worker and your EI has run out or is about to run out you're now eligible for the CERB. Also, if your summer job prospect was taken away because of COVID-19 you're now eligible to qualify if you made $5,000 in the last year.
You no longer have to be making 0$ to qualify—you can still be making up to $1,000 but have a reduced income due to COVID-19 and qualify for the CERB. (This covers those who aren't laid off entirely but are working reduced hours.) Read The Coast's guide to applying here.

HRM cancels summer camp

CAO Jacques Dubé said at Wednesday's press conference that spring and summer recreation programming is cancelled.
Dubé also announced he's reducing staffing levels by 1,480—500 of which are spring or summer positions that hadn't been hired yet. Dubé added that most of the jobs are seasonal or part-time. So far no permanent positions have been removed but that he can't rule out it happening in the future—and said he's put in place a hiring freeze.

43 new cases reported on Tuesday

With the biggest one-day jump in diagnoses in the province's short history with the new coronavirus, Nova Scotia now has over 500 cases of COVID-19.

According to a provincial news release, on Monday the QEII lab in Halifax processed 1,476 tests, finding 43 new cases for a total of 517 diagnosed cases since the first cases were announced nearly a month ago. Currently 390 patients are infected with the disease, while more than 100 people have recovered.

Premier Stephen McNeil and the province’s chief medical officer of health Robert Strang will be discussing the latest numbers and taking questions from reporters in their regular webcast briefing starting at 3pm. Watch them streaming live at novascotia.ca/stayinformed/webcast today at 3pm, or catch the briefing later at the Nova Scotia government's YouTube page.

Nova Scotia’s third death from COVID-19

In its latest statistics on the coronavirus, the province announced that a third person has died from the disease—a man in his 80s living in the Halifax Regional Municipality. He passed away today, Monday April 13. "Tragically, another family is grieving the loss of a loved one as result of COVID-19," said premier Stephen McNeil. “Life is precious and we must all work together to protect those who are dear to us."

There are also 29 new cases, bringing the total confirmed cases in Nova Scotia to 474. Nine people are currently being treated in hospital, four of them in intensive care.

Provincial news briefing Monday afternoon

After taking the Easter holiday weekend off, premier Stephen McNeil and chief medical officer of health Robert Strang are back to their daily webcast briefings. Watch them streaming live at novascotia.ca/stayinformed/webcast today at 3pm, or catch the briefing later at the Nova Scotia government's YouTube page. As usual, reporters will be phoning in questions. Tune in to see if The Coast's question fits in during the allotted time.

Possible pizzeria exposure

The Nova Scotia Health Authority sent out a press release Sunday afternoon, “advising of potential exposure to COVID-19 at G-Street Pizza, 2302 Gottingen Street, Halifax, on April 4 and April 6.” So if you went to G-Street last Saturday or Monday, you should pay extra attention over the next two weeks to see if you develop a fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat or headache. If you went anywhere else any days last week, continue to pay the normal, heightened amount of attention. The NSHA says you should call 811 if you develop any two of the COVID-19 symptoms.

At G-Street’s website, there is a “Dear Customers” notice that says a staffer tested positive for the virus and the restaurant is taking the precautionary step of closing. “Our employees’ and customers’ health and safety is more important to us than anything else. With the advice of 811, we are asking all our staff to self-isolate for 14 days. We have not been contacted by or been about to reach the Nova Scotia Public Health Authority for any advice or confirmation of the case.

"We will continue to continue to monitor the situation and provide a further update once we have more information. Until then, we will join you in self-quarantine!”

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